I’m looking into an etude by sixths written by Fernando Sor and I was wondering what would the objetives of these kind of etudes might be. I actually worked on a similar study from the Sagreras book but by octaves.

Since I have no teacher and study by myself, I find it is important that I know and understand what the purpose of the studies are so that I can better determine if I have achieved the objective or not.

Here is an image of a section of the study: enter image description here

Thank you.


1 Answer 1


Sixths (and thirds) are very important intervals in the major/minor system.

I can immediately think of two reasons:

  • If the tonic chord is played (example C major) and we played the chord without a sixth/third, we would only have the tones C and G and we could not hear if the chord is major or minor. So the major/minor quality of harmony comes from the sixths/thirds and that is essential for major/minor system harmony.
  • Secondly, in terms of voice leading consecutive sixths/thirds are acceptable and frequently encountered. By contrast, according to the traditional voice leading of Sor's time, you should not use move than one fifth consecutively. So the constraints of good voice leading lead to a propensity of sixths/thirds.

Given the harmonic importance of sixths/thirds, you want to be perfectly fluent in playing them in any key, any position within the scale, and with variety of connecting motions. Notice that the exercise has a few chromatic notes to highlight the Dm and F chords. Those chromatic moves using sixths/thirds should also become perfectly familiar.

An exercise of only sixths packs all that important harmonic material into a very short space.

In terms of physical technique this exercise isn't very difficult. It doesn't involve rapid movements, or long stretches, etc. For this reason the main focus of the exercise seem to be about harmony. In terms of physical technique, I imagine main thing is to become aware of the different sequences of major and minor sixths in the scale and execute them with good fingering. I think, speed isn't the goal but rather an relaxed, automatic movement.

I play exercises like this on piano, and I play them in every key. You could try transposing it to other keys. Also, all these sixths are broken sixths, but you could try play the two notes of the sixths simultaneously. Just a suggestion. Simple exercises like this seem to invite modification after you can play them without any trouble.

  • So, if I'm understanding correctly, it is a question about harmony/theory knowledge instead of technique or physical dexterity, right? May 8, 2019 at 20:12
  • It combines both harmony knowledge and physical technique. This isn't a very difficult exercise on a technical level - no rapid movements, no difficult stretches, etc. So, it does seem to focus is on harmony. In terms of physical technique I imagine the goal is to develop these movements in sixths as automatic, reflexive movements. May 8, 2019 at 20:24
  • I play exercises like this one on piano, and I play them in all keys. My goal is hitting these important sixths/thirds reflexively in any key. I pay special attention to difference between major and minor sixths and their positions within the scale. I'll add a brief edit to my answer. May 8, 2019 at 20:27

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