Gustavo Santaolalla

I love playing instruments that I don’t know how to play – or that I’m not familiar with. I like the idea of danger and innocence that comes from it. As an artist, I feel I should be able to do something with anything I get my hands on. The music becomes minimalist because of my limited knowledge.” -Gustavo Santaolalla, Bloomberg News

Take the easy route

I have long extolled the virtues of innocence by explaining that: guitar players like The Xx’s Romy Madley-Croft easily pluck the low hanging fruit — while more experienced guitarists become mired in complexity.

A good policy for you (as a guitarist) is to build skill and potential by only learning what you’re passionate about. If it’s a complex song, so be it. If it’s an easy song, even better. Never think you have to learn difficult stuff. You can become a great guitar player by building volume with easy to play material.

I teach girls who really want to be singers. The guitar is merely a vessel for their voice. We focus only on simple open chords. Since most of these girls outright refuse to play bar chords, I just move a capo around to find the sweet-spot where their songs can be easily played.

Within a year these girls become awesome guitar players because: they’re happy doing exactly what they want to do, and they’ve made up for complexity by the shear volume of they’re guitar playing.

Write your own material today

The real musicianship comes from writing your own material. Many of my students are tentative about creating their own riffs or songs. They feel like they’re not good enough yet. Even if you’ve never played before you’re capable of creating something on guitar.

My younger students have no problem with this. My newest 10-year-old student, Wyatt, was given the assignment to make up his own guitar riff. When I showed up to his lesson the following week —  he had not one — but three substantial guitar riffs! Only one of which he truly liked, but in the process of creating, Wyatt did three things:

-Trained his ear by listening and curating his ideas into something musical.

-Unknowingly built skill in the process.

-Feels like a musician and a true guitarist having created his own music.

These benefits are not isolated to 10-year-old Wyatt. I’m 37 and I still get the same benefit from writing my own material!

Putting it all together

1) Practice only what you’re passionate about.

2) It’s okay to play easy things, so long as you do a lot of it.

3) Create your own music no matter how long you’ve been playing guitar.


(Note: Alma is Intellimusica premium material. Please comment to let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.)

How to play Gustavo Santaolalla’s Alma for guitar

Having never even seen a ronroco before, I’m still surprised at how well that instrument translates to guitar. I have no problem transcribing any of Santaolalla’s ronroco material, and I’m curious at the similarities between the two instruments.

Alma is the first track on Gustavo Santaolalla’s new solo-album, Camino. Most of this latest album is a collection of Santaolalla’s music from the past 15 years that was personal to him, but never used in any of his film scores.

Two of the songs — The Journey and Joaillerie — are from a Louis Vuitton ad campaign. Returning is from Santaolalla’s venerable score from The Last of Us video-game soundtrack.

Even Gustavo Santaolalla’s leftover material is nothing short of stunning. You just don’t get the same vision and depth with any other instrumentalist. There’s an obvious reason why he is the most in-demand composer of the past 10 years.

For what is a seemingly complicated song, the guitar tab for Alma is comprised of only two pages. The complexity comes from the intricate and precise finger-picking patters within the chord shapes.

The chorus section of the tab is played twice like this: Chorus/ending (1) Chorus/ending (2). Alma is not for beginners, but intermediate and more experienced players will be fine.

Enjoy, the tab is available below:

Alma is played in standard tuning.

Gustavo Santaolalla’s Alma – for guitar (Camino)

Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, short-film composer, creator of modern content for guitar.