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"Prelude #1", Heitor Villa Lobos
Version and Fingering:
Renato Bellucci

Heitor Villa Lobos, Prelude Number 1

Heitor Villa Lobos has taken the guitar to an unparalleled level. In return, guitar players have put the Brazilian composer on a pedestal along side Barrios, Tárrega and Beethoven. Villa Lobos was an amateur guitar player at best. He was mainly  a pianist and conductor. These factors have made his music so grand for the guitar. I have played many festivals and I shared the stage with piano players as well as orchestra conductors. It is simply amazing to watch the expression on a pianist face when he hears Villa Lobos prelude #1. It is as if it were saying: "The guitar can really play!".

Villa Lobos was essentially an impressionist. Therefore, the guitar is pushed to its lowest and highest possible volumes. Brazilian rhythmic structures appear and give life and spirit to the music. My teacher Abel Carlevaro worked closely with Villa Lobos and he had the greatest solutions for many technical challenges presented by the composer. We worked on the Prelude in Montevideo in 1986 and I will share the fingering and technical thinking behind it. Prelude #1 is based on a rhythmic figure which must always stay the same because it represents a manual drum type of instrument (green notes group).

The main melody is probably inspired on a cello (blue melodic line). This is perhaps one of the first "Grand Pieces" expressly written for the guitar. Villa Lobos genius shines throughout the piece. Below are the technical highlights of the piece:

Technique Highlights:

  • Glissando (members)
  • Vibrato (members)
  • Twin thumb stroke (members)
  • How to bring notes out in chords (members)
  • Presentation of the left hand (members)

Villa lobos, rhythm model

Print score Print the score

Prelude #1 Villa Lobos, staff 1

The portamento (or glissando, slide) between the B and the E on fret 7 is performed by the arm. String squeak will therefore be kept to a minimum. This is like the signature of the prelude and will show up every now and then. -Typical impressionistic musical device- Glissando is a word tat refers to the sliding of one finger of the left hand from one note to another on the same string without losing contact with the string. Depending on how hard you press during the glissando, the more pronounced it will be.  You can use the fingering below if you prefer to play without the glissando. As soon as the double E is played, the main rhythmic figure appears. To enhance the phrase, play the higher E with the nail and the lower E with the flesh. Twin stroke.


The arm and the whole body get involved in the portamento (Italian for: to carry). Use long and slow vibratos to emulate a cello singing. Vibrato on the guitar is a slight, rapid or slow depending on the aural effect you want to achieve, and regular fluctuation in the pitch of a note. It is produced by a shaking movement of the hand and forearm while the finger(s) is stopping the strings and fret where the note is meant to be vibrato.

Asuncion, January 21th, 2004
Revision: Santa Monica, CA. November 27, 2012

Mail Renato Bellucci renato@mangore.com
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