WINTHROP — It’s hard for Seth Pillsbury to hear a piece of music without imagining little black dots floating through the air.

That’s because Pillsbury, a 31-year-old Augusta native who has been playing music for almost his entire life, recently has been taking sheets of classical music — by Johann Sebastian Bach and other classical composers — and converting them into music that can be read easily by guitarists.

Pillsbury also performs music around central Maine and recently built a small studio next to his home in northwest Winthrop, on a dirt road near the Wayne town line, where he offers guitar lessons and where other musicians soon will be offering classes in drums, woodwinds and other instruments.

Besides those traditional offerings, Pillsbury has made a side business of transcribing classical music into forms that can be read by guitarists in two different forms. One of those forms is the notes that are typically associated with sheet music. The other form, known as tablature, shows black dots along a set of lines that correspond to the strings and frets of a guitar.

Pillsbury sells his transcriptions for a small fee. By doing so, he hopes that he’s making classical music more accessible for less experienced guitarists.

“I try to do the ones that haven’t been done yet,” he said. “A lot of this work is pretty ambitious. … It’s hard to play on keyboard, but there may not be the resources out there if you want to play them on guitar.”

Frank Koonce, a professor of music at Arizona State University who, like Pillsbury, has transcribed Bach compositions into guitar music, described the challenges another way.

“We have to make changes to fit the limitations of the instrument,” he said in a phone interview. “We may have to change the octave if it’s outside the range of the guitar. We often have to bring the bass line up an octave. We might have to shorten the length of note.”

Koonce praised Pillsbury for his efforts, which are bringing revered pieces by composers such as Bach, Frederic Chopin and Claude Debussy to a wider set of players, especially those who use electric guitars. While there is a long tradition of classical guitarists transcribing music in a form that can be read by their peers, it’s more unusual for someone like Pillsbury to be targeting his efforts to electric guitarists, Koonce said.

“I love this music,” Koonce continued. “When I started out as a teenager, I played in a band. I was an electric guitarist. I’d never heard classical guitar when I was that age. I think exposing players who don’t come from that tradition to this type of music is a great thing, because it’s good music.”

Pillsbury discussed his craft Tuesday after giving a short lesson to one of his students, Simon Carr, an 11-year-old from Readfield who tried out his teacher’s heavy, red double-neck guitar. They started by playing “Oye Como Va,” by Santana; then Carr showed off his knowledge of “Smoke on the Water,” by Deep Purple.

Finally Pillsbury taught his student a part of “Seven Nation Army,” by the White Stripes.

“Can I do that?” Carr asked, referring to the White Stripes song.

“Oh yeah,” Pillsbury said.

After the lesson, Pillsbury described his process for transcribing classical music. Only partly jokingly, he compared playing a Bach piece on guitar to strumming the opening sections of “Oye Como Va” and another Santana song, “Black Magic Woman,” at the same time.

A piano has dozens of keys, and a piece of sheet music has two lines of notes that correspond to each of a pianist’s hands.

But a guitarist trying to make the same sounds has just six strings and four fingers at his disposal. He’ll also have to account for changes in pitch and tempo, among a multitude of other variables. It’s a bit like fitting a hexagon into a circle.

So when Pillsbury is transcribing a piece by Bach, he’ll read through the notes, then decide where to place the fingers on his left hand along the neck of his guitar, and how to use his right hand to strum the instrument. Once he’s found the sweet spots, he’ll mark them in a piece of software — and repeat.

“OK, we’re good on the first,” he said during a recent interview, imagining his thought process. “Now 500 more to go.”

While Pillsbury has found a couple of guitar versions of the pieces that he has transcribed on the internet, what sets his apart is that they’re geared toward someone using the basics.

In one YouTube video that Pillsbury has found, he said, a guitarist is playing one of the classical pieces he has transcribed, but using a less conventional method called tapping, in which the guitarist taps his fingers against the strings to play them — a technique popularized by Eddie Van Halen.

“With the stuff I do, I try to make it for a standard six-string guitar, with regular tuning,” Pillsbury said. “Nothing fancy.”

The compositions aren’t easy to play, Pillsbury said. But with some pride, he noted that at least one of his students, who lives in the Farmington area, has nearly made it through a Bach piece.

Pillsbury also has worked as a computer programmer since graduating from University of Maine at Augusta, but he decided to make a full-time job of music for a couple of reasons. One is that he finds it rewarding. During a period in his life when he was creating computer games, his main source of income was teaching music and playing gigs.

But Pillsbury also has a more personal attachment to the musical life. His father and his uncle both used to teach music, and both men died when Pillsbury was young. Pillsbury is not aware of either man publishing any music, and he hopes to honor them by publishing his own transcriptions.

“It’s one of those things where the universe really wants me to do music,” he said.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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