Arranging For Guitar
Jon Bishop takes a look at different ways to arrange music for guitar using an old folk classic, Scarborough Fair as a canvas. So jump in and explore some of the possibilities!
For this lesson we are going to take the classic composition Scarborough Fair and apply various arranging techniques and concepts, with a view to creating fresh sounding performances for the guitar. The origins of Scarborough Fair go back at least four centuries and the tune and lyrics have been adapted and changed over the years. For reference purposes the standard chord changes and melody have been notated in Example 1. We can use this basic information as the foundation of our arrangements, so the first step is to analyse the various aspects of the Scarborough Fair composition.
The song has a time signature of 3/4. This means there are three crotchets per bar. The time signature is something we can change in our arrangement and doing so will allow us to access a variety of grooves and rhythms.
The song is often performed in the key of F# minor but in the interests of making things simple and clear to understand, our pieces are going to be in A minor for the most part. Selecting the key is one of the first steps in the arranging process and is governed by several factors. Of course the range of the instrument is important and some keys will fit on the guitar better and sound sweeter. We can also use a capo to access a variety of keys. The key of A minor fits on the guitar nicely and presents plenty of open string options. A minor also has no sharps or flats either so it will make the various chord substitutions and harmonisation’s we are going to demonstrate easy to see. Our arrangements will be instrumental so the lyrical content is not of direct interest on this occasion (although it can subliminally influence mood and feel).
The melody of Scarborough Fair is composed exclusively with notes of the A Dorian mode. The A Dorian mode (A B C D E F# G) is second mode of G major so we can use chords from either A minor or A Dorian. The chords of the A Dorian mode are A minor, B minor, C major, D major, E minor, F# diminished and G major. The chords of A minor are A minor, B minor 7b5, C major, D minor, E minor, F major and G major. The melody is diatonic (all from the same key) and this makes it a great choice for us to arrange with and to try new ideas out.
To get us acquainted with the sound and feel of the piece, Example 2 features a simple yet effective solo fingerstyle arrangement. One of the key aspects of this arrangement is
Recordings that feature arrangements of Scarborough Fair are as plentiful as they are varied.
to always have the melody as the top note. This will allow the listener to hear the tune clearly. The other thing to consider is the bass line. The harmony can be even implied with just a melody note and the bass line!
Some extra chords have been added such as the C in bar 2 and the Em in bar 11. These chords add movement and colour and make the melody sound more sophisticated.
To further embellish this solo guitar arrangement, Example 3 showcases a more involved approached. This time a capo is placed on the 5th fret, which allows us to access the sweet tone of that position. The capo also improves the playability of acoustic guitars by lowering the action. Extra chords and extensions have been added and the piece hangs on an arpeggiated motif, which can be used as an intro or outro.
Example 4 exploits the idea of combining an open tuning with different instrumentation. Using an open tuning is a popular trick for arranging tunes for guitar. As our tune is modal in nature it makes sense to use a modal open tuning. The DADGAD tuning sounds great on guitar and many great arrangements have been created with it. There are various ways we can arrange a tune, and Example 5 showcases one very effective way of playing a melody on the guitar. Players like Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix both liked to play their melodies in octaves. The octave interval adds extra depth and weight to the melody. To up the ante, Example five uses double octaves. This example also explores the rhythmic aspect of the arrangement by changing the time signature from 3/4 to 4/4. This change to ‘common time’ allows us to access a variety of new drum grooves and also allows us to re-phrase the rhythmical aspect of the melody.
Any melody can be embellished by the use of approach notes. These approach notes can be articulated in a number of ways including; finger slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and string bends. Example 6 takes the idea of re-harmonising the melody to the extreme by changing the harmonic context of the melody from the Dorian to Mixolydian mode. This provides a jazz-blues flavour to the piece and allows us to include some functional harmony (cadences). Chord melody arrangements often sound impressive when played on the guitar and are a nice feature too.
Example 7 combines the use of an ostinato bass riff (same pattern repeated) in 4/4 with various concepts such as question and answer melody and harmony lines. After you have had some fun with these ideas why not come up with your own arrangement of the song using some of these neat concepts.
Simon & Garfunkel: arranged and recorded a superb version of Scarborough Fair