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!

Guitar Techniques - - Arranging -

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

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