Saturday, 28 January 2012

JAW - Can you arrange (insert song name here) into fingerstyle for me?

No.  Sorry.  But that's a good thing.  Let me explain.

I won't arrange for you for several reasons - I'm already arranging the songs I want to arrange, I think there is a 0.01% chance that you have picked a song I'm already arranging or one that I want to arrange in the future.  Arranging takes me a long, long time.  Very long time.  If it were my business...well let's just say nobody would want to pay the price I'd have to ask.  Arranging is "personal" - I put my own flavour into them, in the style I'm comfortable with.  There aren't many songs I arrange these days that are "universal" - that someone else could or want play the same as me - normally people who do tackle one of my pieces will change them into their own style, which is great, I love seeing what other people do.  My mate Naudo, who is a huge inspiration to my style of playing, I can play at least ten of his arrangements, and none sound like the way he plays them.

But all is not lost with that arrangement you seek!

Now if you are asking this question, and you do have the skills to play a fingerstyle arrangement, there is hope.  If you are asking this question and you don't have the skills to play a fingerstyle arrangement...well don't ask the question until you have already learnt a bunch of other fingerstyle arrangements.  And even then, well...

First up get guitar skills.  Maybe you already have some skills, are keen to get into fingersyle and want to know where to start.  One of the most important things I believe you need to develop, which doesn't often occur in other styles of guitar, is thumb independence.  Go and play the riff I mention here and you will suddenly understand what thumb independence is all about.  At this stage, learning lots of songs from good quality well thought out tabs from good fingerstyle arrangers isn't bad for you at all.  It's even better when there is a video corresponding to the tab. And really push your skills - to be a great player doesn't mean just being able to put your fingers in the right place at the right time, it means doing the hard work and getting to those last little things that make the difference, like holding on to that bass note even when you "don't have to".

Next, start transcribing fingerstyle songs you enjoy that no tab exists for.  I recommend transcribing from a video.  Look at hand positions for clues to chords, loop sections in repeat while trying to play along until you get it.  Type it into tabbing software such as tuxguitar or powertab (the days of pencil and paper for that sort of thing are over, you get so much more flexibility and functionality from tab software). Get all computer nerdy and try out programs like Transcribe! to help find those tricky notes (I don't use it myself) and slow down the video.  And don't necessarily try to play it exactly the same as the arranger, simplify sections, change parts, mix it up.  You're starting on the path to arranging now!

So now, armed with playing skills, and having a good understanding of what other fingerstyle players are doing from your transcribing efforts, arrange!  I've mentioned concepts on arranging in the past a just a primer, there would be books devoted to it, it's a huge area not just limited to the guitar. By the stage of arranging you are into your own realm, you do what you want to do.  Arranging is where you let your style and feeling come to the fore, you are making the music become your own.  Of course it's good to read about tips and techniques such as how to work a bassline into your arrangment, so research!

Now there is a good compromise between just using tabs, transcribing and arranging.  I live in this area a lot:  use music score and midis to base arrangements on.  Music score (such as piano music) and midis are both already arrangements, but are for instruments with a lot more flexibility than the guitar.  With the piano, all the notes are laid out in front of you and you have two hands to attack them with.  Midis don't even have that as a limit!  Armed with the wealth of musical data both (can) contain, you can chip away on the guitar re-arranging into what is possible, here's a video of me pulling apart a midi for clues.

And a final note on transcribing and arranging - by the time you have come up with a full arrangement (depending on how far you take your arrangement) - if you haven't already learnt to play the song reasonably well, you will be pretty close!

So you sure you still want me to arrange a song for you?  No way?  Good for you, that's the spirit.  Get to work!


...and who knows, after all the playing and tabs and transcribing and arranging, perhaps you will want to go to the ultimate in musical expression; cast off the non-original - and write your own songs.  Let me know how you go!

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