DIY Arranging For Fingerstyle Guitar

Welcome to this edition of Fingerstyle Monthly. With this issue, we will be beginning a series on arranging for fingerstyle guitar.

Most players get to a point in their playing where playing someone else’s arrangement just isn’t good enough. As the player becomes more experienced they begin to want to speak in their own voice. What stops most players is lack of knowledge and technique.

So many of us are self taught players who have learned just bits and pieces of music theory. A lot of the time we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. We struggle through learning someone else’s tab arrangement without knowing why we’re playing what we’re playing.

The other big obstacle for many players is technique. A player’s technique may suffer because he/she doesn’t see the big picture when looking at the page of music.

This series of articles won’t deal with technique from a mechanical viewpoint (“put your finger here and….”). Technique will be affected by what we play.

The Song’s the Boss

The A #1, most important thing, in the song is the melody. To paraphrase Chet Atkins “that’s my opinion and it should be yours too “.

Think about it like this. If you take the chords away from a song, the melody will tell you what the song is. It’s a lot tougher if you take the melody away and just leave the chords! That’s a problem with many guitar players who compose their own instrumental songs. Too often it’s a bunch of pretty chords strung together with some tapping and slap harmonics thrown in. Try whistling that! Okay, okay. I’ll get off my soapbox.

On To the Song

I’ve chosen an old spiritual for us to work with. The title of it is Swing Low Sweet Chariot. This song was composed in the mid-1800’s. It was first recorded in the early 20th century.

The musical score with MIDI playback can be found here.

The first step in arranging a song is learning the melody and the lyrics. Learning the lyrics helps with the phrasing of the melody. Otherwise the notes tend to be too short or too long. Or even worse, wrong.

So there’s our project. Next month we’ll look at a basic arrangement of the song. Let me know if you get stuck and have any questions.

I hope you have enjoyed this newsletter. If you think your friends might be interested in taking a look, please feel free to forward this to them.

See you next month!

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