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Mr. James, do you think I'll ever be able to play the guitar the way you do?' And Skip James turns to him and he says, 'Son, Skip has been and gone from places you will never get to' - Greil Marcus, account of a conversation with a young acolyte in Skip's dressing room

Author Topic: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement  (Read 669 times)

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Offline Johnm

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Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« on: September 14, 2019, 09:21:17 AM »
Hi all,
A little while ago, Pan posted his version of "Mississippi Blues", which he had re-arranged in E position in standard tuning from its original playing position of A in standard tuning.  You can listen to his arrangement at:  https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=5633.msg105721#msg105721 .  Putting the song in E placed it in a better singing key for his vocal range, but also made available a lot of nifty chord voicings and new sounds that he utilized in his arrangement, while keeping the basic contour and melody of the original version. 
I think the idea of creating a new arrangement for a song you like, played in a different playing position or tuning than the original performance is an important one, both for the value of stirring one's creative juices, but also because it keeps the music alive and continuing to evolve and change.  To that end, I realized recently that Rev. Davis' version of "Candyman", which he played in C position in standard tuning, could sit really naturally in Spanish tuning, so I re-arranged it there.  I've attached it here, and I apologize for the sound quality, but I actually like the sound of the song better in Spanish than in C.  See what you think.

I'd like to encourage other Weenies to post in this thread their own arrangements of songs that they play in different playing positions/tunings than the original recordings, and to keep this ball rolling.

All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 15, 2019, 06:48:11 AM by Johnm »

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2019, 11:30:29 AM »
Interesting. I've been obsessed with the playing and singing of Reverend Gary Davis for decades upon decades, and have learned many of his arrangements to the best of my ability. But I'm unable to sing any of the G songs--it's a tough key for women, in general. Yet I can't quite imagine figuring most out in other keys. In spite of the challenges, they seem to fall under the fingers where they're set. Anybody have advice or models?

Offline Johnm

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2019, 12:52:32 PM »
Hi Vermonter,
My advice for re-arranging songs in different playing positions or tunings than they were originally played in is to look at the instrumental range of the melody, and where it sits in the scale.  If you think of "Candyman" as played by Rev. Davis, his playing position was C position in standard tuning.  The melody of his instrumental version never goes higher than the G note at the third fret of the first string, or lower than the G note on the open third string.  So you could say that the range of the instrumental version Rev. Davis' "Candyman" is an octave, from a low V note to a high V note. 

In choosing a playing position or tuning to do a new arrangement of "Candyman" in, you have to see where that octave melodic range from V to V is going to fall in the tuning or playing position.  Spanish tuning (in G) is tuned DGDGBD.  In Spanish tuning, then, the  melodic octave range from V to V goes from the open fourth string up to the open first string.  You can see from that that you are going to be able to play the song without ever having to go up the neck; indeed, you'll never have to play anything higher in pitch than the open first string. 

If you then take it a step further and say, "I'd like to incorporate that rocking interior motion that Rev. Davis' version of "Candyman" has.", where did that rocking motion happen in his version?  It's all on the third string, moving back and forth from the open third string to the second fret of the third string.  If you then say, "What are those notes as expressed in the key of C where Rev. Davis played the song?", they are G and A, the V and VI notes of the C scale.  So if you want to achieve the same rocking motion in a version played in Spanish tuning, you'll need to rock back and forth between the V and VI notes of the key of G.  Those notes are D and E, and they live at the open fourth string and the second fret of the fourth string.  At this point, all that remains in putting together the arrangement in Spanish tuning is to transpose the melody from C to G.

Taking the first step to determine the melodic range of the song and seeing where it superimposes on the scale is the most important step in re-arranging a song, whether you choose to do it in a different position in standard tuning than it was originally played in, or an open tuning (assuming you wish to play the melody in your arrangement).  Once you know where the range sits in the scale, you can easily check the technical feasibility of playing the song in a variety of different positions and tunings.  I hope this helps.  I should say, too, that if the approach above seems to analytical or tedious, you can always try just doing it by ear.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: September 21, 2019, 08:46:47 AM by Johnm »

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2019, 10:23:56 AM »
Thank you, John! This is so helpful, as your posts always are.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2019, 01:29:07 PM »
Hi Vermonter,
I'm glad that was helpful.  It occurs to me that if Rev. Davis' songs in G are uncomfortably high for you to sing when you play them in that key, you might try transposing one of them to E and see if that helps.  Since when Rev. Davis played in G he used a thumb-wrapped closed position G chord, like an F moved up two frets, and that position is essentially the same as a barred E position, you might find that the G tunes are easier to play in E, giving you more open strings to work with, and also in a better singing key for you.  Let us know if that yields any promising results, and good luck with it.
All best,
John

Offline Vermonter

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2019, 10:33:07 AM »
Thanks again, John! I'll try it.

Offline RobBob

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2019, 08:05:11 AM »
One thing I got from listening to observing closely the old masters was that it was not slavish imitation but the realized essence that makes for great blues.  While I have arrangements close to the source, I have revamped, fine tuned and adapted the music to my personal abilities. Listen to Booker White's version of Going Down Slow to know that it is not like the original by St Louis Jimmy but it is his filtered version. This is my take on it, one who after 50 years, still only plays in his local community.  Keeping the blues alive.

Offline harriet

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2019, 03:33:30 AM »
It might be of interest that Fred Mcdowell did two versions of Lay Down your Cool Iron related to this topic- one in standard that John Miller has posted in the lyrics and then Mcdowell also did an electric version of the song in Spanish on the I Do Not Play No Rock and Roll (Complete Sessions) - somewhat with the "That's Allright" guitar vocabulary .  For comparison:

Standard Tuning:


Spanish:
« Last Edit: October 06, 2019, 03:35:03 AM by harriet »

Offline Johnm

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #8 on: October 12, 2019, 04:00:11 PM »
Hi all,
Apropos of Harriet's posting of Fred McDowell playing "Let Me Lay Down In Your Cool Iron Bed" out of two different playing positions/tunings, here is a link to a thread in the Main Forum entitled, "Instances of Musicians Playing the Same Song out of Different Playing Positions/Tunings:  https://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=11137.msg98227#msg98227 .
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: October 12, 2019, 05:16:59 PM by Johnm »

Offline harriet

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #9 on: October 30, 2019, 06:00:33 PM »
I don't do this myself but in open tunings you can transpose from Spanish to Vestapol by moving it over on the fretboard - but I've forgotten how.

Offline Rivers

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Re: Covering the Song, Not the Arrangement
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2019, 09:04:56 PM »
Assuming I understand your post Harriet I do this on a regular basis with chords. Move any Spanish shape 1 string lower (pitch-wise) across the fretboard, toward the ceiling! Admittedly that's an over simplification, particularly as you get into chords above first position.

The grokable differences are the high, first position tonic in Spanish (at the fifth fret) becomes the open first string in Vestapol. Also, the low bass root in Spanish (open 5th string) goes to the sixth string, obviously.

The relative minor chords of both, triads up around the seventh fret, are interesting to compare and contrast.

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