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It has been suggested that this artist was Robert Johnson's mother, but this appears not to be the case - Blues and Gospel Records 1890-1943's entry for "Mrs. Johnson"

Author Topic: Creating your own arrangements  (Read 2555 times)

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Offline Norfolk Slim

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Creating your own arrangements
« on: December 12, 2005, 05:28:55 AM »
I was wondering what experiences people have had in trying to create their own arrangements and what methods / tips people might have arrived at?

I'm eager to have a crack at Dyin Crapshooter's Blues, but the accomaniement is actully pretty simple sounding- reliant very much on the delivery of both guitar and vocal.  On the basis that I am never going to sing like McTell and my guitar will never swing like his, I got to thinking how I might go about an arrangement that suits me better.

Realistically, I'll probably end up sticking with the original anyway, but was interested (having not tried it before) to hear how people go about this sort of thing.  Do you learn the original first and then change it or do you take the chord progression and start afresh?

Offline Slack

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #1 on: December 12, 2005, 08:09:06 AM »
You might check out Johnm's topic "Writing in the style"  ...it is about original songs, but much would apply to creating your own arrangements of exisiting songs as well...

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #2 on: December 12, 2005, 08:49:55 AM »
That's a fascinating thread which I don't think I've read before- thanks.

I'm intrigued by the reference to a CD of original blues by John M but assume it hasn't become a reality yet?

Offline a2tom

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #3 on: December 12, 2005, 09:14:14 AM »
Interesting comment Slack.  It is what I got to thinking about when I first read the question.  This comes from the mindset that I probably spend at least half of my guitar time working out "new" things - it's just what I find to be the most fun.  So I figured, I ought to be able to answer this one in some meaningful way.  But then I got to considering the difference between "newly creating" and "arranging for" an existing tune and got a little stuck.  I'll give my personal experience on the broadest question first and see if it maybe applies to "arranging for". 

My best answer to how to have something new come out of the guitar is to have it in your hands near constantly and play with it.  I don't mean play in the sense of "make music", I mean play in the sense of "mess around", "have fun" and, well, "play".  If you have young kids you'll know what I mean - stick 'em in a room with a box, and they'll find something new to do with it.

But for the guitar box it needs to be structured play.  You'll have a low success rate randomly picking notes!  This structure comes from a developing a repetoire of basic techniques and approaches. For me this means the rest of my guitar time is spent learning, really listening closely to and learning, what the masters were doing.  Obviously, I'm in good company there...

So a typical moment of creation entails starting from someplace comfortable, and then letting it go, doing something different, change the rhythm, walk up there instead of down, change the melody, play the chord change to a differnt form up the neck, and on and on.  For me, this occurs without much thought most often, and all of a sudden, amidst all the mess, I'll hit something and think "hey, I liked that", and its off to the races.  Truly, my best creative moments on the guitar do NOT come when I am thinking "I want to write something new now", but when I am playing something else and the new just happens. 

The above isn't really what you asked, or is it?  The "arranging for" activity inherently seems even more structured, to the point that I find it feels almost confining.  Certainly if you have an existing tune, the place to start is with the chord changes.  You can certainly sometimes alter the chords for new effect, but in general has to be the starting point.  Then, as you say a strong vocal melody may suggest certain logical ways to counterpoint it against the guitar.  With a really strong sung melody I suspect one needs to let it be the main thing. 

In the end, maybe the point is the same, which is to say, learn lots of different ways that others have used the guitar to accomany (pure rhythm, melodic counterpoint, harmonization, call response, whatever), and then just mess around with the guitar while singing or at least keeping the song in head.  Fortunately, one important point is that many guitar parts can support many different sung parts. 

I am curious to hear others comments about how to wed the guitar part in a meanginful way to to the sung part.  I don't feel like I am very good at this yet.  But maybe its just a matter of continuing to develop techniques and approaches...

tom

Offline GhostRider

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #4 on: December 12, 2005, 10:25:48 AM »
Hey Slim:

I recently went through the process you described. I wanted to sing "Nobody Knows You When Your Down and Out", but the original is pretty "jazzy", with lots of chord changes. After trying a few approaches, I came across two that allowed me to do anything, "Key" and "Style".

"Key" was to choose a key (in my case E) and play around with riffs chacteristic of that key. I ended up using bits from Lightin' Hopkins, Church Bell Blues, 19 Woman Blues and "This Whole World's in a Tangle". I worked out a turnaround first, worked in a few riffs and started to fit the words in. Worked out pretty well, I think.

In "Style", I started out with a premiss: I wanted to do the song in the style of Frank Stokes. I put the song in a Frank Stokes key ( in my case C) started to play one of this tunes (in my case, "I Got Mine") and then started to sing. The vocal started to distort the original (different phrasing etc.) so where I had to deviate I plugged in some Frank Stokes C riffs or tecniques and ended up with a different melodic line. Actually ended up sounding like Jimmy Rogers >:D.

Anyway, this is how I decided to attack this problem. I was hopeless starting from scratch.

Alex
« Last Edit: December 12, 2005, 01:39:11 PM by Pyrochlore »

chipmonk doug

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #5 on: December 13, 2005, 03:14:09 AM »
I don't have any choice but to create my own arrangements.  I'm not good enough to copy anybody.

I used to worry about it but now I just go with it.

Offline Johnm

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #6 on: December 13, 2005, 04:57:55 PM »
Hi Simon,
There are so many considerations that go into creating your own arrangements.? With regard to the accompaniment:
? ?* Do you want it to track the sung melody, vamp behind the singing, or have it do some kind of counter-melody to the sung melody?
? ?* Do you want to keep some elements of the original recording or performance of the song you are doing (such as playing it in the same tuning/position as the original), or do you want to go some place altogether different?
? ?* Do you want to retain the song's treatment of pulse, or go somewhere different with it, e.g. switching from a cut-time, alternating bass feel to a four-to-the-bar monotonic bass?? Maybe something really different, like a thumb lead could lead somewhere interesting.
With regard to the song and singing:
? ?* Do you want to keep the lyrics intact or introduce verses from other sources?
? ?* Do you want to pitch the song where you'll have a bright, projected sound, like at the top of your vocal range, or at a place in your range where you'll have a deeper and darker sound?
? ?* Do you intend to keep the melody as sung on your model performance, or do you intend to put the lyrics to a different melody from some other source or your own invention?
I guess these are just some of the areas you might consider in doing an arrangement of your own.? I think Alex's suggestion of thinking how the song might have been done by other musicians is a really good one.? Often just thinking of the song as associated with a different musician than the one who actually played it will generate a different version very quickly.?
Since the prospect of doing your own arrangement of "Dying Crap-Shooter Blues" is what generated the thread here, one thought that occurs to me in that regard is that that song is so "lyric-intensive" that I would be disinclined to do anything designed to show off the guitar behind the singing.? I think just remembering and getting all those words out is plenty to do without worrying about nailing some gymnastic accompaniment simultaneously.? You can always make up a slick solo for your arrangment if you want to feature the guitar in particular at some point during the course of your rendition.? Best of luck with this.? I think it is a very worthwhile thing to do, and one way to keep the music alive.? I have not yet done my CD of songs done with my own arrangements, but hope to do it in the coming year.
All best,
Johnm
« Last Edit: December 13, 2005, 11:09:20 PM by Johnm »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #7 on: December 13, 2005, 06:59:24 PM »
Lots of wisdom from JohnM there regarding creating your own arrangements, and as any of us who have heard his arrangements can attest to, he knows whereof he speaks.

My contribution is slightly more party-pooper in spirit and has to do specifically with this song. As you yourself have mentioned, the guitar part is not that complex, although I still think it is tricky to duplicate. And as John points out, the song is very lyric-intensive, part of the great appeal of the song for me. That lyric-intensiveness, just getting all those words in, makes the overall singing pretty challenging as well. And while the guitar part is not super elaborate, it's pretty active rhythmically. McTell is really spanking the guitar. Lastly, for me, it's a pretty definitive performance, especially the two later performances. While the overall impression of the song is simple compared to more fancy guitar arrangements and what not, I'd say performing it is not that simple. If you're not going to do something of a duplication, an arrangement has to be pretty hot or dramatic, IMO.

Paul Geremia has an arrangement on Live From Uncle Sam's Backyard that is to some extent a duplication of McTell's versions, or has the spirit of it. It'a pretty spiffy (watch for it on the Juke soon if you don't have it). He played this one evening at Port Townsend this year on Waxwing's 12-string while a bunch of us were sitting around in the trees outside the Weenie House. JohnM said after Paul was done that it's one song that takes a long time to "get going". I'm pretty sure this was not meant as a negative comment about the performance, which was relatively loose and in the spirit of sitting around and shooting the shit but hugely fun, or about the song. It was more that the song has a rather extended introductory section, something I think is challenging to pull off and make exciting while the listener waits till one gets to the "meat" of the tune and steadier groove of the lists of what Jesse wants at his funeral.
Because this tune is something of a bad-man ballad style of thing, you'd think it would accommodate all sorts of arrangements, and maybe I'm out to lunch and it could. I'd be interested to have heard for instance what Dave van Ronk might have done with it (a fine arranger IMO). Maybe I'm not being openminded enough! If you take it on, go nuts.
UB

Offline Norfolk Slim

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2005, 01:26:24 AM »
Thanks for the further comments chaps.

I've sat for the past couple of nights working on transcribing the original to get the basics together.  I agree with what Bud said about the rhythmic stuff- there's more to the guitar part than it sounds.  It could be a long job- fun though.

I suppose my thinking to some extent is that I may actually find it simpler to put together a coherent whole if I could get some of that rhythmic stuff down to a repeating fingerpicked riff of some sort.  Of course that might just be an excuse to avoid doing the tricky bits ;)

I want to be fairly faithful to the original because I think its great- so the lyrics and melody will definitely stay and hopefully the overall feel.  The register its played in is an issue though.  I have a 12 string which I can tune down 7 steps and I've been working on it with an old beater tuned right down so I can figure things out.  Ideally though, I think I'd like to get something which works on my 6 string as I play that far far more often than I do the 12 string; certainly if I go away to guitar weekends and such, I don't take the 12 string with me.

I think I'm going to try to get the original together first and work from there.  A long way to go I think!

Finally- if you get the CD together John, I'll certainly be in the queue to buy it :)

Offline waxwing

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2005, 09:09:38 AM »
Actually, Dave van Ronk's St James Infirmary Blues is sometimes sub-titled Dying Crapshooters Blues and is played along the lines of portions of McTell's version, also borrowing some of the lyrics. DvR transposes it to Am (and may capo up a bit). Dave did say often that SJI was the first song he learned as a child, begging his sister to play it on the piano from an old song book so he could figure it out on the uke, I think.

It was one of the first songs I learned, from one af Dave's instructional CDs or videos, when I first came back to the guitar, about 5 years ago, and I have since moved it to the 12 string, tuned standard at B, where I can sing it at the top of my range. If you want to move DCB to a 6 string, Am may be a direction to go to create your own arrangement. DvR sometimes substitutes F7 for Dm, the IV chord, getting a great sound.

All for now.
John C.
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ROOTSANDBLUESLADY

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2005, 09:02:28 AM »
What a great subject, as is "writing in the style" which I also want to comment on, since they both mean a lot to me lately, since I have been writing a lot of songs in the last few months, but when I try to learn to play a traditional blues song, I still have so much to learn that I go for detailed instruction, or listen to the original and master covers incessantly to try to get the original style, cadence, vocal timing, still so hard but so important to me.  I just started listening to cover works by artists I really like too, to draw from them, mainly to get an extra lick or to hear different verses.  It is pretty easy for me to play an old blues song my way, but not what I want to do, or can do well yet, I have so much to learn.  Just scratching the surface.  On the other hand when I write my own song I feel that I can do anything I want with it, and am using what I have learned so far because that is the music I love to play and listen to. 

Rochelle

Offline Johnm

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Re: Creating your own arrangements
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2016, 07:00:04 AM »
Hi all,
I would just suggest that if you've played for a while, try to do this for some song that you particularly like.  You'll learn so much from doing it.  In addition to which, it is hugely liberating not to be trying to copy some pre-existing performance or arrangement.  Go for it!
All best,
Johnm

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