Saturday, January 17, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Dust in the Wind - Kansas

For several years I've been bothered by a kink in my set, as well as in the list of pieces for the Heavy Nylon CD I'm working on. The problem is, the suites in my set progress around the cycle of thirds from A minor to A major - A minor, C, E minor, G, B minor, D, F-sharp minor, A - and I have no crowd pleaser for the second suite in C. I want Heavy Nylon to follow the same key plan for obvious reasons: Every suite should ideally end with a crowd pleaser, and Heavy Nylon is to be a collection of all the crowd pleasers in my set.

Well, I was waiting for my friend Mark at his shop one day - Transpecos Guitars (Link in sidebar) - and there was an acoustic guitar compilation on his shelves. I'm always leafing through stuff like that looking for material, and a basic arrangement of Dust in the Wind by Kerry Livgren of the band Kansas was in that particular book. This was the only Top Ten hit for Kansas, and some of us of a certain age made out with our college sweethearts listening to this, so I really don't know why I didn't think of it years ago.

Anyway, I noticed that the vocal melody was quite low and could be combined with the original guitar figuration quite readily, so I spent last night and this morning arranging it. It came out quite well, I think. Here's the MPEG-4 audio (Apple, in its infinite wisdom, has decided iTunes should convert MIDI files to M4A's now, instead of MP3's).

Dust in the Wind - Kansas

This is a bit of a test: I'm not sure if playTagger will tag m4a files or not. If so, clicking the blue playTagger icon will allow you to listen to the streaming audio while following the arrangement in this window. Otherwise, you'll have to click on the file name, which will open Quicktime or whatever media player you have as a default in another window.

This is one of those pieces you often hear first and second year guitar students hacking away at, so to be subtly humorous, I play the intro completely straight, exactly as Livgren played it. Of course, I've given it legit classical right hand fingering.

I have done the vertical edits to the music, but not the horizontal placements yet. That will have to wait for me to put the left hand fingering in, as every time you use the Align Spacing function in Encore, that is reset. As a result, there are some rest/note collisions in the score at this point.

BTW, this is the first arrangement I've done with the new version of Encore - v5.0.3 - and I absolutely love it. The new WYSIWYG display is great, and the guitar palette has been tweaked so that the fonts and sizes for the fingering indicators are much better now. Ahhhhhh!

After the sixteen measure intro, the verse starts, and the vocal melody is the same as the top line in the guitar until measure nineteen: There, I just use the guitar's open high E string to get the note in the vocals. This is not EZ guitar anymore at this point, as the right hand "c" finger is required to get the vocal note while maintaining the original guitar figuration below.

I decided to have no more than two simultaneous attacks throughout the piece to maintain the feel of the original texture as much as possible, and this lead to some changes in the melodic rhythm of the melody versus the original.

At 21 the high G was originally four quarter notes, but two half notes kept the attacks down to two max. Then, in 22, the original rhythm was straight quarters for the melody, but the eighth/dotted-quarter rhythm allowed for only two max attacks. The G to F at the beginning of 22 is the only slur - a pull-off in guitarpeak - that I needed in the piece.

I had to use a full four notated voices in the verses, but this is the only area in the piece that requires four, and with only two simultaneous attacks possible in the arrangement's texture, there is nothing even remotely virtuosic here (Well, unless you are a super-conservative traditional classical guitarist who doesn't use the "c" finger).

The verses are integrated with the chorus, so 25-32 are just a written out repeat of the previous eight measures. The chorus, then, begins at 33. Here I was actually able to go back to only three notated voices, so this is very close to the original guitar part, even though I have the vocal melody in the lead. At the end of 36 I introduce a figuration attack on the final eighth note of the measure, as I'm building up to the constant eight note surface rhythm I came up with for the bridge. I use the same device at the end of 38.

After the repeat, the second ending is the beginning of the bridge. There is a cool viola (!) solo in the original arrangement, so, since I couldn't do that, I decided to increase the interest with a constant eighth note surface rhythm here. Otherwise, 41-48 are fingered exactly like the original guitar part in the left hand.

For the written-out repeat within the bridge, I added alternating notes in the bass. This sounds "wicked pissah," man! At the end of 56 I let my trad composer creds show, as I made the return to the top via a real V(m7)/I - complete with a 4-3 suspension resolution LOL! - versus the original vi(add11) sonority. Not only can I not help myself, but I'm also thinking about the ending of the piece.

Unusually, the piece then returns Da Capo to the introduction! This is very cool, and I'm positive I've never done this myself, so it's giving me some compositional ideas (Yes, yes; Beethoven does this in The Ninth, but that's not exactly a miniature, is it?).

For the Da Capo I'm sure I'll add some adornments, but I didn't want to write all of that out. Instead, I added the adornments in the coda to give an idea and build up to the ending. In true rock and roll cop out fashion, the original version of this piece ends with a fade out. I hate fade outs... because that means I have to write an ending. LOL! As I mentioned earlier, I was thinking about this problem when I was arranging the bridge, so I just used the second phrase of the bridge with the alternating bass notes and the classical V(4-3m7)/I figure at the end to accomplish this. I even programmed a ritardando into the MIDI file, and the resolution to the close position C major triad sounds quasi-comically classical. So, of course, I love it.


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