Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arranging for Guitar: Unchained Melody

After searching for over two years for a crowd pleaser in C major, I've now found two in the space of just a couple of months. I'm currently learning the first one I found, Dust in the Wind by Kansas, and so I was looking for another piece to do, preferably in G major. I found a kinda lame version of Unchained Melody in G, but it didn't really work on the guitar in that key - hence the lameness of that guitar arrangement - so I looked up the original music, which was in C.

I didn't know that Unchained Melody was originally the theme for a motion picture - called Unchained, natch - having grown up only hearing the classic versions by The Righteous Brothers, The Platters, Elvis Presley, &c. Well, the original is quite different from The Righteous Brothers' version - I'd post the PDF I found, but it's still under copyright (Google "Unchained Melody PDF" and you'll find it) - and I liked different aspects of each, so I made my solo guitar version as sort of a combination of the two, plus with added harmonic sophistication from my classical and jazz comp chops.

Here's the MIDI to m4a version I made in iTunes using the RealFont 2.1 Nylon Guitar soundfont: Unchained Melody.

In order to follow the score I'd suggest opening up two tabs with MMM on them, then listen to the m4a in one and follow the score in the other. Here's the score.

The original had the passing tones in the bass on the last eighth note of the first two measures, but I changed that to have them on the entire final beat - a dotted quarter in 12/8 here - because it just sounds cooler. Additionally, that allowed me to get the chromatic secondary leading tone at the end of measure three. I'm not sure why other arrangements of this I've heard don't use this device, because it seems totally obvious to me, but then I compose a lot of classical and jazz music, so I'm used to looking for that sort of thing.

At the end of measure seven I use a descending chromatic passing tone in the bass, which sounds tres cool, non? I find this much more interesting than the rather bland classic arrangements.

Then I use the secondary leading tone again at the end of measure seven as a lower neighbor to the G, and I increase the interest here by making the sonority a fully diminished seventh chord, versus the earlier half-diminished. The third system is the same as the first, so nothing new there.

At the end on measure fourteen, however, the higher melody note allows me to play a full A-flat major triad, versus the earlier F minor, first inversion: Obviously, I'm using the more interesting harmonies in the second appearances of the chromatic bass notes.

For the two full measures of G that start in fifteen, I take advantage of the high melody note to stretch out the figuration, and then in the second half of sixteen I present a full G(m7m9) chord. Where the melody starts getting really low in twenty, it sounds nice and rumbly on the guitar, with it sounding 8vb.

The "rumblage" continues in twenty-one before the melody leaps up to finish the phrase.

Twenty-five actually marks the beginning of the bridge, and since the second half of twenty-six is an E-flat major chord, I had to come up with a different solution than either the original or the classic arrangements used (Since the guitar only goes down to E-natural). I actually like my solution better than any of the other versions I've heard: Make the E-flat major triad a first inversion with G-natural in the bass, and the E-flat and B-flat in the figuration. It sounds really excellent, I think. Much more slick than just mindlessly using the root in the bass, as it makes an F, G, F, G, F, G, C ostinato in the bass.

After the bridge we get a Da Capo repeat, and then the Coda is just a broadened out I, V6, vi, V7 to I ending cadence. A piece of cake, and as American as apple pie.

Got my first lead on a regular gig here in San Antonio - finally - so my self-promotion efforts are starting to pay off. Which reminds me, I need to call her.

More Georgia, because Georgia is just... cool.


Blogger David said...

I remember singing unchained Melody in High School choir and being struck by its hints of bittersweet but not really understanding why. Your analysis led me to look closely at the chords; the last chords in bars 3, 7, 11, and 21 are almost Italian or German sixths (not in the right inversion, and the Italian has an added seventh) that give the harmany a sweet lift to the dominant. The A-flat and E-flat, and in particular the F minor and flat ninth chords gives the tinge of bitter (or maybe sad is the better word). A fine arrangement.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Thanks for the props, David (Now I know who the reader from Hutchinson is).

I've actually done some nice tweaks to it since I posted this and am currently memorizing it. I like it so much that it zoomed to No. 1 on my to-do list.

I'll post the updated version in a day or so.

You nailed the quasi-german chord: With an f-sharp versus the a-flat that's what it would be. I'm thinking of using that in the repeat.



8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:37 AM  

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