Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Desert Song

I'm now into the second time through my set with the new practice method, and I'm quite giddy with how amazingly high tech the whole thing is turning out. Think about this for a second or two: I have every single finger move of both hands for every single piece in my sixty-nine piece set written out, entered into Encore, and this time through I'm creating PDF's of each score as I make certain I have all of the errors corrected and everything is absolutely perfect. From now on, no wasting time rifling through a pile of print music or music collections if I suffer a memory fade, because there will be no memory fades: Whenever I practice, the super-detailed score will be right in front of me on the computer screen. Yes!

Next time through, I'm going to create what I call, "MIDI scores" to play along with. This will involve adding a count-off measure to the beginning of every score, and changing the score's prefs to have the click track playing along with the music. Not sure how long it will be until I start playing along with them, but it will be a step up technology wise from my old metronome slow-play regimen. So, now that I'm creating the final PDF's, I can continue with the Ultimate Arrangement series.

Today's piece is one of my very favorites among the crowd pleaser contemporary numbers in my set, Desert Song by Eric Johnson from his second album, Tones. So far as I'm aware, it's the only thing he's ever recorded on a nylon string guitar, and it's also unlike anything else he's or anyone else has ever recorded for the instrument: It's a totally unique piece that seems to have come from another planet, or something.

Whenever I learn one of these contemporary pieces, I have to not only love the music, but as a composer I have to want to learn from the piece and be influenced by it. Then, of course, it has to fill a need in my set. Desert Song is the first contemporary crowd pleaser in the first suite of my set, which looks like this.

I] A Minor Suite:

01] Figuration Prelude No. 1 in A minor
02] E-Axis Study No. 2 in A minor
03] Sarabande in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
04] Sonatina in A Minor
05] Gavotte II in A minor, 3rd Lute Suite - J.S. Bach
06] Irreducible Fugue No. 1
07] Desert Song - Eric johnson
08] Irreducible Fugue No. 2
09] Classical Gas - Mason Williams

Now, Desert Song is a little too hip and obscure for the masses, so I put it inside of the suite, which builds up to Classical Gas, which just about everybody knows. Five of the pieces are my originals, and the other two are Bach lute miniatures that I like. So, it's an eclectic suite, but it gets most of the audience on my side early, because there's something for most guitar aficionado's tastes in it.

I've written about this piece before, because it's an extemporized sort of thing, and there are many rhythmic irrationalities present as Eric floats in and out of lock with the beat, and improvises lines that have many strange tuplets present in them. Of all of the transcriptions that I did for this mega-project, I spent by far the largest amount of time on this piece. More than the two tap tech pieces combined!

From the "classical guy" perspective, I had to deal with the fact that Eric holds a pick between p and i, and uses m, a, and c to get the rest of the figuration. Since he uses a lot of five-voice harmony in this piece, then, it was only natural to employ the c finger a lot. Sorry if you're a Segovia School player, but I'm a contemporary guitarist who just happens to play nylon string guitars, so I use every resource at my disposal: I have five digits on my right hand, and I use them all.

The other thing about Eric holding a plectrum is that he can transition into the speedy licks and use alternate picking with great alacrity, whereas i/m alternation for me has always been... problematic. So, I kept his licks intact, but I added a lot of legato elements - hammer-ons and pull-offs - to make them, well, possible for me to execute. If you happen to be blessed with the proper genetics to alternate i and m quickly, by all means add some attacks in those lines to make them more impressive.

Finally, I don't "do" Flamenco - I'm actually just learning some basic Flamenco strumming now for a couple of pieces - so in the final Flamenco section, I removed all the strums and replaced them with finger rolls. If i can ever figure out what that super-quick up/down deal is that Flamenco guys do, I'll add that back in, but for this version at this point, I really don't think much is lost by ditching the strums. If you know how to do those, of course, put them in (And send me an email! LOL!).

OK, so here we go:

Desert Song - Eric Johnson

This MPEG4 MIDI conversion is the same as the one in the previous post, though I did change two measures and a couple of durations that were not right. I'll point those out as we come to them. The admin tools for are just arcane enough that I didn't want to mess with inserting a new version over an old version for just a couple of minor changes.

The first thing to notice in the opening figuration is that I don't use the m finger at all: My technique revolves around the simple logic of assigning one finger per string, and so if a string is skipped, then that finger is skipped. So, I do this a lot. The capital P's are for pull-offs (Or push-offs; whichever the case may be depending on context), and the capital H's are for hammer-ons. On the second system there are five voices, so all five digits of the right hand are used, but starting in measure five the harmony has the B-string skipped, so the a finger is left out of the figuration. See how simple and logical this is? I don't know why everybody doesn't do it this way.

The five-voice B-flat major-seventh chord that starts in measure twenty-one (pickup for the flam in measure twenty), requires an angled flange - or "Barre" if you prefer - that has finger number 1 fretting both the B-flat in the bass at VI and the A in the lead at V. With my jazz background, I don't think this is anything even remotely strange, but some classical cat's eyes glaze over when they see stuff like that, so I thought I'd spend a little extra time and effort making it absolutely clear what's goin' on.

The "A" section, if I can call it that, ends at measure 37, and the "B" - which just amounts to an elaborated variation - starts in 38. It took me a while to come up with the 5/4 opening measure with the quarter note triplet figuration, but that really is closest to what he actually plays there.

As I mentioned in the previous post about this piece, the lick starting in measure 46 gave me fits and took several days of trial and error before I honed in on what Eric and I were playing. It's one thing to feel and execute a lick like this intuitively, but 'tis a whole other enchilada entirely to actually write it out in a form that a computer can render convincingly. The 5:3 quintuplets were pretty easy to figure out, but the 7:3 septuplets can only be described as some wild-ass shite, and then there's the solution of a measure of 9/8 plus a measure of 7/8 to equal two measures of 4/4 (8/8). Yeah, I'm proud as frak of that passage. LOL! Note also that I use the symbol S to indicate slides in the left hand. That's traditionally labelled as gliss for glissando, but I speak English, so I ditched ALL of that Italian and German junk. besides, with p, i, m, a, c, P, H, and S, I can look forward to the day when I compose a passage that will spell, m, i, S, S, i, S, S, i, P, P, i when I write the fingering out. ;^)

At measure 56 a harmonic is hit in the lead, and notice how my enumeration of it makes everything clear: It's a harmonic, as the note indicates, you pluck it with the m finger of the right hand, and it's chimed at the 12th fret. I like this better than any other system anyone else has ever come up with... but, of course, right?

Measure 70 is one of two measures I changed between rendering the MIDI to M4A file and this final version of the score. I made it 5/4 instead of 4/4 so that the third note A could be held like Eric jazzes around with it. This is much closer to the recording.

And so begins the concluding Flamenco-ish section. Whereas everything preceeding this has been very close to what Eric plays - I did make the flams more consistent and I changed a couple of figurations to make them "better" IMO - here I changed quite a bit. Everything up to the first quarter note of measure 78 is as Eric plays it, then the licks are mine, as Eric's were very difficult and didn't lend themselves to legato technique. I kept the Phrygian-Flamenco flavor, but made the licks more linear and less intervallic. Hey, "A man's got to know his limitations." - "Dirty Harry" Callahan In 82 is where I ditched the Flamenco strumming for finger rolls, but the notes are right.

And so the concluding page. 84-85 are what Eric plays, but not how he plays them, as I modified the execution for classical-based technique. the p/i indicates that the harmonic is chimed with i and plucked with p. In 86-87 I again do away with the Flamenco strums and replace them with finger rolls, but 88 to the end is what Eric plays. Measure 91 is the second measure I changed the time signature for, just like the preceding one that is basically identical.

Hope you enjoyed this one. I certainly learned a ton from it.


Blogger Mark D. said...

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9:40 PM  
Anonymous Finn Bjerke said...

Man ! I really like this site, my girl just loves me playing Satie Gymnopedie 1 thx for making such a nice arrangement of it.

IM going to try it in open tuning to just to see if fingering gets easier its probably not a good idea. We will see. Anyẃay thanks again. Are you sharing the midis also ?? ID love to try other tunings and importing your arrangemnts into guitar pro makes it a lot easier.

may I recommend tabledit / guitar pro 6 very nice programmes for arranging stuff.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

Thanks Finn.

I use Guitar Pro 5 when I need to use TAB, but that's all. I also bought Sibelius just a few weeks ago, and I hate it. No floating palettes, so everything takes at least TWICE as many clicks to get done. It's better than Finale, which I was never able to figure out, but Sibelius still has a user hostile interface which is impossible to figure out intuitively. It's 2012, so there's no excuse for poor user interfaces anymore.

After over FIFTEEN YEARS nobody has improved on Encore's floating palettes: Click on what you want to add to the score, click on the score to add it. Two clicks. With Sibelius, you have to click on a tab, click on the item, THEN add it to the score, which often gives you a dialog box or some such garbage.

I'm a composer/arranger, not a digital typesetter, and only Encore is quick enough to keep up with my workflow pace. Every other notation program is basically useless for composing.



3:02 PM  

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