Friday, January 29, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Dust in the Wind

I'm finishing up my third pass through the new practice routine - reading off of the PDF files this time - and... it's just so fraking cool! More on this later, but let's get to this installment's piece.

This post will knock Joe Satriani's A Day at the Beach off of the bottom of the page, so I'll be creating a sidebar section for the series just as soon as I'm done composing this post.

Here's another 100% mine arrangement, and it's the concluding number for the second suite in my set, the one in C major, which looks like this.

II] C Major Suite:

10] Figuration Prelude No. 2 in C major
11] E-Axis Study No. 3 in C major
12] Bourree II in C major, 4th Cello Suite - J.S. Bach
13] Alegretto in C Major
14] Ode to Joy - L. van Beethoven
15] G-Axis Study No. 2 in C minor
16] Unchained Melody - Zaret/North
17] G-Axis Study No. 5 in C major
18] Dust in the Wind - Kansas

Finding, "rocking" C major contemporary crowd pleaser pieces proved to be difficult for me. It took over four years before I stumbled across Unchained Melody and Dust in the Wind by Kerry Livgren (Ack. I have to fix the score: I put "Terry" in there) of the progressive rock band Kansas. This was a huge hit my sophomore year in college ('77-'78), and it was also the only top ten hit Kansas ever had. I remember making out with college sweethearts to this. LOL!

I chanced upon this piece one day a couple of years ago when I was waiting for my friend Mark at his shop, Transpecos Guitars (Link in the sidebar). There was an "Acoustic Guitar Classics" collection on the shelves - I'm always leafing through stuff like that looking for material - and I found this. Well, the melody is just above the original guitar figuration, and it only took me a few seconds to realize that, with very few modifications, the original vocal melody could be combined with the original guitar part with almost no modification. And so, here we are.

Actually putting the arrangement together only took a few days - it was the easiest, most natural arrangement of all of the pop songs I've ever done - but it didn't lend itself to any kind of "classicization" like Unchained melody did: This is super straight-ahead, harmonically speaking.

The MIDI to MPEG4 conversion I made in iTunes even came out really well, so here it is:

Dust in the Wind - Kerry Livgren/Kansas

I again had an older version of this in my Arrangements folder, so I had to put a 'z' at the beginning of the file name to get the new version in there. If you open a second window or tab, you can follow the score and listen.

One thing I liked about the arrangement I found at Mark's shop was that it was ever so slightly simplified. Kerry makes an attack on the last eighths of the measures, which makes the chord changes a bit easier too. From my perspective, though, it allowed for a developmental strategy: I strategically add attacks on the last eighths to build up to a constant-eighth bridge, as you'll see. The sixteen bar intro, however, is just like the simple arrangement I found.

The arrangement is written out using three voices, for the most part, but by the time I get to measure nineteen, I need four to get the vocal melody combined with the guitar figuration. See how close the melody is to the guitar part? This almost never happens. Of course, being a 21st century guitarist, I use the 'c' finger a lot to make execution more logical.

Measure 21 is four quarter notes in the original vocal melody, but I made that a pair of halves to keep simultaneous attacks to only two. Many arrangers stumble over issues like this, and slavishly follow the original. This is a pretty serious mistake, from my point of view, because the idea is to make the arrangement idiomatic, and as if it was always a solo guitar piece. Likewise, in measure 22, the original vocal melody is four straight quarter notes, but I alternate eights and dotted quarters to keep simultaneous attacks down to two, and make the thing more idiomatic for solo guitar.

Measures 25 to 31 are an internal repeat, but 32 is the transition into what would be the 'B' section. Note that I add an attack on the final eighth to begin the build up I was talking about. In 34 I again modified the original melody's rhythm to keep it at two simultaneous attacks: The third beat was a quarter before. Note that the final eights are attacked in 36 and 38, as a part of the build up. Then we get the repeat in the first ending. The form of this arrangement is exactly like the original. One reason it's good to do this with arrangements that are intended to be crowd pleaders, is that many listeners familiar with these things will be singing the pieces in their minds. Yeah, the rhythmic modifications might throw them slightly, but it's not a bad compromise nonetheless.

At 41 the bridge begins, and the original song has a viola (!) solo there (Totally unique among popular songs, so far as I'm aware). Well, that wasn't possible on solo guitar, so this is the constant-eighth texture I have built up to instead. I think it works really well, if I do say so myself. For the internal repeat, I added an alternating bass note pattern, and it actually sounds kind of gnarly I think.

At the end of the bridge there is a D.C. Going back to the intro is highly unusual in a musical form, but here you have it. I made the score like this for brevity's sake, but in actual performance I add attacks on the final eights in the repeated intro to increase interest a tad.

The coda has added final eighth attacks as well, and the final eight measures, starting at 65, are the second half of the bridge, which I used to wind the piece down. Call it a codetta, but it's not in the original, which uses the old, standby rock cop-out: A fade out. It's like pop composers don't know how to compose an ending, or something.

So, there it is. I love this piece, and it's really fun to play. Not only that, but it's the most requested repeat in my set behind Classical Gass and Stairway to Heaven.

We need more Georgia.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

George, you're such a great resource. I do appreciate your presence on the planet.

- jack

2:19 PM  

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