Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Yankee Doodle Dixie

This brilliant gem by the late, great Chet Atkins is really unique in all of the pop guitar repertoire, so far as I am aware. Chet basically took two preexisting melodies and combined them into counterpoint - cantus prius factus as it's called - which is a really clever trick that doesn't work very often. In this case, Dixie is in the lead in the A sections, while Yankee Doodle is the bass part. Now, from a Bachian contrapuntal perspective there are a few crudities, but to our modern ears and in this country and western jazz idiom, those don't bother in the least. In fact, they add to the coolness, IMO. The B sections are just a countrified swing version of the Dixie B section, so the combo is only in the A's.

The original recording is with a band, but it was very easy to extract the basic tune and have it as a solo piece. In the arrangement here I wanted to keep it on two pages, so the form is A, A', B, A, Coda: The bare bones. In actual performance, I play it, A, A', B, A', B, A, Coda. the coda - well, codetta, actually - is the opening lick of the US national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. Since this is the last piece in my set before any encores, I eventually plan to have an arrangement of the whole US national anthem here, and that's getting close to the top of my to-do list now, but it's not done yet. Chet ends the piece with a dominant seventh/diminished fifth sonority, which is hilarious, but it just didn't work in my set, so I changed it.

Here's the MIDI to AAC conversion of the score.

Yankee Doodle Dixie - Chet Atkins

And the score.

I made no changes to the music in the A sections at all. The only thing I had to do was work out a legit classical style fingering. I did make a few changes in the B section though, as Chet was fond of putting lots of little trills and stuff in, and that sort of goes against my esthetic. You could call the changes simplifications, but I just consider them streamlining the music and making it more mechanically efficient. At the end of measure 10 there is a G-natural in the lead on the last quarter. Chet plays that an octave lower using the open G string. Yeah, it's funny and all, but I just didn't like the effect, so I changed that too. He does this again on the next page.

At the end of measure 14 is the other G-natural I raised an octave, and other than scrubbing the trills, that's it for changes to the music. This is not an easy piece to execute - especially at the manic tempo Chet played it at (I don't scream through it, and think it's actually more effective just a smidge slower) - but it sure is fun once you get it down. It's also kind of un-PC, which is an added bonus if you are libertarian minded, as I am.


I haven't been blogging much the past few weeks because I got a gig offer I couldn't refuse. No, not a mobster's party, but a student's wedding in Las Vegas. So, since I had been rebuilding my set from scratch, I had to pour on the practice hours to get ready. I combined it with a little coffee house warm up gig in Tucson, where I have a free place to crash, and I may also do another little deal there on the way back: Friday and Sunday in Tucson, and Saturday in Las Vegas. I need a road trip about now. I've been all work and no play for far too long. Added bonus to that tight schedule will be that I won't have time to gamble. lol.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is an aspiring classical guitarist in my class. He's going to love your site :)

5:49 AM  

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