Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Stairway to Heaven

Learning Stairway to Heaven was one of the first major goals I had when I started getting serious about the guitar back when I was a teenager. So, I've been playing it on and off for over thirty years now, and it has gone through countless versions leading up to this one. It is such an iconic piece, and this arrangement is so popular with my audiences, that I use this as the finale of my set. Also, of all the contemporary crowd pleaser pieces I play, this one is the one I have guitarists ask me for the most. Believe it or not, I never bothered to write it out until January of this year; It existed only in my head for decades!

I've heard a bazillion versions of this, of course, but they are either too simple, or they sacrifice the iconic main guitar parts by trying too hard to get the vocal melody in. Also, every one of them craps out when the rock section with the guitar solo starts. I decided to make this arrangement a guitar instrumental based around the original guitar parts, forgetting about the vocal melody, and also to get the final rock section with the guitar solo in. Basically, I made it into a rock guitar fantasy.

I did edit it for length, as at eight minutes plus is too much, and as I play it it comes in at about six. I wrote it in sections with repeats, but I vary the repeats in performance, so in practice it's through composed. Also, I vary the length of the guitar solo section depending on how I feel during any particular performance, so the arrangement only has a few of the licks I play the most often. Feel free to improvise as I do to make that section longer!

Here's the objective MIDI to M4A conversion of the score I made in iTunes using the RealFont Nylon Guitar soundfont.

Stairway to Heaven - Jimmy Page

Open a second tab or window to listen and follow the score.

The beginning is very faithful to the original, but the repeat starting in measure five has the bass line an octave lower. This is not as easy as it sounds or looks, but it does help turn the arrangement into more of a solo guitar composition. The cadential figure in four I have also fattened up in eight, which will lead to an even bigger version before the next section.

At the end of sixteen there is the first repeat, and as I said, I vary it with more hammer-ons, pull-offs and things like that, so use your imagination. The varied faux repeat starting at seventeen is the bridge to the next section, and in twenty is that fully developed cadential figure I mentioned earlier.

Now, for clarity's sake I wrote the arpeggios starting in twenty-one as naked eighths and sixteenths, but assume they are sustained notes. The M4A conversion sounds kind of weird here because the arpeggios are as written versus as I play them.

As you can see, measure twenty-eight is 5/4. This is something that just naturally crept into the arrangement over the years, and when I wrote it out I was actually surprised by it: "I play a measure of 5/4 there. Weird." I like it though, and since there's no band, there's no problem. lol.

There's the second repeat at the end of thirty-seven, and again, I vary it, so, "jam." At thirty-eight the next transitional bridge begins that leads to the final rock and guitar solo section.

The guitar solo starts at thirty-seven (those repeats save a ton of time!), and the first two licks are actually exactly what Page plays. Then, at fifty, is the solution I came up with for the rock section lick... which is brilliant, if I do say so myself. After each repeat of that is a lick.

I only wrote four licks out, but as I said, I'm jamming here, so I usually play at least six to eight of them. Once you have the solution for the jamming pattern, you can make up your own licks on it. Finally, at fifty-nine, the closing section begins and I wind the piece down. I said I didn't base the arrangement around the vocal melody, and that's true, but the last vocal line really does fit perfectly on the ax and makes a gorgeous conclusion, so there it is.


Blogger Minicapt said...

"Stairway to Heaven" was a good night song during rook term. Needs a better bass line.


1:57 AM  

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