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Arranging Fingerstyle Songs (Guitar Lesson)


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Jim Deeming

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs

Jim Deeming teaches the skills necessary to transform any song into a solo fingerstyle masterpiece.

Taught by Jim Deeming in Fingerstyle Guitar seriesLength: 37:04Difficulty: 4.0 of 5
Building Blocks for Solo Fingerstyle Arrangements

Intro

We’re going to really roll up our sleeves and get to work in this series of lessons. I want to give you a set of tools and a logical thought process that you can use to either create or cover (steal) solo fingerstyle arrangements. We’ll look at the components of fingerstyle arrangements and learn how to use them.

Fingerstyle is a broad category, all the way from Travis or Atkins thumbpicking to folk/pop arpeggios and strums, to classical guitar pieces. Regardless which one, the foundational components are the same.

Prerequisites

To get the most value from this series, you should already be comfortable with the following terms and techniques:

- Chords and chord shapes. At the very least, you should know the first position (or open position) chord shapes such as, C, A, G, E, D, B7, Am, Dm, Em.

- Keys. You should be familiar with the basic I-IV-V and relative minor chords in simple keys such as C (C,F,G, Am), A (A,D,E, F#m), G (G,C,D,Em), E (E,A,B,C#m), D (D,G,A,Bm). See Exercise 1 in the tab for a review.

- Scales. You need to be familiar with the names of the notes in first position – especially able to identify the root note of the chords. See Exercise 2 in the tab for a review. Also knowing the names of the notes on the 1st and 6th string all the way up to the 12th fret is important.

Basic Components
1. Melody
2. Chords
3. Rhythm (groove)

Melody First!

Here are a few notes on melody!

- The melody of a song must be firmly fixed in your mind. You should be able to hum or sing the melody line even before you can play it on the guitar.

- Recognize the “span” or “range” of the melody. Does it stay within a few notes of the root note? Does it span more than an octave? This will help you choose a key to play it in. The smaller the span, often times the more key choices you have. The larger the span, the more limited you will be.

- If the song has lyrics, the range of the vocalist is the biggest driving factor for choosing a key. If not, you can choose a key based on where the melody is most accessible.

- Experiment with playing just the melody in the easiest key first – C. This will give you a feel for the melody range we talked about.

- In order to finish selecting the best key, we need to discuss chords, and more importantly, what melody notes are available around each chord.

Melody Notes with Chords

Chords provide the mood and color behind the melody. One of the aspects of fingerstyle is providing the chord backdrop at the same time as the melody is played – on the same instrument. If you think about it, this means that the melody must go along with – and yet stand out from – the chords.

In order to do this, we have to discuss right hand technique at the same time as we look at the chords and melody notes.

To start with, let’s create a rule we’ll break later. Let’s say that the lowest strings, 6, 5, and 4, belong to the right hand thumb. The higher strings, 3, 2 and 1 will be played by the right hand fingers. So, when the melody notes are on the highest three strings, being played by the fingers, we’ll rely on the thumb to provide the chord backdrop on the lower three.

Use the tab in Exercise 3 for exploring ways of fingering single melody notes while filling in with chords around them. You will find that while there is a core “shape” to the chord, you will sometimes have to make modifications or leave out a string or two occasionally to make it work.

This is not a “musical” exercise. It’s not going to sound great. Keep in mind your goal, which is to explore and visualize chord shapes and where you can find nearby melody notes with the least amount of contortion to the basic shape.

Rhythm

After finding a key that will work for your melody and chord combinations, the final job is to figure out a right hand technique that will convey the “groove” of the song.

This is where fingerstyle branches into many different styles and techniques. Let’s look at two common ones.

1. Alternating thumb. Also known as Travis picking, Chet Atkins style, thumbpicking, or “boom-chuck”, this is where the thumb carries the bass and rhythm feel and the fingers play the melody.

2. Carter style. Also known as frailing or folk-style. The idea is that the thumb plays the melody notes, while one or more of the fingers strums the chords on certain beats.

There are other variations on these, depending on the groove of the song and whether the guitarist intends to carry a full sound of melody, chords and rhythm all together, or if a less complicated sound is sufficient.

A Look at a Sample Song

Let’s work on a simple song that demonstrates this idea of melody notes around chords. I chose Wildwood Flower because we can use two different right hand techniques for this one.

Notice that when playing the Verse, the thumb is carrying the melody. The fingers are used to provide the chord backing on some beats.

When we get to the Chorus, the thumb changes to a Chet Atkins-style alternating bass and the fingers carry the melody.

Putting it all Together

Using this process and these techniques, you can cover or arrange many tunes in fingerstyle. Let’s review the sequential process you would follow to do so:
1. Internalize/memorize the melody.

2. Play just the melody in a simple key such as C, to get the feel for the melody “map" or range.

3. Experiment with the melody combined with different chords until you find a key that will work.

4. Find the right hand “groove” that the song requires.

5. Put it all together and practice, practice, practice!


Video Subtitles / Captions


Member Comments about this Lesson

Discussions with our instructors are just one of the many benefits of becoming a member of JamPlay.


ktyevolsktyevols replied on October 21st, 2010

jim, this was a most helpful and insightful lesson......you presented the material in a logical and inspiring manner for those of us who have struggled with this process for years.....looking forward to more on this subject.....Ken

kantokanto replied on October 21st, 2010

Very good lesson! I've learned a lot. One of the most helpfull i've seen.

wayne gilbertwayne gilbert replied on October 21st, 2010

Very logical lesson

danielecerradanielecerra replied on October 21st, 2010

Great lecture! Thanks

Fingerstyle Guitar

Found in our Beginner Lesson Sets

Fingerstyle guitar allows you to play the bass, harmony, and melody of a song all within the context of a single guitar part.



Lesson 1

Intro to Fingerstyle

This lesson serves as an introduction for Fingerstyle Guitar with Jim Deeming. Come on in and get started!

Length: 24:32 Difficulty: 0.5 Members Only
Lesson 2

Basic Fingerstyle

Jim demonstrates a basic fingerstyle exercise that you can use with any of the chords you know.

Length: 16:05 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 3

More Picking Patterns

Jim expands on lesson 2 and teaches several different picking patterns. He also covers the basics of muting.

Length: 14:23 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 4

Using Syncopation

Jim Deeming explains how to integrate basic syncopation into your rhythm playing.

Length: 17:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 5

Picking Melody Notes

This lesson is all about picking melody notes. Fingerstyle guitar really gets interesting when you combine bass, harmony, and melody.

Length: 33:00 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 6

Aura Lee

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic Civil War era song "Aura Lee."

Length: 43:23 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 7

Chet Atkins Style

Jim explains key components of Chet Atkins' guitar style.

Length: 18:12 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 8

3/4 Time and a Song

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Bicycle Built for Two." He uses this piece as an example of 3/4 or waltz timing.

Length: 37:34 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 9

Two Songs at Once

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "Yankee Doodle" and "Dixie." Both songs are played simultaneously!

Length: 30:03 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 10

Open G Tuning

Jim Deeming teaches the basics of open G tuning. He also teaches a song entitled "Spanish Fandango" to show how the tuning can be used.

Length: 39:58 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 11

Carter Family Style

Jim Deeming introduces a playing style called "Carter Family Style." The technique is also referred to as "Frailing" or "Clawhammer" style.

Length: 13:07 Difficulty: 3.0 Members Only
Lesson 12

DADGAD Tuning

Jim Deeming teaches the many wonders of DADGAD tuning.

Length: 32:25 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 13

Thumb Independence

Jim Deeming tackles the topic of thumb independence.

Length: 31:51 Difficulty: 1.5 FREE
Lesson 14

The JamPlay Song

Jim Deeming teaches a more advanced version of the aptly named "JamPlay Song."

Length: 7:24 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 15

The Wayfaring Stranger

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle version of the classic song "The Wayfaring Stranger."

Length: 31:27 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 16

The Official Thumbpick Guide

Jim Deeming answers one of the most common fingerstyle questions, "which thumbpick should I use?"

Length: 13:03 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 17

Fingernail Guide

Jim Deeming presents his thoughts on how to properly grow and groom your fingernails.

Length: 7:07 Difficulty: 1.0 Members Only
Lesson 18

The Entertainer

Jim Deeming teaches a fingerstyle arrangement of "The Entertainer," a classic piano song ported over to the guitar.

Length: 20:40 Difficulty: 2.0 Members Only
Lesson 19

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs

Jim Deeming teaches the skills necessary to transform any song into a solo fingerstyle masterpiece.

Length: 37:04 Difficulty: 4.0 Members Only
Lesson 20

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 2

Jim talks more about arranging fingerstyle songs. This time around he discusses harmonization and chord inversions.

Length: 13:35 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only
Lesson 21

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 3

Jim Deeming demonstrates alternate ways to play the CAGED chords that can be very useful when playing melody and accompaniment simultaneously.

Length: 30:38 Difficulty: 1.5 Members Only
Lesson 22

Arranging Fingerstyle Songs Pt. 4

In this lesson Jim Deeming talks about a simple way to add harmony notes to the melody section of fingerstyle songs. This technique is quite simple and can add a whole new dimension to your playing.

Length: 5:51 Difficulty: 2.5 Members Only

About Jim Deeming View Full Biography Jim Deeming got his first guitar when he was only six years old. His Dad was taking fingerpicking lessons, and Jim wanted to be just like him. The Mel Bay books didn't last very long before he strapped on a thumb pick and added the Chet part to Red River Valley so it sounded better.

Most of Jim's early learning was by ear. With unlimited access to his Dad's collection of Chet Atkins albums, he spent countless hours decoding his favorite songs. They were never "right" until they sounded just like Chet. Around the age of 12, Jim heard Jerry Reed for the first time and just knew he had to be able to make that "Alabama Wild Man" sound. The styles of Chet & Jerry always have been a big influence on his playing.

More recently he has pursued arrangements by Tommy Emmanuel and Doyle Dykes, in addition to creating some of his own and writing originals.

Jim has performed in front of a variety of audiences, including concerts, competitions, weddings and the like, but playing at church has always been a mainstay. Whether playing in worship bands or guitar solos, gospel music is deep in his roots and is also the driving theme behind his debut CD release, titled "First Fruits".

Jim has been playing for about 38 years. He also has taught private lessons in the past but believes JamPlay.com is an exciting and better venue with many advantages over the traditional method of weekly 30 minute sessions.

Jim lives in Berthoud, Colorado with his wife, Linda, and their four children. Although he still has a "day job", he is actively performing and is already back in the studio working on the next CD. If you wonder how he finds time, look no further than the back seat of his truck where he keeps a "travel guitar" to take advantage of any practice or song-writing opportunities he can get.

The opening song you hear in Jim's introductory JamPlay video is called, "A Pick In My Pocket". It's an original tune, written in memory of Jim's father who told him early on he should always keep a pick in his pocket in case he ever met Chet Atkins and got the chance to play for him. That song is slated to be the title track for his next CD, which will feature several more originals plus some of his favorite covers of Chet and Jerry arrangements.

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