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Creating a Simple Fingerstyle Guitar Arrangement

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Steve Krenz playing guitar on stageSome of the most enjoyable gigs I’ve ever had as a guitarist are when I’m playing solo Fingerstyle guitar in some dark corner of a cozy restaurant.  Nothing but me, and whatever tune comes to mind.  I’ve done these sorts of gigs ever since I was in high school.

A guitar is one of the few instruments that can play the melody and harmony at the same time - most instruments can only do one thing at a time.  But a guitar can play the melody while also doing a variety of things with the harmony.  Building simple Fingerstyle arrangements of songs is a great skill to have as a guitar player.

Here are three simple keys that I’ve learned over the years to creating a basic Fingerstyle arrangement on guitar.

1) Put the melody on top. Our ears generally hear the highest notes in any music as the melody. So, as you are building an arrangement, try to keep the melody notes as the highest tones that you are playing.  Sometimes transposing a melody into another key is necessary to keep the melody notes in the upper range as well as find a key that the song fits well on guitar.  If you get the melody too low, it’s going to sound muddy.  Adjust your chord voicings accordingly to fit the melody as the highest tone.

2) Put the bass notes, or the roots of the chords, on the bottom. These bass notes define the chord movement and sound best as the lowest tones in your voicing.  Playing these notes with your thumb changes the character of the sound from the other fingers and makes them sound even more separate from the other notes in your chord.  With a little practice you can even add movement between the various bass notes creating a moving bass line.

3) Put the rest of the harmony between the bass notes and the melody. The rest of the harmony notes of the chord can be filled out in a variety of ways between the bass notes on bottom and the melody notes on top.  For example, you could arpeggiated the chords or play the notes all together.  Or you could add melodic moving lines between the bass and melody notes.

Guitar Close UpOf course there are a myriad of ways to arrange a song, but there are the three simple keys for a basic arrangement that I use.

Here’s your assignment. Take a simple song and try to build your own Fingerstyle arrangement of it.  Pick a key that fits the melody in an easy to reach place on the guitar. It’s easiest to stick to guitar friendly keys like G, C, D, or A. As you get more familiar with playing Fingerstyle melodies on guitar, then experiment with transposing them to other keys as well. Have fun.

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