As you might imagine, we get a lot of requests from our readers at Guitar Noise. Sometimes they come through emails, sometimes through PMs (private messages on the Guitar Noise Forum pagskyes) and sometimes it’s just a post on the Forum pages itself.
This one came a little while back via email:
I love your site – and your lessons and your arrangements and ideas for changing the keys of songs and different rhythms to try. I was inspired to buy a twelve string by your article “Double Your Pleasure” and I listen to your great podcasts. As experimentation is something that seems to inspire you as it does me, I wondered if I could ask for your input with something I am working on and not many people seem to be able to help me with…
I love the rather simple song “All I Can Do Is Write About It” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. But as I’m Scottish and now living in America, I thought I’d change a few of the words to make the song about Scotland rather than the American south. Then I also thought to make it sound a bit more Celtic, it might be worth putting into DADGAD…
The chord progression is really simple: G D C; G D Em C, G D C C.
Do you think I can just play those chords in DADGAD or if I retune to DADGAD is there an equally good sounding progression or a transposed set of chords that you have experience with that would sound better in that tuning – while obviously keeping the same rhythm and feel as the original…just with a Celtic twang, if you will…
Your thoughts would be gratefully recieved…
Now it’s been ages since I’ve heard this song, which if I remember correctly is the closing number off Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gimme Back My Bullets album, and the idea not only intrigued me but it seemed like a cool thing to do for Saint Patrick’s Day (although I’m not sure I’m going to make it by then!). So I sat down and worked up some ideas and here is a quick lesson that came out of that bit of brainstorming. Of course, we’ve got to go through the usual formalities:
These files are the author’s own work and represent his interpretation of this song. They are intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.
First things first, as mentioned in the email, the song is indeed very simple in terms of structure and chords. Not counting the solo between the second and third verse, there are two different sets of two-measure chord progressions. The first, which we’ll call “Progression A” is two beats each of G, D, Em and C. The second set, “Progression B” if you will, is two beats each of G and D, followed by four beats of C.
Pairing one “Progression A” with one “Progression B” will give you two lines of the first verse, as you can see here:
The introduction of All I Can Do is Write About It is also made up of one pair of these two progressions. Immediately following the first half of the first verse, “Progression B” is then played by itself, serving as a short interlude between the two halves of the first verse (you could technically call these two separate verses – that’s up to you).
The chorus of the song, as well as all the subsequent verses follows a different structure. First you play “Progression B” twice, then “Progression A” and then you tack on one last “Progression B” to finish things off. Here’s the way the chorus parses out:
The very last time the chorus is played, the final line ends with a single Em chord, played once and held instead of playing the full measure of C. And that pretty much takes care of both the chords and the song structure.
And that means it’s time to tackle the chords. I assumed (correctly it turns out, and that’s fortunate because otherwise we’d be having a chat about that word “assume”) that the reader wanted to play and sing this song at the same time, so instead of going for full chords, I went with embellished chords that (a) were relatively easy to finger and (b) allowed access both to open strings as well as potential hammer-ons and pull-offs that would help give the song that “Celtic twang” the reader was looking for.
My thinking was this – in order to sing and play the song at the same time, you’re going to want to have an arrangement that you can play pretty much on auto-pilot. The less you’re worried about the playing, the more you can enjoy the song and also come up with all sorts of other trills and frills.
So here are the chords, displayed both in chord charts and guitar tablature:
Having the chords and the structure, all that was left was to come up with a Celtic feel to playing the chords. If you’ve read A Celtic Air, one of the old Guitar Columns here at Guitar Noise, you know that there are many aspects to giving an arrangement a Celtic feel. Being tuned in DADGAD is one way of doing that, but using a lot of droning notes, not to mention a generous helping of hammer-ons and pull-offs, also can help.
But if you’ve ever listened to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original version of this song, or to any song of Skynyrd’s for that matter, you know that their guitarists are constantly using hammer-ons and pull-offs. It’s part of their signature sound.
So we have to come up with something else, and I chose to go with rhythm. Most Celtic pieces have a swing to them; it’s rare for a reel or jig to not have a triplet feel. Yes, this will make our arrangement of the song a little more difficult, but it will also make it feel a lot more Celtic and less Southern Rock Ballad.
In order to do this, I re-arranged the time signature of All I Can Do Is Write About It, going with 6 / 8 timing instead of 4 / 4. This gives us an intrinsic triplet feel. It’s all a matter of the “pulse” of a song. Normally, we think of 4 / 4 timing as having the following sense of pulse:
In 6 / 8 timing, our pulse is gotten by counting the beats in the following manner:
In 6 / 8 time, even though each eighth note technically gets a beat, the convention is to think of the dotted quarter note (which is made up of three eighth notes) as the pulse, giving each measure two pulses that can, in turn, be neatly divided into three. This is why when you see a song in 6 /8 timing, the BPM will usually indicate the dotted quarter note getting the BPM count and not the eighth note or quarter note. In other words, you get one triplet set for each click of the metronome.
And because we’re looking at chord changes that take place every two beats, I want to subdivide the pulse even further, mostly in order to give myself more room in which to play:
Here we’re using three sixteenth notes (and not sixteenth note triplets, as I say on the first MP3 files – good help is so hard to find!) for each half-beat, giving up six sixteenth notes to play around with when we get “˜round to creating our riffs, which should be any moment now…
I hope you’ve followed along with me this far, because now we’re getting to the fun part! Since there are only four chords, all we have to do is come up with a cool, Celtic sounding pattern for each of our chords. For whatever reason, when I was working this out I was using a pick. It just happened that way. So you can definitely play this with a pick (and I do in the MP3 sound files), or use your fingers if you prefer. Here’s what I came up with for the G chord:
For the fingering, I suggest using your middle finger on the sixth (now low D, as we’re in DADGAD tuning) string, while your ring finger plays the regular D (fourth) string and the index finger handles the chores on the G (third) string.
I came up with this particular pattern after a bit of playing around. Giving it a bit of breathing space, that is, not filling it entirely with sixteenth notes, made this seem, to my ears anyway, as fairly playful and slightly mysterious and also allowed for no end of possible variations (one of which you can see and hear in the last example) should I really get into things. That’s important to me. If I’ve a pattern that has to be played precisely in sequence for the duration of a song, chances are very likely I’m going to botch it at some point. So having a pattern that can be slightly scramble on occasion is a big plus as it allows me freedom to screw up and still carry on with the song.
And having a little bit of space where I could add in more sixteenth notes, again as you hear on the variation, means that the number of possible variations can be quite high.
For the D chord, I could have gone with many other options, but I liked this one best:
Mostly, I enjoyed using the hammer-on of the F# on the D string. There’s a big tendency, when playing in DADGAD, to use D5 chords instead true D chords. Making this one a little more embellished by adding the B and G notes on the G (third) string appealed a lot to me for some reason.
Now let’s look at a pattern for the Em chord;
As with the G chord, I added a single variation to this particular pattern, but there are even more possibilities with the Em than with the G, especially with this fingering. You can get many more notes, from the low B at the second fret of the A (fifth) string to the E note at the second fret of the first (now high D) string. You should play around a lot with this pattern, as you should with the C:
Again, I cannot stress enough how you should make the time to experiment and try to come up with your own variations. I choose these particular patterns by thinking, “what could I play and still manage to sing this song at the same time?” and your answer will (hopefully) be a little different than mine.
And you will hear that, when playing this without thinking too much about it, I ended up with even more variations than I’d planned. Please notice that I ended this final MP3 file with a simple G 6 / 9 chord (550000 in DADGAD) simply because, at the time of recording this, I wasn’t even aware that I was going to write a whole lesson around what I came up with! Using Em7 (220020) or even leaving the second (A) string open (220000) will work as well.
In the original recording, there is a solo before the last verse, played after a brief change to the key of A. The chords are A (two beats), D (two beats) and E (four beats) and this progression is played four times. For our arrangement, I decided to simply leave out the solo. Maybe the next spot of spare time I get I’ll come up with something and then update this lesson!
I hope you had fun with this lesson on arrangements. It’s a lot of fun, not to mention occasionally challenging, to come up with an arrangement that’s different enough from the original yet still pays homage to the sentiment of the song. And it’s always a treat to hear people come up with arrangements because it can be a real eye (and ear) opener that inspires you to get a little more creative.
And, as always, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments, concerns or songs (and/or riffs and solos) you’d like to see discussed in future pieces. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forum page or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until our next lesson…