Beginning guitarists sometimes obsess with playing songs so that they sound “just like on the original recording.” The trouble is, of course, that the original recording often has multiple guitar parts and you can only play one part at a time. If your goal is to play and perform a song on your own, you may think that you have to learn only songs that have a single guitar part. But nothing could be further than the truth, as you’ll hopefully discover in this lesson that turns Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends” into an easy-to-play single-guitar arrangement.
Over the course of the next few song lessons here at Guitar Noise, we’ll look at the various ways to craft single-guitar arrangements for songs whose original recordings are quite layered with various guitar parts. Hopefully, you’ll take the various ideas discussed in these lessons to create all sorts of single-guitar arrangements of your own.
Step one in any single-guitar arrangement of any song is to know the basic structure of the song, in terms of chords and rhythm, as well as possible. “Wake Me Up When September Ends” follows the time-honored A-A-B-A structure of songwriting. Each verse is made up of two parts (“A” and “B”) – the “A” line is played first, then repeated. Then the “B” section is played followed by a final repeat of the “A” section.
To make them even easier to identify, each “A” line concludes with the song’s title. Here’s the first verse as a guide to this structure:
Summer has come and passed the innocent can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Repeat of A Section:
Like my father’s come to pass seven years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends
Here comes the rain again falling from the stars
Drenched in my pain again becoming who we are
Repeat of A Section:
As my memory rests but never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends
The whole song consists of an introduction, then the first verse, than a short interlude that is essentially a repeat of the introduction, a second verse, an instrumental solo (which is musically the same as the “B” section of the verse), another interlude (again, essentially a repeat of the introduction), and a final third verse. In this last verse, the second half of the final “A” section is repeated two more times, serving as an outro, or coda.
Playing the “A” Section
Musically, the “A” section start out much like “Friend of the Devil,” namely playing a descending bass line of the G major scale underneath a G chord. This is done, on the original recording, through a simple arpeggio using just the D, G, and B strings. To give the harmony an initial ambiguity, just the G and D notes are used to set things up:
You can call this the Introduction, if you’d like. It’s also used as an interlude between the first two verses as well as between the solo. To play this, you’ll probably find it best to start out with your index finger on the B string and your ring finger on the D string.
I should probably point out that I’m calling this “G” even though it’s using just the G and the D notes. Most transcriptions that you run into are going to call it “G5″ (a G power chord, if you will) but since the song’s melody at this point of the song is all over the B note, much as it is in “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” the tonal center is clearly G major. Knowing this will also be helpful later on when we add the possibility of some strumming of chords to this arrangement.
As mentioned, the “A” section begins with a descending G major scale line during it’s first four measures:
If you’re using the earlier fingering suggestion, you’ll need to shift your fingers at the start of the third measure (the G/E), using your index finger to fret the D string and your middle or ring finger to fret the B string. You could also use your middle finger on the D string and either your ring finger or pinky on the B string.
It’s certainly possible to play all four of the arpeggios of the “A” section using one finger position, if you so desire. Starting with your middle finger on the third fret of the B string, you’d use your pinky for the fifth fret of the D string, either your pinky or ring finger for the fourth fret of the D string and your index finger for the second fret of the D.
From there, the “A” section continues to C and then Cm before finishing with two more measures of G. Typically you’d play these chords as barre chords, but you can take advantage of the open G string and play them like this:
The smoothest transition here would probably be using the index finger on the A string with the pinky playing the fifth fret of the B and the middle finger playing the fourth fret of the B. This frees up the ring finger to get the fifth fret of the D string when you switch back to the G chord.
As mentioned, you can also use either full or partial barre chords for the C and Cm here, and also vary the rhythm slightly, to make it sound more like the original recording:
Also notice that the closing G chord in this last example is a full G chord, which gives a little bit more bottom to the single guitar. Dynamics are very important when it comes to single-guitar arrangements. You don’t want to get so loud that you sound thin when dropping back to single notes again when you play the “A” section for the second time. It can take a little experimenting (and practice!) to get the dynamics to a point where you’re happy with the arrangement.
Playing the “B” Section
In the original recording, the “B” section uses barre chords for the Bm, C, G, and D chords, but it’s certainly possible to continue your playing arpeggios on the D, G, and B strings without barring at all, mimicking the style of the “A” section:
As you move up the neck, you’ll probably play the Bm chord with your index finger on the B string, your ring finger on the G string and your middle finger on the D string. In the third and seventh measures, when you shift up to the C chord where all three fingers are on the fifth fret, simply remove your index finger and use your pinky on the B string. Keep that fingering for the D chord in the eighth measure.
The challenge in this section is actually not in playing it, but rather in making a smooth transition back to the first G of the “A” section that follows it. This is why playing the open D string as the last note in the eighth measure is a good idea – it frees you up for a quick moment to reposition your hands.
Technically, you can play the entire song in this three-string arpeggio manner if you’d like. It’s actually a great way for younger beginners who are not up to playing barre chords to learn about moving up on the neck. And it certainly sounds fine, although it will also sound a bit thin in places.
But there certainly are other ways to play this song. Typically, a guitarist may choose to play nothing but power chords, strummed all with eighth-note downstrokes. But you might find you get a little more of the flavor and spirit of the arpeggios by going with fuller chords and hitting the occasional upstroke to stress the D note at the third fret of the B string, as in this possibility:
In this example, you use open position forms of Em, Bm7, C and G. To give the C chord a little more variety, it’s played first in standard open position (x32010) and then the pinky is added to the third fret of the high E (first) string. You don’t have to do that, but the voicing works nicely to lead up to the voicing of the D chord in the last measure:
Playing the “B” section in this manner also works nicely for the instrumental solo section. For the final D, though, you want to actually played Dsus4 way up the neck, alternating it with a similar D chord, like this:
To play this Dsus4 and D combination, barre the first three strings (high E, B, and G) with your index finger at the seventh fret and use your pinky to get the D note at the tenth fret of the high E string and either your ring or middle finger to get the G note at the eighth fret of the B string. Simply lift your finger off the B string to change from Dsus4 to D.
Finish off with the same type of G chord from Example 4 and play this last measure of G four times. Then you’re ready for the final verse of the song, which plays the “A” section twice with two additional repeats of the C to Cm to G line.
And now that you have a few different ways to approach “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” you can mix-and-match your accompaniment, as in this final look at our song:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration of the basics of “Wake Me Up When September Ends.” We’ll be examining how to use these different approaches to help you create a solo for your single-guitar arrangement in an upcoming Guitar Noise Podcast. Plus, we’ll have an additional lesson on how to play the solo from the original recording right here as well.
As always, feel free to post any and all questions, comments and suggestions either right here or on our Forum Pages (we’ve got one dedicated specifically to Guitar Noise Song Lessons, by the bye!) or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, again as always, until our next lesson,
Released on June 13, 2005, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” was the fourth single from Green Day’s monstrous album, American Idiot, which came out almost exactly nine months earlier. It would also be part of their next album, Bullet in a Bible, a live recording from their American Idiot World Tour taken at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes in England.
While this single, unlike its three predecessors, didn’t hit Number One on the Modern Rock Tracks chart (topping out at Number Two), it fared incredibly well on both the Adult Top 40 (also Number Two) and the Mainstream Top 40 (Number Three), introducing the band in a huge way to the adult contemporary market.