Not too long ago, someone posted a request up our “Easy Song Database” page over on the Guitar Noise Forums concerning the Dire Straits song Walk of Life. The request wasn’t for the chords or tab, but rather for help with strumming the song. It’d been ages since I’d heard it but I did remember that the rhythm guitar part is simply a rock shuffle, such as those covered in our Easy Songs for Beginners’ lesson on Roll Over Beethoven.
But as good as that shuffle sounds when playing the recording, or playing in a group, it sounds a little bare when attempted with a single guitar. So I played around a bit with the song and with the idea of doing Walk of Life as a single guitar arrangement and came up with this lesson. More of a “mini-lesson,” really.
And even though this is on the “Intermediates” page (or perhaps the “Song Arranging” page…), it’s not beyond the grasp of a beginner who is willing to do a little concentrated practice and work.
So let’s get the preliminaries out of the way and get going…
In terms of structure, Walk of Life is made up of an introduction and three verses. The introduction is the part that has the fun little organ / keyboard part that pretty much serves as the “signature riff” or main musical hook of the song.
In the original recording, the song is in the key of E and the timing is a quick 4 /4 (I think the BPM is around 176). And here’s a cheat sheet to guide you along:
Now I don’t know about you, but playing a B chord is not usually my idea of a good time. B7 would certainly be a fine substitution, but if I was intent on playing a rock shuffle style of rhythm, then I’d definitely find myself wishing my fingers were about two inches longer than they are.
Basically, any song arrangement that you decide to come up with has to ultimately meet certain criteria. First, can you play it? Second, if you’re singing the lyrics, can you play and sing it at the same time? Third, how much of the flavor of the original song can you take with you (and that’s assuming you want to do that)? And finally, do you (and hopefully your audience) like what you’ve come up with?
Because of my initial thoughts about Walk of Life and the rock shuffle rhythm of the guitar, I was a little bit annoyed to find that, given my voice at least, the song sounded pretty weak. So I knew that I was going to have to come up with a different approach to my rhythm for this arrangement.
The other thing that I really wanted to do was to incorporate the keyboard riff into this single-guitar version. I feel that it really defines the song and helps to keep it moving along. And it’s so silly and cheerful…
So the first thing I figured out was the keyboard part, putting it all on one string:
Having gotten this far, I now needed to find someplace on the guitar where I could play this all without having to shift hand positions too much. “Too much” meaning “not at all” if I could possible manage it. That also turned out to be easy:
So far so good! And it looks like I’m luckier than I deserve. Every note is within a two-fret span, all based around the seventh fret. A quick memory check reminds me that an A-shaped barre chord at the seventh fret is, indeed, E (X79997), so now I’ve got a different decision to make: barre chords or capo?
If you’ve read any of my lessons, you already know that this isn’t much of a decision, for me at least. One of the strengths of the single guitar is allowing the open strings to ring out and give you a bright, vibrant tone. And that’s certainly part of the atmosphere for this song.
So I placed a capo on the seventh fret and transposed the chords from the key of E to the key of A (and you’ve all ready our article titled Turning Notes Into Stone – The Basics of Transposing, so I don’t have to spell that out here, right?) and found nice, friendly first position chords of A, D and E. Then I tried out the riff, placing it into the context of the new chords:
It was playing this riff out a few times that gave me a few more ideas. Hitting the D and G strings in the third measure, I played around with filling out the rhythm a bit. Nothing very fancy, just something to fill the space. And after some playing around, I found the basic strumming I was looking for, pretty much based off of the keyboard riff. Yes, it’s a bit generic, but it moves along and allows me to sing and play at the same time:
Even better: using this pattern as a template, I could me to work the riff right into the strumming without missing a beat or having the whole bottom of the song drop out on me. I could even flub a note here and there and it wouldn’t matter all that much as long as I held the main chord shape in place:
Toying around a little more, I also found that I could add a variation of the keyboard riff, using some harmony to spice it up a bit:
That added some extra texture and only involved flattening out my index finger on the second fret and then adding the ring finger to the fifth. It did (and still does) require a little practice. And will probably still need more over the months to come.
So here’s the somewhat finished product:
I say “somewhat” finished because all arrangements tend to be works in progress. The next time I play this song, I may find something else to do with it.
As always, I hope that you’ve had fun with this lesson and I thank you for taking the trip through making this arrangement of Walk of Life with me. Ultimately, any song arrangement that you come up with will evolve over time. The more you learn about guitar and music, the more you can put into an arrangement, even if it’s a matter of keeping things relatively sparse and tossing in a few hooks here and there.
And as a totally silly side note, I always thought that if someone wanted to open a restaurant combining Chinese and health food, “Wok of Life” might be a good name…
And my thanks to the Guitar Noise Forum member who goes by the name of “Shady Harrison” for posting his request in the first place.
Until our next lesson…