A Finger Style / Chord Melody Arrangement
As mentioned many times, we get a lot of requests from our readers at Guitar Noise. One section of our website that seems to generate a lot of email is our “Song Arrangement” lessons, where we come up with arrangements of songs where the single guitar handles everything – melody line, bass and chords. While a number of our regular song lessons, both on the “Easy Songs for Beginners” and the “Songs for Intermediates” pages tend to incorporate aspects of chord melody into their arrangements, those lessons are meant to be accompaniment to someone singing the song. Here, we try to cater to those who have no desire to sing but still want to have a song as opposed to an accompaniment.
So I’m going to make a concerted effort to put together more of these arrangements, if for no other reason than I enjoy them immensely, too!
To kick off this new set of song lessons, we’ll fall back on our extensive Beatles’ catalogue of material and dust of the George Harrison gem, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, originally released on what folks like to call “The White Album.” So let’s get on with the disclaimer and get to work, shall we?
In terms of structure, our lesson song essentially has two parts – a “verse” section that also serves as the backdrop for the introduction and a “bridge” section. One of my (many) reasons for choosing this particular song as a lesson is that both sections involve a descending walking bass line and, in an interesting juxtaposition, the verses are in A minor while the bridge is in A major.
Like many songs, the descending walking bass line of While My Guitar Gently Weeps provides a solid hook, so it’s no surprise that it shows up right at the start of things. On the original recording, there is a short and simple piano riff that we’ll play on the guitar:
Because there’s not much room between the A note of the piano line and the note of the open A string that we’re using to start our descending bass line, I take the liberty of “thickening” the sound a little by using the E note (second fret of the D string) along with the A note of the piano part. You can do this by using two fingers (usually the index and middle fingers) on those notes while hitting the open A string and following bass notes with your thumb. Another option is to “sweep” the two strings in an upstroke with one finger (usually the index). That’s what I’m doing in the MP3 example, in case you’re wondering.
And because you’re going to be working with this bass line and these chords quite a bit, it doesn’t hurt to take the time early on to experiment with fingering. Many people will find it easy to form a regular Am chord and then use the pinky to get the G note (third fret of the low E (sixth) string) in the bass of the Am/G and then have the thumb take on the F# note at the second fret on the Am/F#.
The other tricky spot is the fourth measure, where I’ve written “F6” for the chord. If any of you have checked out any tablature or chord charts or “cheat sheets” for this song, it’s very likely you’ve seen this “F” or “Fmaj7” used, the latter probably being the most common. And if you listen to the original recording, you can certainly hear Fmaj7 being played. But because the note of the piano riff we’re using as our melody is D (third fret of the B string) at this point, and because D, when added to an F chord, creates an F6, it just made more sense to write it out this way.
And, fortunately, there are as many ways to finger this particular chord voicing as there are names to call it. You can go with a full barre at the first fret, as shown on the chord chart in Example 1. If you’re good with your thumb, you can first finger an open position Fmaj7 chord using your index finger on the first fret of the B string, your middle finger on the second fret of the G and your ring finger on the third fret of the D. Then use your pinky to get the D note (third fret of the B string) while using your thumb to get the F in the bass at the first fret of the low E (sixth) string. Playing it this way makes getting the melody notes of this measure very easy – you simply remove your pinky and the index finger is already on the C note for you. All you have to do then is drop the pinky back on.
Some people might find it easier to use the index finger for the F in the bass while fretting the D note (third fret B string) with the pinky, the A note (second fret G string) with the middle finger and the F note (third fret D string) with the ring finger. This will mean abandoning the F in the bass in order to use the index finger to get the C note (first fret of the B string) in the melody. That has to be your call.
Something to remember, too, is that as you get more comfortable with the chord changes and with your fingering, you may find yourself changing what you initially decide to do. This happens all the time with guitarists. Something that seemed too hard at first can suddenly become quite easy to do. So don’t stop trying out different ideas and revisiting old ones.
The last four measures of the Introduction are pretty much straight arpeggios based on open position chord fingerings. The only spot where you’ll have to make an effort is in the next-to-last measure, where you’ll need your pinky to finger the F# note at the fourth fret of the D string.
And, speaking of that measure, I also took the liberty of changing the usual D chord you’ll find on most versions of this song to D/F#, simply to have another continuous descending walking bass line. You should know by now that I’m addicted to those things.
Before we move on to the Verse section, let’s chat a moment about what, exactly, we’re trying to do in this lesson. You may have noticed in our working through the Introduction that there’s a lot of space in this arrangement. When working out a “finger style / chord melody” arrangement, you have a lot of choices when it comes to playing. Obviously, you want the melody to ring out whenever possible. You want the bass line and chords to be noticeable as well, but not to the point of hiding the melody of the song.
So whether or not you’re aware of it, you’re going to have to start to develop a sense of touch in your fingers, getting them to the point where they will stress certain notes, while playing others a little more softly. You can’t have the bass note (almost always played by the thumb) overpower your melody note.
And you will have to make your own decisions when it comes to filling in the spaces that are created by the melody line. You can leave them be, you can add additional notes in the bass, you can add some fancy ornamentation to the melody (making your guitar “sing,” if you will) or you can pick a few notes in the accompanying chord. You can, as you grow as a guitarist, do any combination of these ideas. And that’s not counting coming up with your own personal touches.
For our arrangement of While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I’m leaving things fairly open. You’ll notice that while I give you a specific template in the various examples, I’m also taking a few liberties with the MP3 sound files – adding a note here or there, strumming a full chord in one place even though it’s not detailed in the musical notation / tablature. One of my reasons for choosing this song is because I’m sure many of you are familiar with it. And I think you’ll be able to grasp how these minor variations do not in any way make the song unrecognizable.
Be that as it may, it’s also good to be able to play a melody pretty close to the original version, so in our next example we’ll look at the four measures of the Verse section and try to pay particular attention to the use of anticipation in the phrasing of the melody:
The melody here pretty much hangs around the A (second fret of the G string), B and C notes, and you should find this relatively easy to play as long as you hang on to your Am chord most of the time. Obviously, you’ll need to open up the B string when that note is needed. And if you’ve been practicing the first three chord changes, you’re probably finding playing this a snap so far.
You should probably hear that the shift between the end of the third measure (with the Am/F#) and the fourth one (with the F6) is not all that smooth. This is one reason why you first want to get comfortable with the chord changes, but just as importantly you want to be willing to go with the flow of the song as you’re playing it. You’ll hear me take some liberties with it when we look at the full verse:
Again, you are probably not finding any of this too hard at this point, and that’s kind of the point. The melody hangs fairly close to the open position chord fingerings and there are no real trouble spots to speak of.
You may have noticed that we’ve got two separate full measures of E (measures eight and sixteen) that we’re filling with a simple E arpeggio. The first E chord serves as a “turnaround” back to the Am chord that starts the next line of the song while the second one turns us around to the A chord at the start of the Bridge section. Simple arpeggios, of course, are simply one of many things we can do. And since we’ve been playing descending walking bass lines throughout the rest of the verse, why not add an ascending one here? Here are a couple of possibilities:
If there’s a trick to this, it’s remembering to use your middle finger for all the notes on the low E (sixth) string, as that gives you your index finger for the G# (first fret of the G string) and also allows your ring finger to play the A, A# and B (second, third and fourth frets of the G string, respectively).
These turnarounds become even more important in the Bridge section because we’ve got two full measure of E going on with no melody to speak of. You’ll find that I’ve come up with a slight variation on the second turnaround in our last example for the Bridge:
And here’s where things get a little more complicated. It starts simply enough, using an open position A chord to get us going. But then we’ve got to move to a C#m chord, which I’ve changed to “C#m7/G#” for our arrangement. Why? The two main reasons are that we’re beginning with an A chord and F#m is the next chord in the progression so using G# (fourth fret of the low E (sixth) string) gives us yet another nice descending bass line. Making it C#m7 also frees up the pinky, which we can then use to play the F# note (seventh fret of the B string) in the melody line.
The F#m in the third measure is usually a full barre chord, but it’s worth noting that if you change it to F#m7 (242222), you then have a finger free to play the B note (shown as the open B string in the notation) at the fourth fret of the G string instead. Those of you “gifted in thumb” might do something a little more interesting and play only part of the chord, using your thumb, obviously, for the F# in the bass (second fret of the low E (sixth) string), your ring finger for the fourth fret of the A string, your ring finger for the fourth fret of the D string and your index finger for the second fret of the B string. This does leave the G string naked and you’ll have to be careful not to hit it accidentally.
Likewise, you can certainly go back to the full C#m barre chord in the next measure, but I find myself, pardon the pun, partial to the voicing of C#m7 that I’ve put in the notation. One of my reasons for preferring this voicing is that you also get the open B string to fool around with during a long pause in the melody line.
I should also point out here that you can also use the open low E (sixth) string as your bass note to continue the descending bass line. But since Bm is our next chord, I think that switching to C# as our bass note made for a nicer transition.
And speaking of that Bm, going with an open position Bm7 voicing (x20202) puts you right on top of all the notes you need for your melody. You don’t even have to finger the F# note at the second fret of the high E (first) string as it’s not part of the melody line. But the open high E string is, so how about that!
In the second measure of Bm (or Bm7 as we have in the example), you’ll notice one of those “melodic ornamentations” I alluded to earlier. In the original song, the melody line simply steps down from C# (second fret of the B string) to B. But I like making it a little fancier, pulling off from C# to the open B and then hitting the A note at the second fret of the G (where my finger just happens to be anyway) and then going back to the B note of the melody. It’s a little touch, and it sounds nice. You, of course, can choose to ignore it or, better yet, come up with something even more interesting on your own.
As noted in the example, you want to play this section twice to make up the whole bridge. You will hear a number of subtle variations between the two runs through the progression on the MP3 file.
And that’s what this is ultimately all about. Here is an MP3 of me going through the Introduction, then the Verse section, then the Bridge and then finally back to the Verse again.
You can find the tablature here: Download Tab
The whole of While My Guitar Gently Weeps consists simply of these parts. You can decide to end your arrangement with a fade-out over the Verse (as in the original) or you can go back and do a repeat of the Introduction and finish with an Am chord, or just about anything you find interesting.
I hope you had fun with this lesson on “finger style / chord melody” arrangements. They certainly sound very impressive and, as you’ve (hopefully) discovered, they don’t have to be all that hard to learn.
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…