Applied Science

“So,” you’re saying, “what good is knowing all this theory stuff anyway? Why shouldn’t I just learn the stuff I like straight off the recording (or better yet, the TAB that someone else has gone through all the trouble to figure out) and be happy with that?”

Why not, indeed?

Like most musicians, songwriters, teachers, human beings, I have an ego. And as much as I do know in my head that we are all different (thankfully so), I still have my moments when I can’t for the life of me understand why everyone just doesn’t think the way I do. After all, that would be a surefire way to solve all the world’s problems…

So, anyway, a couple of weeks ago I got a request from a reader to help him out with some Pink Floyd songs. Specifically, Wish You Were Here. And since I, like Paul, have a real fondness for the group, I was more than happy to make certain that someone else was able to share in the joy of playing this music. But as I was putting together a TAB (of sorts), I had one of those blinding flash of light moments. You know, the “it’s a crazy idea, but – it – just – might – work!” type. And, after some practice both at home and in performance, I felt that this might be a good example to show you why a little theory can go a long way. Even though we’re only going to change one small thing, we’ll end up going over alternate tuning, alternate chord voicings, song arrangement and basic leads and fills. Not too shabby a lesson plan, eh?

So, let’s dispense with the disclaimer and move on to some real fun:

The Problem

The obvious obstacle with Wish You Were Here, for most people anyway, is that the introduction has two distinct guitar parts. When you listen to it on whichever format you listen to things, the song comes across as someone playing along with a song on the radio. First the rhythm guitar part plays through the introduction and then the second guitarist joins in with that wonderful, yet simple, lead. Just like two friends playing together back in the good old days long gone.

Arranging this for one guitar is actually not that hard, since the two parts play “call and response” most of the time. There are only a few places where the separate guitars are both involved with individual notes (as opposed to one guitar playing individual notes while the other strums the chords as a rhythm. The real problem (albeit a small one) with this type of arrangement is that both you and your audience has to allow for that (and not everybody is as open-minded as you might think. For each person that you impress with your ability to play both parts someone else will not like the fact that it “doesn’t sound the same.” Duh!)

Today we’re going to cover arranging Wish You Were Here for two guitars, specifically the second guitar part. For the sake of keeping things simple we’ll call the main rhythm guitar “guitar one” and the guitar that comes in with the lead line during the introduction “guitar two.” As we’ve noted, the introduction is already arranged that way, so what’s the big deal?

Well, to me, the true challenge lies in the guitar instrumental between the two verses. On the album, a slide guitar part (which is undoubtedly done on a Dobro) doubles the scat vocal. All this goes on over the same chords used in the introduction. Because of the intervals used when two stings are played simultaneously, I had always suspected that whatever guitar David Gilmour was using must be open tuned, probably to open G. I later got a chance to confirm this when my brother bought me the Wish You Were Here guitar transcription book for Christmas a few years back.

I practiced playing the slide part both ways (standard tuning and open G) and found that I really found it easier to play (not to mention better sounding) with the guitar tuned to open G. For those of you who may not know (or remember) what open G is, simply put, it’s re-tuning your guitar so that you get a G major chord when you strum it open. Here’s the most commonly used open G tuning:

Open G tuning

(If you’re really interested in going over open tuning again, take a moment and reread Look, Ma, No Hands and Here There Be Monsters, the two articles in which we first touched upon this subject. Don’t worry – we’ll wait here for you. That’s one of the beauties of working off of the internet)

If you examine the two tunings, you’ll see that the second, third and fourth strings are the same in both standard and open G. Now since I’ve already worked out the slide part, I have an incredibly useful piece of information for you. The slide solo never uses the fifth or sixth strings! And this brings us to:

The Solution:

Okay, since I don’t have the money to spend on a self-tuning guitar, and because I know I’m not going to use the low E and A strings on the slide solo, why not tune the high E string down to D? This allows us to have open G tuning on our first four strings for the slide solo while also allowing us standard tuning on strings two through six. Do you see this? Here, check it out:

WYWH tuning

“WYWH,” of course stands for Wish You Were Here. Don’t be confused by names, or the lack of names. You may remember this tuning as the “Rain tuning” from Cover Story when we used it to play Rain by the Beatles. You may also recall us discussing it in On The Tuning Awry and arguing whether or not it was a “Drop D” tuning. All we need to know is that it’s an alternate tuning and that we get it by tuning the high E (first) string down to D. You can either do this with an electronic tuner (simply tune your first string to the same setting you use for the fourth (D) string) or by matching the tone of your first string to the third fret of the second string (instead of to the fifth as you would normally do).

Coming up with this tuning, however, does not totally solve our problems. We now have to go back through the song and see where we’re going to have to make adjustments in what we already know. And it doesn’t take long to find that we’ll need them. In just the second lead line from where the second acoustic guitar comes in we find this:

Riff 1

Now, in all likelihood, you play this riff like so:

Riff 2

But you’re obviously not going to be able to do this in our new tuning, are you? Oh, you can stretch your fingers further along on the first string in order to compensate, but that really hurts. Well, it hurts my hands, anyway. Why not come up with something much simpler? Try this:

Riff 3

How’s that? It’s actually funny because when I first learned this riff off the record (and it was a record at that point), this is how I figured out playing it. It wasn’t until I saw other people’s TAB that I started doing it the “normal” way. And when I got the book, well that just sewed it up.

The reason I first taught myself to do it this way was because it kept my fingers in the same shape for both slides. As I’ve told you before, I’m not really that fast and anything that I can come up with to make a riff easy I will use to death.

Okay, let’s move on. Since “guitar two’s” part in the introduction never uses the first string again, we can go on to the body of the song. Usually when I play this with someone, both guitars tend to strum the same thing. But that won’t really work here, again for obvious reasons. So what I had to come up with a combination of new strumming patterns and new chord voicings to accommodate my re-tuned guitar. Since the D note (now on the first string) is inherent in both G and D chords, there were no real problems there. In the C and Am chords (the only other ones in the main body of the song), D is what we might call a “friendly” passing tone. It’s the ninth (or second) in a C chord and the fourth in the A minor. You might recall that these two intervals (especially the fourth) are used extensively in suspended chords. Here, then, are some chord voicings (of the open chords) that can be used in this tuning:


Having gotten through the introduction and the main body of the song, I can now pick up my slide (conveniently nearby) and play the solo between the verses. But what to do during the last verse? You already know that I try to do things as easily as possible, so the last thing I want to do is to drop my slide for the final verse, only to have to pick it up again for the outro solo. So, I’m going to have to come up with a slide rhythm part for the last verse. Fortunately, my new tuning will actually help me out with this, since all the chords (except the Am) are major chords. The main thing will be to keep it fairly simple, so as not to detract from the verse. Also, if I make it too complicated, I won’t be able to sing the harmony part along with everyone else (and isn’t that why we play the song in the first place?). From there, it’s back to the slide solo and we’re home free.

The Transcription

Okay, here’s the complete transcription of Wish You Were Here. For the sake of not overloading Paul with waaaaayyy too much junk, I’ve only put in the TAB for the two guitars and not the actual notation. Normally I wouldn’t usually do this because I think that, if nothing else, it’s good to get used to notation.

I should also point out that, like all TABs, this one is bound to be different that others you have seen. And not just because of the stuff we’ve already discussed. I’m transcribing how I strum, not taking it directly off the record. Also you may find a few “flourishes” to the various solos that I have long incorporated into my playing. In short, if you want to be a carbon copy of the recording, this will not do. But to me, that’s always been the point. Anytime you play someone else’s music you have two things to achieve. First, you have to pay respect to the people who wrote and performed it. Secondly, you have to add your own touch to the mix. Otherwise you might as well play it on your CD player instead of on your guitar.

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Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little journey into arrangements. They can be quite fun (as well as fascinating) for performer and listener alike. Not to mention that it’s a skill that can aid writers immensely. We’ll definitely be covering this subject more in the future, so if there are any specific songs you might like to discuss, please let me know.

And, as always, do feel free to write with any questions, comments, concerns or just to let me know how things are going with you. Reach me directly at [email protected] or simply drop off a note at the Guitar Forums.

Until next week…