Auld Lang Syne

Learning the guitar, learning anything, tends to be done in stages. And one of the stages that often gets left out is the “trying something a bit beyond you” part. Greg Nease, a regular at the Guitar Noise Forum pages, recently posted this bit of advice on a different topic, but it certainly applies here:

Taking a person outside of the comfort zone is an excellent way to grow in skills. That’s a basic principle in teaching that often is overlooked. We tend to focus on the practice-until-proficient part. But at the same time one is becoming proficient at one skill, new skills are introduced to continue progress. Otherwise, one hits that dreaded plateau. One of the main functions of a teacher is to keep moving the student past the point of comfort by presenting new challenges.

The whole concept of chord melody as a playing style has been around for ages. And, like most aspects of both music in general and the guitar in specific, there is no end to the variations you can come up with playing in this particular manner. You can have full chords, such as in our recent lesson on Christmas carol Joy to the World, you can use one extra note to accompany your melody, as in O Tannenbaum, or almost anything in between.

The variations multiply even more when you factor in the use of alternate tunings, even one as common place as Drop D. And that’s where we’ll be spending this particular lesson, on a Drop D arrangement of the perennial New Year’s Eve standard, Auld Lang Syne.

GN Moderator and Contributor Graham Merry has already written a wonderful piece on this song, not to mention on the whole concept of chord melody in general, in his lesson entitled, Birth of a Chord Melody – you might want to give that one a read before we proceed. In the meantime, I’ll deal with the pesky “disclaimer” part:

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.

Of course, the first thing we’ll want to do is to get our guitars in Drop D tuning. As you undoubtedly know from reading an old (but timeless!) Guitar Column called On the Tuning Awry, or from any number of song lessons such as the classic Neil Young tune, Harvest Moon, all we have to do is to tune our low E (sixth) string down a full step to D. While you’re doing that, I’ll put together the melody and chords of our lesson for you:

Example 1 part 1
Example 1 part 2
Example 1 part 3
Example 1 part 4
Example 1 part 5
Example 1 part 6
Example 1 part 7
Example 1 part 8

Since Graham’s lesson on Auld Lang Syne is heavy on the “chord” aspect of chord melody, it seems that going with a sparser, more open arrangement that relies on bass lines and chord arpeggios (at least to start with!) would be an interesting take. Plus, as you’ll see and hear later, it opens the door to some interesting chord substitutions. So let’s get going with the first two lines of our song:

Example 2 part 1
Example 2 part 2

Even though we start out with a simple D chord to hold both melody and accompaniment easily, I’d like to suggest using your index finger to barre the first three strings at the second fret as this will make playing the C# note (second fret of the B string) a lot smoother for you. The E minor chord is fingered 222000 in Drop D tuning and shouldn’t give you any trouble, but if you prefer, Em7 (220000) makes a perfectly good substitute.

My main reason for using A7 instead of A is to allow me to play harmony notes on the G string for the last beat of the second measure. You can, if you like, use a double hammer-on to get the F# (second fret of the high E (first) string) and A (second fret of the G). That will sound very nice, and I’m sure you’ll agree if you try it.

The Bm that starts the third measure is more implied than played in full, as we’re only picking out the B (second fret of the A) and D (third fret of the B) notes. You could flesh this out by playing the strings in between, either as Bm (X2443X) or even as G/B (X2003X). Each has a different character, so try them both out before deciding.

I made a substitution of D7, technically a D7/F# since I’m playing the F# note on the fourth fret of the low D (sixth) string, instead of a regular D for the last chord in Measure Three for two reasons. First, I like the way it sounds. It makes the transition from D to G more interesting and intense, especially when using the F# as the bass note. And it’s an easy shape to make when adding said F# in the bass. As a further plus, it puts me in great position, finger-wise, to make the G chord with the high B note (seventh fret of the high E (first) string) in the melody.

And position can be very important when working out a chord melody arrangement. In fact, being where I am on the finger board at the end of the second line of the verse puts me in great shape for the start of the third line:

Example 3 part 1
Example 3 part 2

It even allows me a chance to make a very interesting chord substitution by simply sliding my G note up a half-step to G# (sixth fret of the low D (sixth) string), which plays very nicely when I use D/A instead of just plain old D at the start of the next measure. The G to G# to A in the bass is definitely more interesting than just using root notes, and the G# diminished chord that we create in the process is one of those magical touches that make the song more alive, and only we have to know that it’s an incredibly easy chord change to pull off!

It gets better. Being up in the middle of the neck allow us to play the voicing of the D chord we’ve used in other song lessons (even Christmas song lessons, such as Silent Night) before moving back down to our “regular” open position D chord.

The bass line gets center stage again for a while, making an E to F# to G run en route to the open A string. But why stop there? Using A# (first fret of the A string) gives us an implied A# diminished chord, that carries us to the Bm at the start of the next measure much the same way the G# diminished chord did two measures earlier. You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck just by using chromatic half-steps between chords.

And you can also create more tension-and-release moments, just by lifting off a finger here and there, as at the end of the verse. Sounding the open G string, right after playing two notes of the D chord, creates Dsus4, which then gets resolved by playing the F# note at the fourth fret of the D string. You could also just go back to the A (second fret of the G string) if you’d like, although that will sound a little more ambiguous.

Since we’ve gone relatively sparse during the verses, focusing on full, vibrant chords during the chorus will make a nice contrast. We can even use some interesting extensions to jazz things up a bit:

Example 4 part 1
Example 4 part 2

Even though the original melody-and-chord chart didn’t call for it, starting out the chorus with a resounding A chord makes a lot of sense, both to the head and, more importantly, to the ears. But remember that the melody note is B (seventh fret of the high E (first) string), so the melody is actually giving you the ninth. So we oblige by playing an A9 (X05657), which is best accomplished by using the index finger to barre across the first four strings at the fifth fret.

Once again, being around the fifth fret makes playing that voicing of D, now making use of all six strings (000775) a breeze.

I like what we did with the A9 so much that not only do I use it again at the end of the second measure, it inspires the use of a D9 (technically D9/F# – 400555) for the final chord of the third measure. Here I’d recommend using your pinky or the ring finger for the barre of the first three strings at the fifth fret.

We’ve created a grandiose feeling with the chorus so far, so seems reasonable to continue on through the rest of the chorus in the same manner:

Example 5 part 1
Example 5 part 2

Using the A# note (first fret of the A string) against the rest of the A7 chord above, with the F# note in the melody, sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? So much so, in fact, that I can’t help but default to the “two note Bm” that starts the next measure, simply for contrast. Again, you should feel free to use a fuller chord at this point if you so desire.

And it also seems appropriate to make a slightly fancier closing statement to end the chorus. Not all that fancier, mind you, just opening up the G string again but then going for the A note at the second fret before finishing with the F# at the fourth fret of the D string. You can certainly use a hammer-on to get that penultimate A note. It will sound very cool.

So let’s put everything together and wrap up our 2008 series of holiday lessons:

Example 6 part 1
Example 6 part 2
Example 6 part 3
Example 6 part 4
Example 6 part 5
Example 6 part 6
Example 6 part 7
Example 6 part 8

This arrangement, while not terribly difficult, will give you some challenges that should require a bit of practice (note how stiff I sound!). But the important lesson is to try out chords and ideas that you may not have had on your radar until now. Work out each line in terms of positioning and listen to how the individual notes of the chords play against and then into each other. Hopefully you’ll be mesmerized enough to try out some chord melody arrangements of your own. Doesn’t have to be this particular song – almost any song can be performed in this manner.

And I hope that you enjoyed not only this lesson, and not only our group of holiday song arrangements, but all the various lessons here at Guitar Noise this past year. It’s been fun writing them and I hope that you’ll enjoy the many lessons coming up right around the turn of the calendar page.

As always, please feel free to email me ([email protected]) with any questions you might have. You can also reach me at the Guitar Noise Forum pages, either on a thread or by dropping me a PM.

Until our next lesson…