One of my readers suggested i post a blog topic about technique, how i work through an arrangement, getting a tune up to speed, etc. I thought i would try to cover some of the topics in the context of working through an arrangement from start to finish. That way folks can see where i am coming from, and more importantly to me, gain an understanding of the tools they need to start arranging their own tunes.
The tune we will be looking is Tobin’s Jig, also called Tobin’s Favorite, with both TAB/Notation and audio examples. Its a standard at sessions, played in the key of D, and thus works well in the CGDGCD tuning with the capo at the 2nd fret. So you will want to download the lesson pdf for the tab and notation, as well as the mp3 examples. This entry will get into the A part, and the next blog entry will look at the B part, plus the whole piece. Maybe I will record some video too. I have intentionally played the guitar examples slower and more flowing, so folks can hear whats going on. The final version will be more up to speed.
As far as technique goes, i am principally rooted in classical guitar technique. I studied classical guitar for several years while in high school and college, and pretty much went from that straight into arranging celtic tunes. I found the technique carries over pretty well to playing this kind of music, though it is certainly not the only approach. Robin Bullock uses finger picks and Tony Mcmanus uses a different right hand attack. Find what works for you.
I think being able to play scales using various of permutations of Index, Middle, and Ring fingers with the right hand, as well as different right hand appregios, will serve one well when fingerpicking this music. I started out with Aaron Scheerer’s Classical Guitar book, and I like Pumping Nylon alot as well, especially the Guillini appregios in the back. Even though I don’t specifically play classical guitar music anymore I use alot of the warm up studies in Pumping Nylon, they are valuable for any fingerpicking guitar style. In fact, I think if you are not already committed to a certain fingerpicking style getting a basic grounding in classical guitar technique can’t hurt.
I have not been using a metronome lately, though that is probably just lack of discipline on my part. Once i get an arrangement into muscle memory i tend to just play it over and over, refining things until its up to speed.
So lets look at Tobin’s Jig. When setting out to arrange a tune i always listen to it alot first. At home, in the car, etc. I get it in my ear and under my skin, trying to absorb the melody, lilt, and delivery. Then I sit down and actually try to learn the tune. I always encourage folks to learn traditional music by ear, though sheet music is fine when first starting out. I feel learning by ear is the best way to absorb the rhythm that is so neccesary to this music, you will remember tunes better, and eventually get to the point where you can pick up things on the fly at the session. Windows Media Player and Quicktime will slow down mp3’s, which is handy when learning some of the fast stuff.
Tobins on flute
So in that vein the first audio example is me playing Tobin’s Jig on the flute, as i would at a session. I play the full tune, both A and B parts, though in this blog entry we will just cover the A part. If you are not familiar with the tune or don’t have another recording of it listen to this for a while, to get it in your head. If i were to go to session this how i would play it. Its pretty close to the guitar version though there may be some minor differences. That is fairly common in celtic music.
The next step i take is to pick up the guitar and learn the melody, usually where it naturally falls on the instrument. I am not really concerned with much more than getting the melody down on the guitar, so i can step away from the recording and have a basic framework to develop.
Example 1 demonstrates the basic melody with a simple bass line underneath. This based on the principal chords of the tune, which are D, G, and A. Major key tunes will often revolve around the I, IV, and V chords, so its not a bad place to start. To get the proper rhythm for jigs i tend to pick every note, so there are not any slurs in this piece. This basic version does not go above the third fret, and i think is a nice place to start.
I varied it up a bit in example 2, adding some additional bass notes. They all still fall on beats 1 and 4, the main rhymic emphasis for jigs. Often times instead of D major one can substitute B minor, hence the B note in the first measure. Instead of an A note in the measure 2 i use a C sharp. If i were backing this tune I might play an A chord with a C sharp in the bass at this point. This version also ventures up the neck a bit. Depending on the context, alot of times i find the first string can sound kind of thin, so i like play things higher up the neck on different string to vary the tonal quality. Measures 3 and 4 of example two demonstrate that.
Example 3 changes things up a bit more, and is probably the most difficult of the three versions. I changed the placement of the bass notes to add a bit different rhythmic emphasis. Take the time to try this out, it can take a bit of coordination to get the thumb going in the right spot. I also play a few more passages up the neck, which i think is nice.
In an arrangement i might use all three of these variations at various points through the tune, it gives the listener some variety and is also nice for me as a player.
In the next blog entry we will look at the B part.
Feel free to post your questions or thoughts to comments, or shoot me an email.