How to do a song arrangement for solo guitar? Part 1


One of the best things I’ve done with my guitar playing is develop a solo acoustic finger style guitar repertoire. I say one of the best things because it has multiple advantages or should I say other benefits that being a regular lead/rhythm player doesn’t have. For one thing you won’t need a backing track to play for people, you can be a one man band and, it also may provide a little more work that isn’t always presented to other guitarists who don’t have a repertoire themselves.


I first started developing my finger style repertoire when I was offered a gig on a cruise ship and I would be required perform solo in the ships atrium each day the ship was at sea. This would often require 3×45 minute sets, which meant I needed to come up with somewhere in the ballpark of 30 or so songs utilising finger style technique where the melody and accompanying harmony were ever present. Sitting there strumming chords with no vocals isn’t particularly interesting and it was also the days before looping pedals. Playing to a backing track also didn’t interest me, I preferred a live band any day of the week.


If you’ve done no finger style playing at all I recommend starting by learning Blackbird by The Beatles. This is a fantastic tune that was a solo piece for Paul McCartney that sounds a little more complicated than it is to actually play. It’s also a great little lesson in using more than just your thumb and first finger on the right hand.


If you’re at the point where you’re wanting to do an arrangement of a tune you like but there’s nothing out there already, then I suggest you start by getting a hold of the sheet music. This will give you a basic starting point for what the chords are and it will be a case of trying to weave the melody in and out of those chords. A good tune to try when first starting out, if you cannot think of anything yourself is Amazing Grace, this has a very simple I IV V chord structure and a very well known melody as well.


In my second instalment of this blog I’ll talk a little about how to put a solo fingerstyle arrangement together…In the meantime, I’ve added my arrangement of Pure Imagination.


Recommended listening

  • Daytripper/Lady Madonna – Tommy Emmanuel
  • Any arrangement of a jazz standard by Martin Taylor


And as always practise, practise, practise.

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