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Topic: Writing for guitar

  1. #1

    Writing for guitar

    As I have now finished my Waltz with GPO, I am ready to start fooling around with the amazing JABB! However, I know very little about some of these Jazzy instruments, including the guitar. My family has an out-of-tune accoustic guitar, which I once learned to play I-IV-V on, but then I went off to college and had to leave it at home since it wasn't mine...

    Anyway, JABB, as well as the library that came with Kontakt 2, I believe, include some very nice guitars. However, knowing so little about the instrument makes it a bit difficult to know how to go about writing for one

    My sister has some lyrics that I hope to help her form into songs with my music software, and guitar is a rather essential instrument to the style she has in mind (although perhaps she will let me write an opera out of them ).

    So I was wondering if anybody out there could give me any information at all on writing for guitar? Anything... since I know hardly anything.

    Many thanks!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  2. #2

    Re: Writing for guitar

    The way to write for a guitar is to tell the guitar player what you want and have him figure it out.

    Unless you're a guitar player, you probably don't want to write out every note that a guitarist will play--you'd probably do it wrong, and most guitarists don't want that much written out anyway.

    In a jazz piece you'll generally want to indicate the chords and the rhythm that you want them strummed. If you don't have a specific rhythm in mind, just write the chords over the staff, and slashes for every beat, and write some general stylistic directions ("Cajun Klezmer Swing with Wah-Wah in the style of George Benson"), and the guitarist will improvise something that fits.

    If you want the guitar to play the melody in any particular spot, write it out. If you want them to play the melody with the chords underneath, write the chord changes above the melody notes.

    As far as sequencing guitar parts on your own, this is usually more tedius than it's worth--you're better off using auto-accompaniment software to get started. Check out rhythm&chords from musiclab.com, or Band in a Box, or Jammer. These programs will help you to generate stylistically appropriate (and playable) guitar parts much better than you would do on your own. In most cases you'll want to tweak the output to make it sound like what you want, but at least you're starting with something appropriate.

    By the way, no drummer/bassist/guitarist is going to want to read the output from any auto-accompaniment software. The software should be used to generate an audio mockup of what you want--when you actually print the score, make sure to write the general directions like I described above.

    Incidentally the same rules apply for the whole rhythm section (drums, bass, piano). Band-in-a-Box is great for these things, especially if you buy some of their Style set add-ons. Other programs for drum programming are Slicydrummer and Fill-in Drummer (from musiclab), Jamstix (from rayzoon). I highly recommend all of these programs, although Band-in-a-box is probably your strongest all-around, especially for jazz. I have them all and I them in different situations.

    Also check out the arranging books that I recommended to you in an earlier thread -- they'll help you to make intelligent decisions, especially when it comes to notating the rhythm parts.


  3. #3

    Re: Writing for guitar

    This is great!! Thank you for the informative reply, it's exactly the kind of info I was wondering about... I'm still learning a lot on these forums!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  4. #4

    Re: Writing for guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by CallMeZoot
    The way to write for a guitar is to tell the guitar player what you want and have him figure it out.
    This is great advice - very few non-guitar-playing arrangers or composers write idiomatically correct, playable parts for guitar. However, if you don't have access to a living, breathing guitarist and need to render a guitar part with JABB or some other sample library, here are a few tips.

    Because of its tuning, guitar chord voicings are usually spread out and/or inverted rather than stacked up in thirds. The guitarist in a swing big band or combo is often comping with 2- to 4-note rootless voicings. For example when I see a Dmin7 chord, I might just play a C and F, a fourth apart - the third and seventh of the chord - or maybe add an A, the fifth, a third above that, for a 3-note voicing.

    Voice-lead the notes of the chords smoothly when possible - extending the above example, the Dmin7 might be followed by a G7b9 then a CMaj7 - I would play C F A / B F Ab / B E G (bottom to top). Notice that each note in the voicing is moving stepwise.

    Drop-2 voicings work well on guitar, especially for voicing chords with a specific melody note to match the line in one of the brass or sax parts.

    Guitarists might strum with a plectrum if they are playing a Freedie Green style 4 to the bar part (try putting a slight accent on 2 and 4), or they might use fingers or pick/fingers together to sound chords in a more pianistic fashion. To create the strumming effect, you might want to stagger the attacks of the notes in a chord very slightly - the lower notes sound earlier on a downstroke, last on an upstroke.

    Don't forget to explore the electric guitar as a horn-like melodic instrument in the context of a big band arrangement, it can add a nice 'point' to the attack of a horn line - and it blends well with almost any combination of instruments in the ensemble.


  5. #5

    Re: Writing for guitar

    Sean, i don't know if u saw it , but take a look at my post in the garritan central forum on dick grove's school without walls-- though i haven't gotten to the arranging courses just yet, it is supposed to be very comprehensive, and i know it includes writing for drums, piano, guitar, bass, as well as strings, brass, the works-- but it's not like learning from a book, u actually work with it unil u get it and can do it on your own, so if you're interested in like really learning how to do it right, maybe take a look at that ( if u want to wait a couple of years i can give u an update on the arranging courses )

  6. #6
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Salisbury, UK

    Re: Writing for guitar

    The essence of composing for guitar is to understand that position playing is everything. Many notes can be found in more than one place, as with orchestral strings, and both tone and voice leading possibilities change in each position. Big band orchestrators mostly accept that they do not understand this aspect sufficiently, so just write chord names, or sometimes with an added indication of what the bass note of the chord should use (i.e. it's inversion). You can get away with this when the guitar is used only as a tuned percussion instrument. But proper guitar composition is another matter altogether. You have to get a grasp of the instrument's peculiarities (not least that it sounds an octave lower than written). I am in the dark still about the possibilities of the guitar samples in JABB which is why I still cannot plump for it. There have been no demos at all. A key issue for me would also be that the samples included an ability to choose on which string the note will sound. This also applies on the new Strad instrument. A recent demo performance using Massenet's Meditation suggested to me that the instrument could not play certain passages in high positions on the violin G string as the piece requires, as opposed to lower positions on the D or A strings. This may be, however, because the demo was performed on a keyboard where, of course, every note exists in one position only. That is fine for piano playing, not fine for fiddle playing. That important question aside, it is a very impressive sounding product.

  7. #7

    Re: Writing for guitar

    Many thanks for your helpful replies!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  8. #8

    Re: Writing for guitar

    I would certainly concur with what has been said here so far. The comments have been wonderfully succinct and on the money. I might add these few things to the list:

    I'd like to emphasize that when writing for the guitar in a jazz setting where there is no clear notation for the bass player and he/she will be laying down and improvised, say, walking bass line, stay out of the way. However if the parts are to be written, unison, octaves or tenths between bass and guitar sometime are great. Just don't overdo it. When writing for bass and guitar beware of close intervals like thirds, written too low, unless your tune is called Mudville.

    When writing for solo guitar, the guitar is not a piano. Think small.

    A reasonably good guitarist can play anything in thirds as long as it is not too fast. If he or she is using fingers, or pick and fingers, they can play any other interval also.

    Don't be afraid to write 2-part counterpoint for the guitar. It is probably best to restrict the voices so that they don't stray any further than 2 octaves plus a major third apart however.

    Explore some idiomatic features of the guitar. For instance, use one of the open strings as a pedal point while writing other things using the other strings. This pedal point doesn't always have to be a low string. The 1st string E is often used to great effect with things played on the 2nd and 3rd strings in a high position. This places those notes higher in pitch than the open E.

    Don't be afraid to write some close harmonies for the guitar. For instance, using strings 1, 2, and 3, you can play forth octave D, Eb and G together with little trouble. When deciding whether a chord is playable, check out a fingerboard chart and see where the notes might be played. For example in the chord above, it is easier to play on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th strings in a higher position. When doing this, remember that a stretch of four frets is usually always safe. An accomplished guitarist can usually stretch 5 or perhaps on very rare occasions, when he/she is infused with a numbing substance, 6 frets. If you feel you really need to write something like this, check it out with a local picker.

    In a few weeks, I'll put together some examples of good writing. I have a couple of projects to get out of the way first.

    I just want to say, don’t be shy about trying things. Be brave. If anyone has a question as to whether something is playable, email me and I'll be happy to take a look at it. Please don't send me full-blown sonatas to review, I just don't have time, but if it's only a couple of measures, I'd love to help.

    Remember this: If you really want to write something and you find it's unplayable, just turn it into a duet. There's one thing this world has, and that's plenty of guitar players.


    P. S. The full version of Overture has wonderful guitar editing symbols. And to hit home what was said above, remember, the guitar is written an octave higher than it sounds.

  9. #9

    Re: Writing for guitar

    Wow, thank you, Mr. Garrett! I appreciate your time!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  10. #10

    Re: Writing for guitar

    Quote Originally Posted by Karl Garrett
    Remember this: If you really want to write something and you find it's unplayable, just turn it into a duet. There's one thing this world has, and that's plenty of guitar players.

    ...and a shortage of good "beginning to intermediate level" guitar duets (at least when I was still playing classical guitar...back when dinosaurs roamed the earth).

    Go for it, Sean!


    Jim Jarnagin - no not THAT Jim Jarnagin, the other one.

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