"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Sounds
June 10, 2009

An Old Song Idea Gets Fresh Guitars

OK, time to move the old song idea to the next stage. We’ve brought it back to life, then added some markers as a way to create the arrangement and make it easier to navigate. Now it’s time to focus on new content, specifically, some rhythm guitars. This is the basic rhythm guitar part I […]

OK, time to move the old song idea to the next stage. We’ve brought it back to life, then added some markers as a way to create the arrangement and make it easier to navigate. Now it’s time to focus on new content, specifically, some rhythm guitars.

This is the basic rhythm guitar part I started out with. It’s kinda funky when you play it on guitar, but the MIDI part from the original version is pure cheese.

[audio:https://fernandogros.com/audio/iscmidiguitar.mp3|titles=ISC MIDI Guitar|artists=Fernando Gros]

Of course, it sounds better played on guitar. However, when handled by one guitar it’s a full and busy part and after a while on the track fatigue starts to set in. Oftentimes it is better, when faced with this sort of thing, to break the progression down into two, three or even four parts. This not only gives you a more interesting sound, it also gives you a lot more flexibility at the mixing stage to create interest by altering the balance between those parts create a changing sense of dynamics and intensity.

I could write a long essay on why guitarists are so often unimaginative in their approach to rhythm playing, but I’ll save that for another day (or the comments section). For now, let me say that breaking a rhythm up into smaller parts and thinking on a bar by bar, phrase by phrase level is a powerful creative tool. If you haven’t done it much, try to think of each part coming from a different guitarist, with a slightly different vibe and playing a slightly different pocket in the groove. I find that works for me, when I create something that “percolates,” rather than sitting there washing over the mix.

Often I start out with a single line motif. This time I worked out from the rhythm of the original part, with a light, slightly AfroPop vibe. The part isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t matter yet. At this stage go for groove and mood.

[audio:https://fernandogros.com/audio/iscguitar1.mp3|titles=ISC Guitar 1|artists=Fernando Gros]

Next, I added a part that comes from the top notes of the original, in a staccato style. There is a bit of tension and pull here that has a lot of potential to keep a listener interested and would not have come from a single rhythm part.

[audio:https://fernandogros.com/audio/iscguitar2.mp3|titles=ISC Guitar 2|artists=Fernando Gros]

Finally, a third guitar adds the 9th Chord stabs from the original part to the end of each bar and balances the rhythm out a little.

[audio:https://fernandogros.com/audio/iscguitar3.mp3|titles=ISC Guitar 3|artists=Fernando Gros]

So, how does that sound in the context of the song, with drums and bass chugging along?

[audio:https://fernandogros.com/audio/iscminimix.mp3|titles=ISC Mini Mix|artists=Fernando Gros]

It’s kind of getting there now. These parts are interesting, could be mixed a number of different ways and certainly pop and percolate well. However, there’s an interesting workflow stage to consider here – do we now “perfect” the rhythm part with better recordings and performances, or do we press onto the lead/head part of the song?

There isn’t really a right or wrong answer to that question. Either move will progress the song forward and we have to do both eventually. This time, I’m going to opt to jump to the lead guitar parts. My feeling (and it’s only a hunch), is that if I spend too long perfecting the rhythm, it will make the timing of the head and lead more predictable. I’d rather trying playing the lead guitar over this slightly loose rhythm, then, in turn, play the rhythm responding to the lead.

That approach is no guarantee of creative success. But, it sometimes leads to more “happy accidents” and forces me to perform more in the sense of creative stress. So, next time, so lead and melody playing.

Responses
Mike Mahoney 13 years ago

I think I’d agree with you and give the lead a go at this point, if for nothing else than to map it out loosely and get an idea where you want to go.

Very inspiring how you put this together. Sounds amazing with the drums/bass added. As we are progressing on our CD project, now that most of the music is done, and most of the vocals, we can finally hear an almost-finished project. Which in turn is breathing new excitement into it.

Toni 13 years ago

Interesting.

I could not possibly work as you do, all the parts in isolation. I may have been playing with reduced numbers of musicians too much in the last few years too, as I find parts 1 and 2 of the guitar rhythm section too mechanical and not in sympathy with themselves or the backing track. In fact I couldn’t even feel the timing or sense of musicality at all until the bass and drum parts came in.

I understand how parts fit together to create a whole from my brass playing days, but that’s not at all how I work as a guitar player. Thanks for taking the time to describe your creative process like this.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Mike – thanks! It is always exciting when you start to hear something come together. Look forward to hearing the final versions of your project!

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Toni – I think I get what you are saying. It’s a quite a different approach, as a guitarist, you play to make up for a lack of other players (or strong players) and minimise the way I’m trying to do here. In this kind of situation I’m consciously not trying to cover musical space that is being filled by the drums or bass.

As a guitarist it is cool when the whole song hangs on your riff. I still go for that sometimes. But, I’m also fascinated by parts that require the other instrument to come together.

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