** As featured in issue 46 **
For this column, I decided to share an arrangement for solo guitar of one of the most celebrated and, in my humble opinion, prettiest Christmas songs ever written: ‘White Christmas’ composed by Irvin Berlin for the movie ‘Holiday Inn’ in 1942. According to the Guinness World Records, the version sung by Bing Crosby is the best-selling single of all time.
As always, the first thing I do when I intend to arrange a song for solo guitar, I try to play the melody and its accompanying harmony in a few keys, until I chose the one that in my opinion works best. This is often depending on array of factors: the range of the melody, the nature of the harmony, how many open strings I can capitalize on and, finally, how it flows from start to finish. For this reason, the best key for me was the original one, namely the key of G major. This enabled me to use many open strings and natural harmonics. Furthermore, using the original key means also that the melody will unfold in the same register intended by the composer in the first place, which is always a good thing.
Below is the chord progression in roman numerals. These are useful as an analytical tool, as they make it easier to transpose the piece in all the 12 keys, if need be:
IVI7iiV7IVV V7(d)iii Viii V7(d)I I7(d)IVivI (b)ii I(b) IV6 #ivOVIVIVI7IiV7IVV V7(d)iii Viii V7(d)I I7(d)IV(b)iv(b)I VI7(d)VI VI7(d)VI VI7(d)VIIIIvI
NB. Lower case roman numerals indicate a minor chord quality
(iv = C minor in the key of G )
This piece provides an opportunity to improve interpretation skills and present the melody in a singing-like manner (cantabile), while complementing it with countermelodies happening in various registers.
For example, inversions have been utilized to create melodic bass lines, which act as countermelodies in the lower register. This is evident throughout. The term inversion refers to the way a harmonic structure (a chord) is voiced or organized).
Triads can be voiced in three different positions/inversions:
a): Root position: root is lowest note in the chord
b): 1st inversion: 3rd is the lowest note in the chord – (b)
c): 2nd inversion: 5th is the lowest note in the chord – (c)
Seventh chords could also be voiced as a 3rd inversion (7th in the bass) For example D/C = D7 3rd inversion, described by (d)
One of the technical hurdles of this piece is the need to keep the melody at the fore of the arrangement. To do this, it may help to sing it while playing it, to be sure we are emphasising as needed.
As always, I would like to recommend researching the above-mentioned techniques in order to be able to use these to compose your own pieces. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes and reflect on the reasons why we like, or not, a particular sound, a chord progression or modulation. Eventually, these sounds will become part of your musical lexicon and we should be able to use these effectively and creatively.
The picking-hand pattern is predominantly as follows:
(Please note E=low E string, e= high E string)
‘p’ often plays the first two notes of each broken chord, as in bar 1 and ‘i, m, a’ follow.
Play each part in a relaxed and clear manner, making sure your thumb is a little forward compared to the ‘i, m, a’ fingers, in order to prevent it from colliding with the ‘i’ finger. As always, focus on attack and tonal consistency. The melody and the supporting harmonies will be played with the ‘i, m and a’ fingers, so attack is needed to outline the melody.
Next we are going to look at the left hand part (chord shapes):
Bar 1: Open G and B strings with ring f on fret 3 of E, followed by open D, G and little f on fret 4 of D.
Bar 2: Open E, barre’ on fret 1 of G and B strings. Middle f on fret 2 of D, followed by the following double-stops: open D and B. Ring f on fret 4 of A and middle f on fret 3 of G. Open D and B.
Bar 3: Open A and index on fret 1 of B, followed by middle f on fret 2 of D, little f on fret 4 of D and open G.
Bar 4: Open D with index on fret 1 of G and middle f on fret 2 of B, followed by the same double-stop on fret up on beat 2. On beat 3 and 4, open A and middle f on fret 2 of A.
Bar 5: Ring f on fret 3 of A, middle f on fret 2 of D, open G and index on fret 1 of B, to play a C major (C shape) on beat 1. Next, open G and e, fret 4 of D with fret 2 of e and fret 2 of D with fret 3 of e.
Bar 6: Barre’ on fret 5 of G, B and e and open D. Little f on fret 8 of B. Barre’ on fret 7 on D, G and B. Little f on fret 9 of G.
Bar 7: Barre’ on fret 7 of E, D and G, follow by 7 of e. Open E with 7 of D and 8 of B.
Bar 8: Barre’ on fret 5 of D and G, followed by 5 of e. Barre’ on fret 2 of G and e, middle f on fret 3 of A and ring f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 9: Ring f on fret 3 of E, open D and B, followed by open G. Middle f on fret 2 of E with open B, followed by open G.
Bar 10: Index on fret 1 of E with open G and B, followed by open e. Next open D and little f on fret 3 of B.
Bar 11: Ring f on fret 3 of A, middle f on fret 2 of D and open G, followed by open D. Then again open G with 2nd of D, followed by open D.
Bar 12: Ring f on fret 3 of A, index on fret 1 of D and open G. Little f on fret 3 of B. Open G, followed by middle f on fret 1 of B.
Bar 13: Open G and B with middle f on fret 2 of A. Open D, G and little f on fret 4 of D.
Bar 14: Open A, index on fret 1 of B and middle f on fret 2 of D. Middle f on fret 2 of A with open G and B. Ring f on fret 3 of A with index on fret 1 of D and middle f on fret 2 of G. Little f on fret 4 of A, index on fret 2 of D and open G.
Bar 15: Ring f on fret 5 of A, little f on fret 5 of D, with index on fret 2 of G.
Bar 16: Ring f on fret 3 of A, middle f on fret 2 of D and open G. Next, open D and G.
At this point, play from bar 1 to bar 10, then take bar 17.
Bar 17: Open E, open G, index on fret 1 of B and little f on fret 3 of e. Next, middle f on fret 2 of D, open G and fret 1 of B.
Bar 18: Index on fret 1 of D open G and middle f on fret 1 of B. Next, open G with little f on fret 3 of e, followed by fret 5 of e.
Bar 19: Barre’ on fret 7 of G, B and e with middle f on fret 8 of B, followed by open D. Next fret 7 of G and e, with ring f on fret 9 of B, followed by open D.
Bar 20: Barre’ on fret 12 of G, B and e with middle f on fret 7 of B, followed by barre’ on fret 10 of B and e with middle f on fret 11 of G and open D, played twice.
NB. Repeat bar 19 and 20 three times.
Bar 21 and 22: Barre’ on fret 7 of G and e with middle f on fret 8 of B on beat 1, 2 and 3 with an open D on beat 2 and 4.
Bar 23: Barre’ on fret 7 of G and e with middle f on fret 8 of B on beat 1. On beat 2 add little f on fret 10 of e. Beat 3 play fret 7 of G and 8 of B. Beat 4, play 7 of G and 10 of B, with an open D on beat.
Bar 24: Natural harmonic on fret 12 of D, G and B. Arpeggio including fret 8 of E, fret 6 of A, fret 7 of D, open G and B.
Bar 25: Natural harmonic on fret 12 of A, D and G. Arpeggio including fret 3 of E, fret 5 of A, fret 4 of D, open G and B.
Congratulations, you have completed ‘White Christmas’!
As always, you will be able to download a transcription by selecting the menu option in this page.
I strongly recommend experimenting with a few picking variations, changing the chords as you wish in terms of voicing (higher or lower), as well as trying the same picking pattern on a different chord progression, or using a ‘capo’ on fret 2 for a brighter outcome.
When repeating any section twice or more, you may want to play ‘sul ponticello’, (closer to the bridge) or ‘sul tasto’ (over the frets) for more contrasting results.
Make sure you highlight the melody (singing is a great strategy to play the melody in more assertive and singing-like manner)
Focus on minimum-movement approach, as this will help delivering the piece in a more accurate and consistent manner, while saving energy.
This will complete this creative fingerstyle lesson.
I hope you will enjoy playing this classic tune arranged for solo guitar and that this will give you some ideas on how to write your own solo guitar compositions and re-arrangements.