Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Compositionally Inspired by Shawn Persinger

This week's blog is another old article (unpublished) that covers a wide range of material: from Led Zeppelin to West Side Story, James Brown to Boud Deun (my old band). As with some of the previous pieces in this blog I had not quite found my rhythm as a writer, as the material goes from easy to complex very quickly (something I would not do now). That said it is full of useful and fun information. Good for beginners, advanced guitarist and professional composers. Enjoy. 

PS: All of the musical examples of other artists herein fall within the requirements of "fair use". 

Compositionally Inspired by Shawn Persinger

There is a well-known statement attributed to Stravinsky that bears repeating, “Good composers borrow, great composers steal.” But how can you steal and still avoid copyright infringement? The answer is quite simple: find a musical example you like, learn it, then twist it. On the guitar that creative turn can be approached from many different angles. Here are a few musical goods I steal regularly.

  1. Shapes: The guitar is full of common shapes: chords, arpeggios, scales, etc. These shapes are ripe for manipulations to make them your own.

Example 1 shows that moving a basic triad across the fretboard, gives us three radically different arpeggios.

Example 2 demonstrates how you can get new chords out of old shapes by simply changing the tuning of the strings. In open G tuning (DGDGBD) a basic C chord fingering becomes a more harmonically complex, but no less pleasing, C9/Bb.

Example 3b puts both of the previous ideas together, ripping-off probably the most famous guitar counterpoint in history, Example 3a, (if you can’t figure what song it is you need to play more classic rock). I manipulated these shapes in two ways, moving them over two strings and changing the tuning from standard to Open G minor. I used this idea in my song, The Thanksgiving Visitor.

  1. Rhythms: Rhythms are probably my favorite targets when thieving. When dealing with western music we are limited to only 12 different notes but rhythmically the possibilities are endless. That information might lead one to ask, “If they are endless why would you need to steal them?” A very clever retort, but lets face it, some rhythms are better than others. For my money rhythms don’t get better than James Brown’s. He left us with a rhythmic legacy that is somehow extremely complex yet completely danceable, a trick not easily achieved.

Example 4 shows Guitar 1, Guitar 2 and the Bass of measure one of James’ Talking Loud & Saying Nothing.

Example 5 shows my version of all three parts at once, arranged for solo guitar. I’ve kept James’ rhythms but supplied my own notes. This example is from my song, Blue, Blue, Blue.

  1. Note choice: This one is tricky. You have to avoid being too obvious when you steal notes. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is probably going to sound like Twinkle, Twinkle no matter how you play it. But try something I little less familiar, change the rhythm and you can find yourself with something fairly original.

Example 6 shows a line from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in the opening seconds of the Scherzo. I absolutely fell in love with this delicate two-measure figure. Imagine my surprise when I learned it, moved it down an octave, modified the rhythm and found it to be a powerful rock guitar riff, Example 7.

I used this riff in my own tune, Ten Pence, from my band Boud Deun’s CD, The Stolen Bicycle. The song belongs to a much larger piece entitled, Churches, which takes up most the album. Truth be told most of the Churches compositions are based on ideas I lifted from The Symphonic Dances of West Side Story. It remains my favorite piece of music ever and it still has uncounted musical lines to pilfer.

These are just a few of the ways I go beyond being inspired by a piece of music and literally dismantling and reassembling it into something I can call my own. Try it yourself with your own favorite song or experiment with a simple two-measure riff. There is a goldmine of musical loot out there and you don’t have to dig too deep to find treasure. Just do some plundering of your own, melt it down, reshape it, and then claim it as your own.

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The End.
See you next week. 
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