I am just taking a break practicing for tomorrow night’s concert at the Boney Mountain Concert Series in Newberry Park. I have been practicing every song from the Eternal Contradiction because I intend to do that album for the first set, and I’ve written a show around it. So I know what I will be saying when and what songs will come in what order. I have discovered that a structured first set has enormous impact on the audience and on CD sales, but I digress.
While practicing a song called Let the Tree Fall, I realized that I was avoiding the sixth string during the build up to the chorus so that when I hit the E min that begins the chorus I have that deepest note of the guitar to give it a big bottom for impact.
It got me to thinking about the arrangement I did for that song and how I used the guitar strings to build it into one of the most effective performances of the set. When you are performing solo, you need to think a lot about building the arrangement. The following arrangement would only be effective with a band if they all acknowledged what I was doing and contributed to that building process by laying out and paying strict attention to the inversions of the chords that they were using. In any event...
I start out with an arpeggio; single strings ringing over each other; a motif that I bring back several times throughout the song. No actual chords except what the overtones suggest as they ring against each other.
(Many people have asked me what tuning I use for that song. With a few notable exceptions, I use standard tuning; almost exclusively. For me, it is the most versatile and the most useful, not to mention that by staying in standard tuning, you actually learn the neck of the guitar and the relationships of chords to each other more readily than when you retune.)
After the motif, I begin a simple triad of G with a pedal tone high E on the four of each bar, using only the first four strings of the guitar. The progression goes, G, then pedal tone E, Gmin, then pedal tone E, then D, then pedal tone E, the an E7/9, raising the high E to an F# and then finally hitting the low E on the E min walk up to the A, which is the dominant chord or the five of the key of D that the song is in.
This makes the E, F#, G, A starting on the 6th string of the guitar much more impactful, because that low tone hasn’t been heard in the song til now.
Then the verses start with the standard G chord using the 6th, 5th and 1st string finger positions and leaving the other strings open. So I have now used a different sounding G chord on the verses. This differentiates the sound of the intro from the sound of the chorus.
You can hear the song at www.jamesleestanley.com/eternalcontra.html.
Throughout all my guitar/voice arrangements I employ different inversions of the chords to give it subtle differences. The audience may not be able to say exactly what has happened, but they respond emotionally to the colors that the different inversions create in a listener.
Inversions also serve to keep the song from sounding the same from one end to the other, which for me makes a performance boring. I want to hear forethought, arrangement choices, I want to hear and feel a momentum building and I want that sense of a destination in mind and that we are going to arrive at it.
I also employ that technique in the lyrics that I write. I want there to be a musical and lyrical pay off. A destination implied and a bona fied arrival. ( I love that word, just watched O Brother Where Art Thou? Again and they use that word a lot...always makes me smile).
So what I am stressing here today is for you to try different positions of the chords that you use. If the chorus is the biggest part of the song, then use the biggest version of the chords for that section and see what kind of smaller and different position of the same chord you can use for the verses.
Try different inversions and see and feel what they suggest to you. After you have mastered this and learned to apply dynamics (discussion for another day) to your performance, you will become a performer who delivers a song and a show.