Extract from the July / August 2021 issue of Acoustic guitar | By Greg Ruby
THE PROBLEM: You want to create a chord-melody arrangement based on your favorite interpretation of a song, but you don’t know where to start.
THE SOLUTION: Tailor a transcription using chord voicings for longer melody notes and thirds or single notes on faster passages. Try this approach to create a chord melody version of Django Reinhardt’s iconic rendition of “I’ll See You in My Dreams.”
WORKING FROM THE RECORDING
The first step is to find an accurate transcription of the piece you want to adapt and learn. While it is strongly recommended that you do the transcription yourself, there are usually many available online and in print. The next step is to spend some time learning to play with the original recording. In doing so, you internalize the rhythms, phrasing, dynamics, chord progression and choice of notes. I recommend slowing down the recording to an achievable speed. There are many applications and computer programs available that can decrease the tempo of a recording without changing its pitch (even YouTube – just click the gear icon on any video to find variable playback speed. ). Once you can play alongside your favorite musician, you are ready for the next step.
FIND THE RANGE
Observe the highest and lowest notes in the transcript. It is a good idea to keep the range between the third D fret on string 2 and the 12th E fret on string 1. Sometimes you will need to transpose in order to play the melody in this range. For “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which I’ll come back to in a moment, I moved the melody up one octave, so that the lowest note was D in the third fret. While some notes extend above this range, the majority of the melody fits quite well, with just a few frills to cut.
While guitarists generally play melodies “in position”, learn the melody on the highest two strings only, as this will provide enough range below the melody for the chords. Example 1 illustrates the first eight bars of Reinhardt’s “I’ll See You in My Dreams” in the original scale. Example 2 Transposes it an octave up and places it on strings 1 and 2.
CHOOSE YOUR VOICES
Most of the great old jazz standards use major triads in their chord progressions. But you might want a more harmonious color. To achieve this you can add any note in the diatonic scale to a major triad, for example, if you take a G major triad (GBD) and incorporate one of the remaining notes from a G major scale. (A, C, E, or F #), you can enhance the color of the G without changing its major chord function. Example 3 shows a G triad played in various inversions, while Example 4 add E rating for G6 (GBDE) and Example 5 add F # for Gmaj7 (GBDF #). You can mix and match the same chord with different notes added, as you will see in the arrangement.
PLAY “I SEE YOU IN MY DREAMS”
On June 30, 1939, Django Reinhardt, with Pierre “Baro” Ferret on rhythm guitar and Emmanuel Soudieux on bass, recorded a sublime interpretation of “I’ll See You in My Dreams”, the popular 1924 song by Isham Jones. and Gus Kahn. From the first notes of the opening statement to the end, it’s pure brilliance.
Reinhardt’s first chorus is a very relaxed and moving take on the melody, with fills, syncopated rhythms and a few of his classics. Example 6 arranges this opening chorus as a chord-melody solo. After the chromatic triplet playbar, bars 1 to 2 express the D, F, G, and A notes as the top notes of a B-flat major triad. This changes their names in bar two to Bb6 and Bbmaj7. In measure three, use an up stroke with the pick on beat two while holding Bb6 (9), then play Bb6 on beat three with your middle finger while pressing the third and fourth strings. Aim for the space between the two ropes. If this is not possible for some reason, you can also drop the F note on the fourth string and fret the third Bb string with your second finger.
In measure 5, the Fmaj7 and F6 / 9 chords are used to express the notes A and C. Use your first and third fingers for both chords, as this will help in a smooth transition. Measure 8 offers a very trendy “pregnant” Reinhardt licking. This group of notes move too quickly to harmonize with a chord, so just play them on their own. In bars 9 and 10, the melody is harmonized with a third below. The B note is natural due to the diatonic resolution of a D7 chord being G major.
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In measure 18, hold the Bb triad while adding the other melodic notes. Reinhardt’s original melody in bars 21-23 was a bloom of notes outside of the guitar scale in that octave, so I replaced them with the melody. In measure 25, touch the diminished chord by locking your index finger on the tenth fret, which allows you to lift your third finger to play the D note while holding the chord.
Once you’ve worked your fingerings, try practicing the Reinhardt recording at half speed before gradually bringing it up to tempo. Then you’ll be sure to turn heads on your next swing jam, which is hopefully just around the corner.
Greg Ruby is a guitarist, composer, historian and professor specializing in jazz from the first half of the 20th century. His latest book is Oscar Alemán’s Songbook, Vol. 1. Ruby teaches classes on Zoom. For more information, visit gregrubymusic.com.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Acoustic guitar magazine.