Whether you’re the sole accompanist to a singer or part of an acoustic ensemble, you’ll have to approach your guitar arrangement with a much different mindset than you would in an electric setting.
In this Unplugged Rock Rhythm edition of Essentials, Angus Clark guides you through 10 performance studies that cover the essentials of acoustic rock playing with an eye towards crafting “unplugged” versions of songs originally produced in a full electric band setting.
“I was inspired to take up the guitar by rock music. So, the electric guitar became a part of how I connected to the music I loved, and the acoustic guitar was always 'second fiddle.' I had to play catch-up on my acoustic rhythm playing once it became apparent that everyone relies on a guitar player to be able to deliver a song on a solo acoustic guitar, or come up with an appropriate part should the ensemble need to deliver a song 'unplugged.'
We're going to focus on some fundamentals, as well as some advanced concepts for creating acoustic guitar arrangements. We're also going to look at the acoustic guitar playbook and work on tricks of the trade for an acoustic player that are not so commonly used on electric.”
Angus designed the following 10 performance studies to help you master key acoustic rhythm guitar concepts and techniques such as right-hand rhythmic approaches, syncopated accents, fingerstyle approaches, arpeggiated picking patterns, building up speed and precision, moving intervals against open strings to create color chords, percussive right-hand techniques, getting the most out of riffs and power chords, and crafting unplugged versions of electric guitar productions.
Cowboy Chords - ”When Phil Lynott sang, 'I’m just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail...' on Thin Lizzy's Jailbreak (the greatest album ever made), it makes you think of that beat up six-string being played by the light of a fire on the open range. Let's look at what's really at steak (get it?) in creating that magic all by your lonesome self, and conversely how in an ensemble the expectations regarding your right hand are so different than they would be on an electric guitar.”
Up High - ”In this example, we'll start adding some accents and look at voicings that use open strings as common tones across chords. The first section features a more accented right-hand part than the last example, but the downstrokes still get more emphasis than the upstrokes, so keep it smooth, people! Open string chord voicings - actively seek out opportunities to use open strings.”
Just Talking - ”Are we speaking about it or just talking about it? Let's look at the fingerstyle approach that launched a thousand lighters. The progression here is again a I-V-vi-IV, but the V chord is inverted to create a descending bass line. This is an important arrangement technique to remember because it will make your parts more interesting. There's a little turnaround from ii-IV before the progression starts over again. Listen for the 'slap' effect and watch how it's created.”
Disco - ”Here we're going to listen to a demo of a full arrangement that features drums, synths, guitars, etc. The challenge is going to be to figure out how to create an acoustic guitar arrangement that captures not only the chords but the whole vibe of the track including some of the melodic elements. The track here is in G minor, so one of the first decisions we'll look at is using a capo. The main thing to notice in this performance is how the whole song is now distilled into easily recognizable cowboy chords thanks to our putting the capo on the third fret. It makes everything so much easier.”
The Clock - ”Part of the audition process for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra involved playing a tune called 'Old City Bar,' which is played on acoustic guitar. The album version has a lot of overdubs and so forth, so when it came time to learn it I had to investigate what the current guitar player was doing for the live version. When I talked to him about it he described it as a clock that just keeps ticking along. That's what this example is based on.”
Rolling Rhythm - ”Nothing but the hits! This pattern is based on 'Time of Your Life' by Green Day. In this example, we've got the capo on the second fret so that we can rock this descending bass line progression in D major. Could we do it in the open position? Sure! But why would we? The guitar sounds so different when capo'd, it makes for a nice change. The voicings are pretty much the same as we've seen before thanks to the capo. So you can mostly focus on the feel, and keep it rolling!”
6/8! - ”6/8 is a time signature that seems to get more use on the acoustic numbers, so let's see how we can apply some of what we've already learned in a different context. The chords here are E minor, D, and C. There are two sections, one is arpeggiated, and the other is strummed. This lesson is an extension of the lesson about using ringing open strings as common tones across chord changes.”
Freedom Rock - ”Here we're going to tackle some straight up rock material where the approach has to be percussive and aggressive throughout. This etude is all about consistency. Your right-hand needs to lay down the law while still being fluid and grooving. Both hands work together between fretted and muted chords to create a groove. The B section uses open strings and a simplified strum to create a more hypnotic feel. Lessons in this example include chord muting, aggressive and consistent rhythm playing, playing fills.”
Power Chords! - ”Let's take a look at a solution for how to approach a rock tune that's strictly riffs and power chords. When there's a riff that identifies the song, it's usually fine to play the riff. If you're at liberty to do without it and start on the vocal, that's an option you can pursue, but very often the riff is what identifies the song, so its a safer bet to play it. The challenge here is to avoid playing the thirds of any of the chords, and to give the arrangement some dynamics and range while keeping the feel all rocking, all the time.”
The 80's - ”This is another example of having to create your own arrangement from a fully produced, synth-laden track. The first choice we're making here is to use the capo on the third fret so that we have a C bass note that we can use as a pedal tone. The first section is just triads moving over the C bass note: C-G-F. The second section is full chords, and the bass notes start moving: Bb-F-C-G. This type of triad exercise will prove useful throughout your life as a guitarist. It is the linchpin of most pop overdubs, and in this context, it's the heart of your rhythm arrangement.”
Angus will first demonstrate the performance study and then break it down for you emphasizing the key concepts and techniques. All of the performance studies are tabbed and notated for your practice, reference and study purposes. You’ll also get Guitar Pro files so that you can play, loop and slow down the tab and notation as you work through the lessons.
Grab your guitar and let’s get “unplugged” with Angus Clark!