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Queen Guitar Rhapsodies

How I arranged Beatles classics for classical guitar

I first heard the Beatles when I was a young teenager just as they were starting to cause a big impression. They were appearing on a BBC radio programme. I was impressed by the strange vocal harmonies of a style I had never heard before from anyone. Little was I to know that many years later, in 2006, I would be able to ask Sir Paul McCartney himself about that early material, which I did. I was in his studio helping him with the concerto for guitar and orchestra he is composing. His reply was modest in the extreme. Sitting at the piano he said:
"Well, we only knew how to play the white keys…."

And yet "only able to play the white keys" is a great clue to some of the Beatles music. The white keys produce modal harmonies as used in folk music. They produce parallel harmonies too. Beatles’ music contains both of these elements and lots more besides. I followed the Beatles through every recording they made from 1962. I was growing up and developing varied musical tastes ranging from Classical to Rock.

It felt perfectly natural when they started using "Classical" accompaniments as in Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby. As I became more familiar with the harmonies of Flamenco, Classical, Baroque and Medieval music, the music of the Beatles - with their chord structures, modulations, falling bass-lines and use of colourful instrumentation - sounded like a natural continuation from the other musical styles with which I was familiar.

So how did I go about making the arrangements? The first decision was to decide the keys in which they sounded best, and in which they are easier to play. These two are sometimes in contradiction so I took time to come to a decision with some of the songs. For example, in Lucy in the Sky with diamonds I wanted to use a lot of harmonics (high bell-like sounds) to reflect the idea of diamonds. I also wanted a very open sound for the chorus with rasgueados (Spanish-style sounding strums). The result was the key of A and a dark sounding sequence of chords in B flat, followed by the chorus in G.

Listen to the sound samples here on the website and I hope you can hear what I mean at these timed moments in the piece:

Go to the Magical Mystery Guitar Tour page, then click on :
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds:
0” “open” sound
32” harmonics
48” “dark” sound - sequence of chords in B flat
1’10” “open” sounding chorus with rasgueados
1’35” more harmonics

The arrangement continues to develop passages with harmonics and arpeggios (succession of notes played on different strings) until the end of the song when it slips smoothly into a neo-Baroque sequence inspired by the falling bass-lines of the song.

In George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun the decision about key was simple: it sounds great on the guitar in A, but how to create the rhythmic buzz? I did it by alternating the syncopated melody with bass and chords, after starting off the arrangement with an extended introduction. There are two other aspects I used through many of the other arrangements. These are the changes of octave in the tune and the use of rasgueados, which give variety and emphasis.

Go to the Magical Mystery Guitar Tour page, then click on :
Here Comes the Sun:
0” “guitar” introduction
15” tune with alternating chords and bass-line
41” 2nd part of tune changes octave
57” Chorus with rasgueados
1’27” repeat of tune, this time with rasgueados

Later on in the piece I go into a long section which sounds like an improvisation, but it isn’t! I worked it out carefully. I pick up from the 4-note idea of the tune and extend it through changes of key and arpeggios until returning to the tune again.

The easiest pieces to arrange were Yesterday, Because and Michelle. The piece which took me longest was Strawberry Fields, with Somewhere a close second. I loved the little triplet idea near the beginning (Straw-berr-y / Fie-lds- for/ E-ver). It is so playful and unexpected. This gave me the idea for developing it further in the piece. You can hear the beginning of this idea on the sound sample. The lowest string is tuned down to D, with the piece arranged in G.

Go to the Magical Mystery Guitar Tour page, then click on :
Strawberry Fields:
20” triplet idea : Straw-berr-y / Fie-lds- for/ E-ver
25” first development of triplet idea
56” repeat of tune, this time with added tune/counterpoint on high string

I hope this gives you some ideas of how I set about making these arrangements. My aim has been to make these Beatles’ pieces sound as if they had been composed as guitar solos. If you agree, then I will have succeeded.

Listen free to track samples:
Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Here Comes the Sun and Strawberry Fields from the Magical Mystery Guitar Tour CD – click on More details

Read more:
My blog: Magical Guitar Tour album: all about a day in the recording studio, 20th December 2010

Buy album:
click on Store

June 2011

Printed from: http://www.carlosbonell.com/blog/?p=542 .
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