Students often tell me they want to learn a song exactly as it is on the album but it’s not always a good idea. As teachers, we often simplify songs to make them more accessible to beginners but that’s not the only reason to make changes. Take the song Creep by Radiohead for example. Johnny Greenwood has written a great arppegiated guitar part using a number of barre chords. The drums and bass are in from the top of the song and everything fits together. Greenwood leaves some space in his part and it’s filled in by the rhythm section.
When you hit the open mic with this song you will not have Radiohead’s rhythm section with you. In fact, you probably won’t have any rhythm section right? So it makes sense to translate the song to the language of solo acoustic. I had a professor who would describe this as adapting to the culture of your instrument.
There’s lots of ways to do this. One of them would be to do a classical style arrangement where every note from every instrument is transcribed for one guitar (even the melody). Another way to do it is to just simplify everything. So instead of a tricky appegiation pattern you might just use the old ballad strum. Instead of barre chords you might use open chords*. Now you have a stripped down version of the song that feels more complete without having to bring in a band!
To recap – it’s great to learn parts from songs and it’s even better if you can learn them just as they are on the album. It’s fun and it’s a great way to grow as a musician. However, when it’s time to hit the stage it’s a good idea to consider what’s missing and find ways to fill in the blanks with your playing.
*Open chords?! But what about the C minor? Good question! Try this.
Check out this video to see exactly what I mean.
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