I became fascinated with instrumental guitar pieces as a young teenager (who was not comfortable with singing) when I heard guitarists like John Renbourn, Mason Williams, Jorma Kaukonen and John Fahey. I remember making up my own pieces very early, thinking anybody could come up with cool stuff. As I studied music theory through college I really became interested in writing complex, but hopefully compelling pieces. I wrote some pieces I was pretty happy with around 1985, and recorded some albums in the late 1980s and early 90s which included a few of these originals. I got a lot more serious and inspired in early 1999 after getting to know John Renbourn. In anticipation of our first concert in May 1999 I put together a few new pieces. Afterwards I combined those with some of the 1985 pieces into my first album of original compositions, On The Horizon. The creative juices continued to flow over the next few years and all of a sudden I had Cobble Creek and El Dorado done by 2002. Many of my students put considerable time into learning some of them since then, and TotallyGuitars brought a new and much bigger audience interested in tackling some as well. We now have our first 10-pack of these available, although one is my arrangement of a beautiful ragtime piano piece, that will present a big challenge to intermediate, and even advanced guitar students. I hope you enjoy them!
Lesson 1: Whodunit? - Neil Hogan
Whodunit? is a ragtime instrumental I wrote in 2000. It started out as a somewhat bluesy piece and I was trying to write an intermediate level piece that some of my students could play. Mission accomplished as far as the first eight measures, but then the tune took on a life of its own and a jazzy, walking bass section materialized.
So it became an advanced instrumental and a piece I opened many concerts with over the years. If you take it in small doses, and allow much more time for the walking bass section, you will find yourself with a very fun piece to play and perform.
The Walking Bass Section of Whodunit? is what bumps this up to Level 8. There are only five unique measures here but they probably need to be taken one to two beats at a time, very, very slowly, before gradually speeding them up. You might think of this as similar to approaching barre chords after you started feeling pretty good about open chords- patience and persistence required.
After further review (partly due to a conversation with Sandy during her lesson last week) I thought it might be a good idea to offer some alternatives to the Walking Bass section of Whodunit. This segment presents a very easy way and one that is somewhere in between. Variation II is the easy way and just has chords grabbed over the walk. Variation I is a bit more challenging and includes a syncopated melody line.
Aside from the AABA format of Section A, there are two variations on a different theme that make up Sections B and C. They both have a repeating bass pattern just alternating from the root down to the fifth of an A Minor chord, the open A and E strings. Section B has four phrases harmonized in thirds on the second and third strings. One very important technique to master is damping the E string while playing the A string. The harmonized thirds also use hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides.
Section C is just a logical extension of Section B, harmonized in parallel sixths rather than thirds. The sixths will not be on adjacent strings like thirds, but will be two strings apart (the first and third or second and fourth). The last phrase gets very high on the fingerboard and is difficult without a cutaway, an alternate approach is covered.
The last part consists of some thoughts on the arrangement and ways to modify it if you like.
We recently got a request to elaborate a little on the modified Walking Bass section to Whodunit. Not only a reasonable request, but a great suggestion that I probably should have done in the first place. Happy to oblige. Hear we have the next last part to Whodunit, Extra Connections.
Lesson 2: On The Horizon - Neil Hogan
On The Horizon is the title tune from Neil's 1st album of original compositions. It consists of an arpeggio-type accompaniment which includes melody notes interspersed with the harmony, in a manner similar to Led Zeppelin's Babe I'm Gonna Leave You or Because, by the Beatles. It is being presented as part of our Drip Feed Series and will come out in 6 parts.
Lesson 3: Quicksand - Neil Hogan
One of Neil's popular instrumental pieces is Quicksand, the opening tune on his album El Dorado. There are five parts to the song, most based on a fairly standard chord progression but using a combination of picking patterns involving partially arpeggios and partially alternate picking to bring out the melody lines. The concluding part to Quicksand includes a segment on the arrangement as well as a Split Screen video with the entire song.
Lesson 4: Rosa May - Neil Hogan
Rosa May is a piece I wrote a few years ago after a trip to Bodie, a well-preserved ghost town in the Eastern Sierras. The inspiration was a single tombstone, outside the main cemetery, with the simple inscription Rosa May. I tried to capture a lonely, mostly melancholy, wistful mood with a simple melody and chord progression. It uses an arpeggio accompaniment with the melody notes woven into the harmony. The goal is to really bring out the melody and paint the picture.
The first release goes over just the main theme, hoping the student will apply some of the principles and work on the other three sections, which I sometimes refer to as episodes or chapters. Segment on the remaining sections will follow in a week or two.
Here are the remaining parts to the lesson on Rosa May. Hopefully you have started working on them already, in a manner similar to the Breakdown of the Main Theme. These segments include a few specific spots to address in each of the other three sections.
Lesson 5: Sleight Of Hand - Neil Hogan
Sleight Of Hand is an instrumental guitar piece Neil wrote a few years ago and is on his album El Dorado. As one of our most requested, intricate songs, we are reviving our Drip Feed Series with this tune. This was also the request from our member who won the MattB auction item to request a lesson, Haoli25. In Lesson 1 we have Neil playing through the song, talking a bit about it, and a Breakdown of Section A, including three different endings that vary according to where it is going next.
Lesson 6: The Good Life (A Ragtime Excursion) - Neil Hogan
Following up on my own personal Ragtime Revival, I have written a Classic Ragtime piece that is not too difficult to play. It consists of four sections, with each one getting a little more difficult.
I have tried to incorporate many of the important techniques and characteristics typically found in rags without the pyrotechnics required to transcribe ones written for the piano to the guitar.
Section A is in the key of E Major and uses normal chords and shapes that you should already be familiar with. One of the biggest keys to proper Ragtime is the syncopated melody notes, accented before a strong beat in the measure and then carried over onto the beat. This is the main focus of Section A.
Section B continues with ideas from Section A, along with a similar chord progression. The last phrase is similar as well, with a busier, more syncopated melody, adding a bit to the difficulty level. It also brings in a moving bass line rather than the alternating bass used up to that point.
In many classic rags Section C modulates to a different key, typically the sub-dominant, or fourth step of the original key, and takes on a lighter quality. It is frequently referred to as the “trio.” One of my intents with The Good Life was to use common, almost cliché ideas. It starts with sustained thirds, outlining the chords, and finishes with a cascading, or rolling line, like the earlier sections.
As I hope I mentioned as we got started on The Good Life, my main goal was to put together a reasonably easy-to-play ragtime piece. As I worked through successive sections, my definition of reasonable fluctuated a bit and each part added a slightly more difficult element. By the time I was into Section D I let the momentum carry me into a cascading flurry of descending thirds, followed by a couple stretchy pull-offs. I think a couple sections of this tune can make a nice project/performance without all four parts being under control but in the interest of letting the challenge continue and escalate, it would be nice to add Section D.
Lesson 7: And Winter Glows - Neil Hogan
This short instrumental was written just before New Year’s 2015 and is almost more of an accompaniment to a vocal melody, just without lyrics. It uses a light percussive technique, with the right hand tapping the strings on beats 2 and 4 in many measures.
The harmony is a bit unusual, centered in the key of A Major but slipping into A Minor by using F and G naturals at the conclusion of many phrases.
The piece does not have to be played note-for-note with the score, it is mostly a matter of combining the chords and melody into anything that might feel right for you.
Lesson 8: Heliotrope Bouquet - Scott Joplin - Neil Hogan
Heliotrope Bouquet is a piece that has captivated me since I first heard a guitar arrangement of it on the Kicking Mule album The Entertainer. I really enjoyed many of the tunes on the album, done by different guitar players, and was quick to order the accompanying tab booklet to set about learning them.
As I listened more to the original piano arrangements I found many of the guitar versions lacking much of what I heard on the piano. As I started to tackle those parts from the piano music I quickly found out why, and understood why the guitarists had simplified things considerably in the interest of just making certain passages possible and close enough.
About six months ago I decided to revisit my re-workings and shoot for something more accurate, figuring that I was probably a better guitar player now, 40 years later. This arrangement is one of the results of that mission. After a few requests from the TG Community I might as well go ahead with a lesson on it. Any big project must be taken in small steps so we will roll these parts out occasionally.
In Section B of Heliotrope Bouquet the mood picks up a bit and is less pensive and introspective. It kicks off with a diminished chord leading into a bouncing, lilting melody, broken up with slight pauses and sixteenth note rolls into each next thought. It is very important here to get the chord down that you are rolling into early, before starting the roll. Sections A & B are the parts composed by Louis Chauvin.
Section C is where Scott Joplin’s contribution to Heliotrope Bouquet started. There is definitely a change in style, although he quotes a bit of Chauvin’s opening strain in the midst of this typical “Joplinesque” sound. This section includes a difficult passage where the guitar needs to play a doubled eighth note run that is much easier on the piano. We may explore ways of simplifying this as people get back to me with their progress reports.
The last section is a little easier than Section C, although there are more hinge-like moves where one finger covers two strings at the same fret for a beat. There also are some of the piano moves that are unusual on the guitar, namely playing eighth note parallel octaves.
Lesson 9: Slack Key: Tears On The Moon (C Wahine)
Tears On The Moon is a slack key guitar piece I wrote a few years ago, shortly after my wife’s grandmother passed away unexpectedly. We were in Hawaii at the time and I was playing a few songs in C Wahine Tuning (C G D G B E). This is a tuning commonly used by Keola Beamer, sometimes referred to as Keola’s C. It is a short piece consisting of a couple of 8-measure phrases arranged in an A-A-B-A form, with a 4-measure intro and outro. There are a few subtle, but difficult techniques as well as some big stretches required to turn these easy notes into music and it is very challenging, in spite of the fact that it is played pretty slowly.
Lesson 10: Wai’uli - Neil Hogan
I recently put out an Acoustic Snapshot featuring my piece Wai’uli. I had a few students request a lesson on it so here we go.
The song is really just two 8-measure sections arranged AABABA with an outro tacked on. The last A Section is just a stripped down version of the main theme, and as such, it is where I start this lesson.
The idea is to take a simple melody and chord progression, and dress it up with a few filler notes to thicken up the texture. This lesson will go out over a few weeks to let you digest each part and maybe apply the principals to other songs you are working on.
Now that you have the hang of the stripped down Section A (hopefully), we are ready to embellish it a bit. Part 4 really just adds some harmonic fills, other chord tones, in spaces between melody notes. Most of these need to be played softly to stay behind the melody and not step on it.
The B Section to Wai’uli has the bass line change directions and ascend from E through the D scale, then leaves us on chord V (A), opening the door to return to the A Section. It is really important that each bass note rings until the next.
We finish the lesson on Wai’uli with the Outro and a little summary with suggestions. The Outro was written a few months after the two main sections and extends the chromatic descent theme to be the entire scale.