How to arrange ragtime for the guitar (Updated 1 Sep, 2000)

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A foreword

This is an article by me (HAMADA, Takasi). Originally written in Japanese a few month ago, so I will translate in English by degrees.
I can't speak English very well, so I use easy English on some complex thing.
If it is helpful for you, I'm glad.

HAMADA, Takasi

"How to arrange ragtime for the guitar"

CONTENTS (Sorry, most of this links are no use now.)

@1. The problem and advantage of the guitar for arranging "ragtime"

[1] The problem on the guitar

@(1) The sound extent

@(2) The limit of playing

@(3) The progression of bass lines

[2] The advantage of the guitar@NEW!!

@(1) Various way of soundings

@(2) Easy to control the grooves

@(3) Takes no place nor much money

@(4) Not too loud

@(5) Musical possibility by changing tunings


@2. The techniques of the classic ragtime guitar

[1] How to keep the alternating bass with melodies

@(1) Choosing the key Vol.1 [On the case of standard tuning]

@(2) Choosing the key Vol.2 [The view from using various tuning]

@(3) Playing easily by using ceja(barre form)

@(4) Using thumb of left hand

@(5) Find some convenient pattern of chord form

@(6) Many techniques of omitting

@(7) Original idea

@(8) When we compose our original rags

[2] How to groove the tune

@(1) Blushing

@(2) Muting by right hand

@(3) Muting by left hand

@(4) Accent

@(5) Playing decision between shuffle style and straight swing style

@(6) Stomps and smiles

[3] The special techniques of the guitar

@(1) Rhythmic arpegio such as "three finger style"

@(2) Rolling

@(3) Grace notes such as "hammering on"

@(4) Harmonics

@(5) Slapping and glissando@

@(6) Spitting

@(7) Gallopping

@(8) Stumble bass


@3. A summary


1. The problem and advantage of the guitar for arranging "ragtime"

I think the charm of ragtime is the optimistic rhythm, fine feeling of syncopations. The guitar is tend to be recognized as accompany instrument in ragtime, but it can be main instrument, if you make some effective efforts to keep thythms.

There are some problems on arranging ragtime for the guitar. The most important thing is how to do the "alternating bass". If you play the piano, you can do it freely by 5 fingers of your left hand. But the guitarist must do it almost by thumb of their right hand. And, they must keep it after key modulation which is standard to ragtime music. Keeping the "alternating bass" every time is very hard for the guitar because of the tuning of 6 strings, but it is absolutely nessesary to make every syncopation attractive.

Unfortunately, some guitarist spoils the ragtime syncopating rhythms, in return for singing the beautiful melodies. There are some arrangement which have no progresses on bass lines. On the other hand, some arrangement changes important melodies only to keep the bass.
It is nessesary for us (ragtime guitarist) to esteem the original melodies, and keep the ragtime rhythms on the same time as possible as we can. It is a hard work.

[1] The problem on the guitar

Why is it difficult to arrange ragtime for the guitar? I write here the specific problems on the instrument called "guitar".

(1) The sound extent

Commonly, the guitar covers the notes in about 3 octaves extent. On the other hand, piano covers over 7 octaves (88 keys), and can be played the notes in full time. For example, rags by James Scott often use about 6 octaves extent, because he prefered higher positions and using "call and response" by which he repeats a same phrase in higher octave. If we recognize instrumental ability by only counting number of notes, guitar is at a disadvantage.

And, since guitar is basically 6 string instrument, we can't sound over 6 notes at one time. If we play the piano reverberated, piano has the ability of sounding over 10 notes (piano can be also called "88 string instrument"). Piano has wider range of sounds than guitar.

But, we don't have to suffer from it. We don't need to buy an expensive 10 string or double neck guitar. Since guitar is only guitar, not other instrument, and we like it. I think it is no use for guitar to catch up with the piano based idea, such as "cluster" or "upper structure chord", and number of the notes is the same. As I will write later, guitar has many other merit against piano, so we had better make a good use of them.
Guitarist often can get over the narrow range of guitar sounds by good or easy arrangement, changing the octaves etc. (but we must consider further problems against it).

(2) The limit of playing

We can't always play 3 octave spreaded guitar chord at any time. For example, it is impossible to sound first string on 13 fret (note F) picking 6th string on 1 fret (note F) at the same time, though I wonder Stanley Jordan will do. But forget such a special technique. Far from it, sometimes we can't play the 3 interval spreaded chord in some particular case. If you think about it again, you may think that it is very ridiculous. If people ask a pianist to play in a limitation same as guitar, he will laugh out.

I can't streach left hand fingers over 6 frets at most. So if I ring the same string, I can cover only 3 intervals (I think Duck Baker can play more). Playing single note, no problems, but it is a weak point for solo guitar style, since bass and melodies are always requested in a same time. If somehow we can play the difficult point doing hard streach or fast changing of position, it is uncertain that the guitar performance can match the original piano playing.

And, there are almost no "incomplete note" on piano. People can at least sound the piano only 1 action, pushing the key, almost not concerning the difficulty of playing. On the other hand, guitar tends to be sound "incomplete note". People who don't like such a note, may feel offensive to the ear. There are less "incomplete note" in slow legato tune such as classical tune, but we must struggle it on the ragtime guitar because it requires the groovy sound, not alway clear.

It isn't fit for expressing the beauty of ragtime to play an arrangement changing too many position or being too difficult to play. We can play more optimistic sound as easily as possible. Of course, we have various abilities and we don't have the same possibility. I myself, keep in mind that it is the best to play my arrangement many time as possible, and keep my own groove. If I can play the difficul arrangement, it is not complete unless I can catch the groove on it. If we recognize the limit of playing the guitar and trying our best to express in such a limitation, we will take a chance of arranging the ragtime better.

(3) The progression of bass lines

My friend and classic guitarist, SHINMA Hideo has commented on the playing of ragtime guitar. I think it is very worthy as we can apply to all musical style. In the comment, the most important thing is the problem of the progression of bass lines. He says that, generally, an arrangement for the guitar tends to make a mistake such as bass going backward or unsencitive omittion of bass on any case, Bach or movie BGM.

In this case, "bass going backward" means the reverse progression of bass lines. This mistake can easily occur when we try to change the bass octave up and down. When we think about the arrangement using the narrow note range of the guitar, we try hard to place notes within the range, and we tend to change the octave by force. Not only the bass lines, we can say the same thing about its melodies. Some hates changing of the melodies but easily changes the bass. In such a manners, we can't get a good arrangement.

Especially on the ragtime guitar style, it is the minimum standard to keep the march rhythm of alternating bass. If it can be played constantly, basis will be made. It is standard form of alternating bass to keep the route on the first step, and 4 interval down note (5 interval note of the chord) on the second step. We can't miss the form basically. But many ragtime guitar arrangements simplify or omit it. (As I will write later,) "route on every step" is the most common behavior of guitarists. "5 interval note on the first, route on the second" is flequently used, but it is the reverse progression of bass lines.

Recently I met Mr. AOKI for the first time who lives in Nagoya, Japan, and enjoyed talking. He knows more than me about arrangement techniques. In the discussions, we talked each other on the note selection of the weak step (I don't know how to translate "zyaku-haku", which is minor step of 2/4). Commonly piano plays there some chords, but for the guitar it is difficult to play the accompany chords as bass lines while playing melodies, so we have to select 1 bass note and suggest the chord. When I play the alternating bass with my original "Otarunay tuning(EbAbCFCEb)", the open string bass note is Ab-C-Eb-C (string 5th-4th-6th-4th). C on open 4th string is the third interval for Ab chord, so I can play clear chord only picking the open strings. C is the important note for Ab chord to decide major or minor key.

But on the standard tuning (EADGBE), open 4th string is D, which is the fourth interval for A chord. So we can't play the third interval note on 4th string and commonly we take E on 2 fret of 4th string (the fifth interval note). This bass form of A-E-E-E (string 5th-4th-6th-4th) is commonly used, but it isn't complete on chord feelings. It is the same as playing G key by using Dropped G Tuning (DGDGBE). We get the form G-D-D-D (string 5th-4th-6th-4th). In such a note, we can't tell what is major or minor key.

It is almost OK, because there is the alternating bass and we can make the chord by using the third note in the melodies. But there are some arrangements doing "the reverse progression of bass lines", or playing the bass E-E-E-E (string 5th-4th-6th-4th) on standard tuning, or playing only 1 note instead of the alternating bass even not at the "break". If you don't feel any incompatibility on it, probably you are insensible on the bass progression of the ragtime guitar. Of course, such arrangement isn't respectful to the original piano solo.We can select the guitar based attitude of arrangement, but I will take it for the last time, otherwise it is no use discussing here.

There are many inconvenient point same as I mentioned on my arrangements, even on the rescent works. Especially I often play Eb-Eb-Bb-Eb (string 6th-4th-5th-4th) on Eb key by Otarunay tuning. If we change the way of melody based thinking, and so sensitive so as to think that "this bass is not convenient", "I want to reduce the bass mistakes", we can improve ourself. If we are more sensitive of bass, we will find better way to arrange the ragtime guitar.

But don't do too difficult arrangement. We must select more practical way to arrange it. To be continued.


[2] The advantage of the guitar@NEW!!

Well, it is no more use describing how difficult it is to play ragtime by guitar, because we lose hoping. Here, conversely, I want to write the advantage of the guitar against the piano. We should make a effort to make a good use of it, no more blaming guitar.

(1) Various way of sounding

There are much way of sounding by guitar more than piano, which needs only one action of pushing the key. We may say that it is the most important advantage of the guitar. It is a matter of course, because we should sound it by directly touching the strings. And, except open strings, we sound it by both hands, so there are almost 2 times more oppotunity to controll sounding than piano. It means that we should practice such a various way of sounding.

There are some basic techniques such as controlling the place (bridge side or fingerboard side) of the right hand. If you play bridge side of the string you get tight sound, if fingerboard side, sweet sound. there are many other techniques such as "apoyando" and "arureire" [sorry, I don't know how to transrate them] or rasgueado, naturall or octave harmonics, slide & gliss, hanmering on & pulling off, tremolo & trill, bending, vibrato, spitting etc. These are truely only guitar techniques, by which we can play the various music with feelings. Of course, piano has various expressions too, but it can't be controlled each note easily nor freely same as guitar. Whether nylon string or steel string, guitar is the instrument which features various tones.

Not only the tones, I can say guitar has various way of stopping sound, as well as sounding. Guitarist can easily controll the time of the note (can mute freely). It is the great advantage against piano for grooving ragtime. The great ragtime blues guitarists, such as Blind Blake, Reverend Gary Davis, or Richard "Hacksaw" Harney, produced guitar based rag expressions by using nice groove.

(2) Easy to control the grooves

It is related with (1). Especially on "sounding", we play the guitar by only one hand, 4 finger (some needs less fingers), different from piano which needs 2 hand, 10 fingers at a time. So, guitar is easier to set rhythms than piano. Surely, guitar has narrow range of notes. But within it, guitar can be played more rhythmic arpegio than piano. For example "3 finger style" is one of the main techniques of patternized guitar playing, which is probably difficult for piano to play. It can be used in the playing of guitar based ragtime. Well, groovy and fantastic arpegio of Leo Kottke reaches the amazing level as the guitar arpegio. So, we have the possibility to groove our music by using ordinally techniques, not using the special technique such as tapping harmonics.

And, except the difficulty of left hand, if a guitarist remember the pattern of the alternating rhythm by right hand thumb, he can play it in any key by the same action of the right hand. It is also important advantage of the guitar for keeping the ragtime groove.
Pianist must keep striding by left hand and sometimes make complex chord form. So, some times it is likely for pianist to miss the groove because of playing difficulties. Meanwhile, guitarist can easily keep the groove even missing the note, and more than anything else, there are many oppotunity to express more rhythmic music for devoting right hand only to sound the guitar.

Further more, pianist must stride left hand during 1 or 2 octaves, so some note is not in time if he sounds fastly the next note not completing the previous. It sounds good on piano cutting bass, but it also can be said that pianist is obliged to do it. I think it is the weak point of the piano because the range of the note is too big. On the guitar, we can set the time of alternating bass almost freely, so we can play the cutting bass and long tone in the same speed. In this way, I think the narrow range of the guitar is not always minus factor.

@[to be continued]@


(3) Takes no place nor much money

@[to be continued]

(4) Not too loud

@[to be continued]

(5) Musical possibility by changing tunings

@[to be continued]


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