I am often asked if I can learn a special tune or song for a wedding or event that is not currently in my playlist. The short answer is YES!
However it is rarely simple and does take quite a long time to do a good job. First to work out a guitar arrangement, then practice it to performance standard and have it memorized so you can play it well in front of an audience. Therefore this is almost always done by commission.
I offer this service for my clients who want to experience the joy of hearing ‘Their Song’ arranged just for them during their wedding or event, and also for guitarists who need a good arrangement of a certain tune who do not arrange tunes for themselves.
Here are two examples:
Click here to listen to more examples (from the"Modern / Easy listening" column) of songs I have arranged for previous clients.
How much does it cost?
Each song is different and they all need different amounts of time to work out, therefore each commission needs to be priced individually. Sometimes I will only need to learn a short section of a tune – for example if it is to be played for the Bridal entry at a wedding this can sometimes take as little as 10 seconds (in a small room), but rarely as much as one minute – in which case there is no point in learning the whole 3 minute piece. So this works out much cheaper – usually between £30-£50. To learn the whole song to be played in full is a bigger job so would usually cost between £50-£100.
I do want to keep the cost down, so if you ask me to quote to learn a song I will spend a little time looking at it on Youtube with guitar in hand to get an idea of how easy or hard it will be. I will estimate how long I think I will need to spend on it and then get back to you with a firm quote.
I will also offer a separate quote for the additional recording of a song in case you would like to keep a copy to remember the moment by. I know of several past clients who like to keep it on their MP3 player and listen to from time to time to re-live the magic moment.
Please let me know if you would like me to arrange a song just for you and we can discuss your requirements.
Here is a testimonial from the couple who commissioned “Romeo & Juliet” (see above clip), which I played for their First Dance at their wedding reception:
“We have just found ourselves a remarkably talented guitarist who played at our Wedding Reception on 4th Oct 2014.
Jon, we salute you…! Wonderful Spanish, Classical and Popular music played faultlessly by an expert. Your personality shines through, both friendly and accommodating, such that you added our favourite Dire Straits track to your play-list which took many hours of practice. Thanks for that…Every guest remarked on your quality of musicianship.
Good wishes for your future and hopes that we may see and hear you play again soon. Kind regards, Val & Trevor.”
Several people have asked me recently how I go about doing this, hence this blog – so if that interests you, read on...
First I get hold of the lyrics and chords via a quick web search. I put the lyrics into a word processor and spread out all the different sections of the song on the page – intro, verse, chorus, bridge etc – whilst listening repeatedly to the song. Early in the process I work out what musical key the song is in so that I can start to hear the chord structure while I listen.
Next I check the chords that came with the lyrics. These are usually worked out by whoever posted the lyrics online and nearly always contain mistakes – sometimes big ones! I spend some time listening in detail and placing the correct chords above the lyrics for each part of the song. This has to be done very accurately so that I can see exactly where the chord changes are in relation to what is happening behind the vocal line at each moment. I will then play along with the recording just playing the basic chords, listening to whether the chords I am playing match the recording. Once I have the lyrics and chords properly laid out I am ready to start on the arranging. By this point I know the song pretty thoroughly in my head – so I can start to work out the intro, how the vocal line enters and how it fits over the first few chords.
What key / capo / tuning to use? I always play the song in the same pitch as the original (because the original key is crucial to the mood of the song and so that listeners will be able to sing along just as they would with the original without it being too high or too low for them), so the next decision is whether to use a capo or not. The six strings of an acoustic guitar have their limitations when trying to recreate a song that has many instruments playing different parts, so I have to figure out what will work best. For example if the original song is pitched in A major I could simply play it in A with no capo, or there might be reasons to put a capo on fret 2 and play in G, or capo on fret 5 and play in E, for example. There may also be benefits in altering the tuning – lowering string 6 by a tone for example.
Then I will spend time on each section trying different melody voicing and rhythm techniques etc until the song flows as close to the original as I can get it. This is the fun part! It takes time, practice and best choice of technique to bring out the vocal line whilst holding back the rest of the parts. Fortunately nylon string guitars lend themselves very well for this. One of the biggest challenges is that singers usually re-phrase the melody just a little in verse 2 and again in verse 3 – which means that I often have to learn 3 different arrangements of each verse (e.g. if the vocal jumps higher in verse 3 then I have to find the chords and bass part higher up the neck of the guitar).
Finally I have to memorize the ‘roadmap’ (which section follows which, how many verses & choruses, when the bridge comes, how to end the piece, etc) until I can play it all the way through. Then it is always a good idea to perform it somewhere, either at a gig or to friends and family a few times before playing it for the client who has commissioned it, as this helps it to settle in the memory and under the fingers.
Ultimately the client only hears the 3 minute song (or sometimes only 20 seconds if it is to accompany the Bride down the aisle). The piece should sound effortless in performance. Not all clients will be aware (rightly so) of the sheer amount of work that has gone into their magical musical moment but they are visibly moved every time on their special day to hear and appreciate this new work of art / guitar arrangement that they have commissioned.