Have any of you had success simplifying a many-layered guitar arrangement to be played by fewer instruments? What if you had only one acoustic and only one electric available? What musical ideas would you concentrate on? Would you accept a sparse, skeletal sound or try to recreate the layering with delays and modulation? Keep the same feel or deconstruct and start from scratch? I'm looking for a range of ideas to help accommodate or simplify more complex arrangements with our current complement of instruments. Please no Ableton discussion - I'm not interested in filling in with tracks.

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There are all sorts of factors that could have a bearing. For example, it it is a piece people will be listening to, you will want to keep a fair amount of detail in there; if they are expected to be singing along, you can safely use a broader brush. Also, how much time do you have to work it up and how much will it get reused? If you have to put in hours of work for a single two minute performance perhaps it really would be better to just play the CD?

In the past years I've encountered this situation more than once (regularly) where I was thew only guitarist of the team. My approach was usually to listen carefully as to what the most significant tags or lines were and than focus on arranging those for one guitarist. While there are usually lots of layers there are mist likely one or two that jump out. Additionally, when the keyboard player is playing different to what the original does it end up being a situation of coloring in using the most significant parts. 

Sometimes that meant harmonizing specific lines, sometimes it meant playing finger style to incorporate different layers. I think there is nothing wrong with accepting a skeletal sound and sometimes a bit of creativity makes it possible keep the thrust of the song's arrangement.

Personally I believe that a lot of the songs we play in church have in their original lots of layers that are not absolutely necessary to get the song across. Sometimes not playing at all is your best weapon. On other occasions I ended up playing both acoustic and electric switching instruments during the song.  

To me it all about what type of energy is being conveyed and with that in mind it has happened that I'd play the same song entirely different depending on the worship leader or worship team I play with. 

I guess there are no set rules. 

I do this all the time, usually to break a song down to acoustic guitar & voice. I do something similar to you - approach it as a fingerstyle arrangement, where I get several parts going together. I try to shed the "fluff" of the arrangement and just focus on the meat of the song. That's not always easy, since many of the songs have such definitive arrangements. That's not to say I always play fingerstyle - I will switch to pick, or use pick exclusively if the song needs a stronger accompaniment. 

I usually start by just sitting and playing through the song with my acoustic to see where it needs something and where I can be very sparse. I have a habit of changing chord voicings to accommodate a sparser arrangement without it feeling "empty". To my ear, I really want to hear the bass motion connecting the harmony as well as lead voicing the chords to accent the melody or specific riffs. I will also resort to alternate tunings to get a "bigger" sound out of the guitar (and open up more options for open string roots on chords/phrases).

I'm not sure I make the song simpler...but I'm not sure that's the point in my mind. I'm usually going for something more pleasing to my musical sensibilities.

And yes, switching up styles is fun too. I like to do "Love The Lord" (Lincoln Brewster) as a reggae. Works really well in that feel & opens up space for those lyrics.

I think a lot of it goes back to our particular take on music in general. I believe any good song stands on its own as a guitar & vocal or piano & vocal. If the song needs the arrangement, that so to say, if the arrangement makes the song tolerable...well, that's not a song I will generally spend any effort on.

Good discussion.

It's a good question Greg.

For me with songs intended to be sung by a congregation, I try to hear the song that's carried by the lyrics and then build a rhythm part around that, sometimes changing the chords to make the song flow and sit comfortably with itself. I have a particular way of playing, and *to me* very often complex CD arrangement detract from the accessibility and musicality of a song for a congregation to sing. Having said that, I use delays and modulation quite a bit, but have never intentionally sounded like U2 in church. ;)

I'd also say that space is good in music for church, but can be un-nerving for some people because they have to be able to keep in time and need to actually sing to participate, rather than just watch the performance.

Reproducing CD type sounds live is almost impossible because so many busier tracks are compressed to death, with everything ducking under the lead vocal, then bouncing right back up as soon as the voice drops. We tried to do Matt Redman's Fires a couple of years back, and it wasn't until we'd attempted a CD-style sound that I listened with engineery ears to the original. Better to make the song your own than do a bad copy IMO.

Why is delay causing problems for those around, Greg? Is it affecting their perception of timing and rhythm or does it spread the guitar tones too wide?

I took my 18 watt clone along on Sunday for the first time, but it sounded too middly and almost flabby some of the time. Played the first 2 songs dry, then used reverb and chorus for the rest, plus delay between the C & R on one song where my strat was the only instrument and I really needed to create a wide sound.

Must bung a shot of my board up soon.

I guess echo has only been around since the 50s, so it's relatively new. ;-)

10,000 reasons is a great song, but one that I'd be quite happy with just an acoustic guitar or a strat straight in. It's funny, but I don't hear a band in that song at all in my head: maybe just guitar and bass. We're going to try an experiment for this Sunday, with the lass who plays acoustic playing bass instead, and I'll play acoustic. It will be primarily a time of worship too, so I need my fingers to be tough enough for 60-75min of playing.


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