My first solo guitar CD, “Beatles Classics On Classical Guitar” was completed late last year (November 2013). It’s currently available right here at www.jimperona.com/cd-ordering and at my solo gigs. Here’s some background behind the first major recording project of my solo guitar career, as the roots for this CD go back to the earliest days I can remember.
As the youngest of 6 kids (4 brothers, 1 sister) in a very musical family, music has always been an integral part of my life (my mom & brothers are all musicians as well). In fact, my first words were from the Who song “Who Are You?”, which apparently sounded more like “Whoooozzz Arzzz You?” when I sang it. This is due to the fact that my oldest brother used to crank The Who, Led Zeppelin, and other vinyl when he babysat me (yes, my family is awesome).
Anyways, the two big Beatles fans in my family at the time were my mom and my brother Tom. Our house was often filled with the sounds of The Beatles’ infectious vocal harmonies and brilliantly crafted pop songs. It wasn’t just the house, either - I still remember “A Hard Day’s Night” being cranked in our family van while driving to and from school. On an interesting side note, most of the songs I was really into as a kid aren’t on my CD. My early favorites were “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”, “Carry That Weight”, “Help!”, “Hey Jude”, “I Am The Walrus”, and “Come Together”.
Fast forward to fall 2010, shortly after I received my Master’s degree in classical guitar performance from the New England Conservatory. I had moved back to the Chicago suburbs after living in Boston for 2 years and was starting to book solo guitar performances at local restaurants. These performances consisted mostly of traditional classical guitar repertoire, which always got a good response from the patrons. However, I felt that shaking up the repertoire would benefit these gigs and possibly open the door to new performance opportunities. So, around October 2010, I arranged my first Beatles song: “Eight Days a Week”. Shortly afterwards, I performed it for the first time and received a nice applause. This inspired me to arrange a new batch of songs, which included more from The Beatles.
Arranging the Songs
As best as I can remember, here is the order of songs I arranged in chronological order. While I can’t recall the exact date in which I started each of these songs, this is the order in which I arranged them. I’ve also provided a few tidbits behind the arrangements.
Eight Days A Week – This was a natural first choice for a complete arrangement, as it almost arranged itself! The melody sits on top of the guitar chords (except for a couple of parts), so I didn’t find it necessary to add too much to it. Adding too much can work against me in an arrangement, since I try not to obscure the original melody. I also revamped this arrangement later on after finishing “Here, There and Everywhere”. Speaking of which…
Here, There and Everywhere – This was the first Beatles song I arranged that was a wedding client request. It was also my first foray into adding rhythm as I went along – you can hear the percussive tap on beats 2 & 4 (I later implemented this technique into my “Eight Days a Week” arrangement). The haunting, chromatic melody (first heard at the 1:01 mark) was a very late addition in the arrangement. It’s a well-known part of the original recording and I’d never found a way to comfortably do it, but the night before I recorded it for the CD, I found a way! I’m so happy I did, too, because it’s one of my favorite parts of any Beatles song. You’ve got to love those subtle, brilliant little touches. Depth is a good thing.
Here Comes the Sun – I remember exactly when I was asked to learn a solo guitar version of this song. June 2011 for a wedding performance at Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena. Of course, rather than just learn George Harrison’s guitar part, I opted to do a complete arrangement. On a side note, I think this was the first time I started toying with the concept of doing an all-Beatles solo guitar CD, since at this time I’d already arranged more songs in the Beatles catalogue than any other artist. To this day, I’m still back and forth over whether or not I should’ve added right hand percussion on the 2 & 4 beats. I sometimes do it in concert just to shake things up a little bit. One more tidbit: I took out the tritone interval in the second “Here Comes the Sun” for each chorus (whenever I add the vocal harmonies, that is), because it just wasn’t resonating the way I hoped it would. Dissonance like that works for me only if it’s subtle, and I couldn’t get it to sound subtle on solo guitar. Little things like that are what my NIU guitar professor, Fareed Haque, referred to as “big boy decisions”. Trusting your ear goes a long way towards making such decisions!
I’ve Just Seen a Face – I elected to change the intro a bit This song has a very active vocal melody, so I wanted to keep the accompaniment simple for that vocal melody to stand out. I tried doing a crazy tremelo technique approach to the solo (the solo is basically the vocal melody), but it sounded ridiculous, so I elected not to. Believe me – It was the right choice J
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – This was one of the “no-brainers” for the CD. Most George Harrison songs lend themselves beautifully to solo guitar arrangements. The haunting verse melody fits like a glove in the original key. There’s a bit of improvising throughout when the chord progressions repeat, but other than that, the melodies stay true to the original. I love how the intro sounds on classical guitar.
With a Little Help from my Friends – This arrangement is in the same key, but moved up an octave. For guitarists - capo the 4th fret & play it in C, and you’ve got E! This is another active vocal melody that makes for a fun classical guitar arrangement. The “Do you need anybody” in particular stands out to me. I added a little bass line underneath the verse parts to fill out some space, which turned out nicely. The outro is arpeggiated to make it more “guitar-y” – I originally had it being performed in a fast block-chord style, similar to the intro.
Something – I’m very proud of this arrangement. George Harrison, again. What a melody! I created some accompaniment underneath the verse melody which works perfect on guitar. This is in the same key as the original, but, like “With A Little Help From My Friends”, was moved up an octave so that the vocal melody can be front & center. Guitarists: Capo 5, play it in G, and you’ve got C! It took some time to work out the guitar solo for this arrangement, but it’s all there. Of the “ballad” arrangements, this is my favorite. Also, from a performance standpoint, it just flows off the fingers. An absolute joy to perform.
Yesterday – You may be starting to see a pattern here: Same key, but moved up an octave so that the vocal melody stands out on solo guitar. Guitarists: Capo 5, play it in C, and you’ve got F! I experimented with a few different approaches on this arrangement, but ultimately pursued the path of familiarity. I didn’t want to get too fancy with the vocal melody, since this is one of the most recognizable songs in pop music history.
Let it Be – Ok…I have to tell this story. This CD was recorded in September 2013 at Saint Paul Lutheran Church in Wheaton, IL. We (myself and James Scott, the engineer) were very fortunate to get such a great space. Our only concern was the ambient outside noise, since the church is located close to a busy train stop. However, that ended up being the least of our worries. Cicadas! The cicadas outside were EXTREMELY loud and abundant – yes, you could hear them in the church. We couldn’t believe it when the cicada noise actually cut through the mix and could be heard through the microphones.
The cicada problem became especially prevalent while recording “Let It Be”. I’d be recording a really good performance, and before the last few chords, an overbearing “buzzzzzz” would creep into my headphones and we’d have to re-record. This happened over and over! If you’ve seen the Seinfeld episode when Frank Costanza keeps saying “Serenity now!”, then you’ll have a general idea of what it felt like to record this song. So many takes were ruined before the end because of cicada noise. It became an exercise in mental fortitude to keep refocusing on a classical guitar performance of a beautiful song.
Across the Universe – This song was always intended to be the opening track of the CD. The intro always caught my ear and commanded my attention, which (in my opinion) are good qualities for the opening notes of any CD. This is another one of my favorites and I’d always gotten great feedback while performing this at gigs.
All You Need is Love – The intro bit (originally taken from the French national anthem, “La Marseillaise”) was added a couple days before recording this song. Other than that, it’s a pretty note-for-note arrangement of a great tune. The chromatically descending horn section riff between each “All You Need Is Love” took a bit of time to get clean, but it’s one of the funnest parts to play.
She Loves You – I love the vocal harmonies in this one. I did home demos of my arrangement before recording it for the CD because I wanted to be sure that the harmonies worked well on solo guitar. Sometimes, vocal harmonies don’t translate as well. Even if you include the correct pitches in the correct register, the timbre of the original, sung voices don’t translate to a single guitar. Other times, it seems best to do the vocal harmonies sparingly (i.e. “Here Comes the Sun”).
In My Life – Arranging the piano solo in this song was another “night before recording” addition. I had tried to do it months before recording, but I over-complicated things and tried to fit in every last note – This approach made it way too “busy” sounding. After omitting a few notes & reworking it a bit, the solo sounded much better to me.
You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away – I immediately changed the key from G to E for this one, but I ended up capoing the 2nd fret and voicing the “E” chord with a traditional “D” chord fingering. To give it more substance, I used the chord voicing guitarists may recognize from the "Under the Bridge" intro by The Red Hot Chili Peppers. This allowed me to modify each chord voicing accordingly, which gave the melody an opportunity to shine throughout. I tried capoing the 5th fret to retain the original key of G, but it was just too high – the register jump to the “Hey!” in the chorus sounded like Minnie Mouse. I really believe that the capo 2, play in “D” position was the way to go. By the way, I absolutely love performing this arrangement. It just flows off the fingertips so well.
I Saw Her Standing There – I instantly knew that percussion was needed for this song – That was one of the easiest musical choices on the CD! There’s not a lot of improvisation on this CD, but the guitar solo section (starting at 1:37) on this arrangement was completely improvised.