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"Nine Pound Hammer" Arrangement Lesson:

If you don't have much experience coming up with your own arrangements to songs or tunes the homework problem on page 73 of Flatpicking the Blues may seem like a very challanging task. Your first question may be, "I don't know where to start!" The answer to that is easy: "You always start with the melody." Strip the song or tune down to the most basic melody. Since it is easier to find the melody to vocal numbers (because you have the vocal line as a reference) we will start with a vocal song and since your homework assignment was to work up a guitar arrangement to "Nine Pound Hammer", that is the song we will work with here in this lesson.

To find the melody, simply get out your guitar, sing each note of the vocal line, and find the pitch of each note on your guitar as you sing it. If you don't have experience with this, it may take some hunting and pecking. Be patient and work through it. Sing the song slowly, pausing on each word until you find that note on your guitar. This is good ear training!

The melody to "Nine Pound Hammer" can vary a little depending on who is singing it. I have transcribed a version of the simple melody below, included are just the pick-up notes and the first 8 measures. The first step in learning how to arrange a solo for a song is to play the simple melody until you get it in your head and under your fingers and can play it "in your sleep." Play it over, and over, and over. When I interviewed Richard Bennett for Flatpicking Guitar Magazine he said that when he teaches students a solo to a new song, he first makes them play the simply melody until they get, what he called, "melody burnout." If you want to begin to learn how to arrange solos and improvise, start each new song or tune you are working on with the "melody burnout" phase.

Once you have played this melody over and over and over and over, the next stage in creating a guitar solo is to fill in the silent spaces. This melody is pretty sparse, so you have some nice spaces to work with. However, don't jump right in with your hottest licks and fastest runs right of the bat. Ease into it. The first step is to fill in with some rhythm strums and/or simple bass runs a-la Mother Maybelle Carter style. Below I have provided a simple arrangement in this style:

That sounds OK doesn't it!? That solo probably won't turn heads at the jam session, but it will get you through. Playing something simple at first allows you the opportunity to take a solo, helps you get over nervousness, and helps you get warmed up. Do you see how I stayed exactly with the melody? I played every melody note and left them exactly where they were. I simply filled in some bass notes or rhythm strums around the melody. That is always a good first step.

Next we will take that same melody and fill in some single-note phrases, or licks. I don't consider this "lick playing" because I'm leaving the melody pretty much intact. I'm simply filling single-note runs in around the melody notes. This is not a real fancy solo, but you can hear how it sounds a little "cooler" than the Carter style solo. I've added some embellishments, like a slide (measure 2), a hammer-on (measure 4), some crosspicking (measures 4 & 5), and a short eighth-note lick (measure 6). Check it out.

Nine Pound Hammer: Simple Single-note Flatpicking Solo

OK, so now we have moved from simple melody, to Carter-style arrangement, to single-note flatpicking arrangement. But this site is about Flatpicking the Blues and so we now need to add blues influence. I'm going to do this by adding notes from both the G blues scale and the E blues scale as shown in Flatpicking the Blues and on the Blues Scale pages of this web site. Below is the pick-up measure and first eight bars of the song with a bit of a blues influence added in:

Nine Pound Hammer: Simple Blues Style Solo