Arrangement: My Guitar Gently Weeps
Updated: Feb 16, 2022
by George Harrison of The Beatles for RCM Piano Level 2
Alright, previously, I wrote a post about arranging a song for a piano student of mine, had a lot of fun doing so, and had good reception to it from my student. I thought it’s time to bring another level-appropriate arrangement of a song that he likes… which turned out to be only one of (if not) the greatest rock ballads of all time.
After learning Mungo Jerry’s In the Summertime, I actually gave this student a classical piece by Mozart in his level. I know it certainly wasn’t his favourite genre, but I believe there’s something very important in being open-minded with at least trying different things. Even if your opinion has not changed afterwards, you come out with some experience, more insight, and perhaps even a better understanding why you dislike something. I think that is very valuable, the opposite being not knowing why you dislike something, actively avoiding and never engaging with it – that could really minimize your potential worldview and diversity of life experiences!
Anywho, I noticed a drop in practice and overall disinterest again. This cycle happens to everyone but it was for an extended amount of time that made me think it was time to try another pop song. My initial plan was to alternate between his favourites and one classical piece, but I’m not persistent enough to be stubborn in my ways. If arranging a new pop song is enough to motivate and encourage practicing and learning piano again, a new pop song I must arrange… with a twist!
Additionally in this student’s studies, I’ve been introducing different technical exercises – the dreaded scales and chords! We’ve been practicing more minor keys which I noticed were less familiar for this student. To encourage more familiarity with the sound and intervals in the minor key, I made a list of songs with minor keys for him to choose and rank his favourites – the top choice being: My Guitar Gently Weeps by George Harrison of The Beatles. Excellent choice, grasshopper.
My focus on this next arrangement was on minor keys, and because there aren’t too many minor keys at this level yet (E, D, G minor), I chose G minor only to later be pleased that this is the original key! This song shifts between G minor and its parallel, or tonic, major: G major; 2-in-1!
Form. Ear Tests.
This arrangement is more complex than the previous; I wanted to continue challenging this student with more learning opportunities in notation. This included some roadmap symbols found in repeats. The version I used (below is the video I referred to for this arrangement) has the general form of: Instrumental Intro A B A B A Instrumental Outro, which I simplified to Intro A B A Coda, making use of Dal Segno and Coda re-directions.
Gosh I just love the string parts in this version. I really wanted to incorporate more of that but had to remind myself to hold back to suit the reason for this arrangement. Just listen the awesome transitions and variation that the string background provides between the repeats of the choruses and verses. I’ve marked 1:33 in the video below as one of many favourite string moments below. I ended up including the string outro from 2:55 into this arrangement because the ending sounded less complete otherwise – I figured it’d be a good opportunity to bring up discussion about intro/outros and form in general!
In terms of the melody and pitches, there isn’t a ton of melody to learn. The general A part, the general B part, and the intro/outro which is really just a variation of the G minor A section melody. I’m not sure if it’s to preserve this source (which isn't the original white album release by the way!), but I definitely was more hesitant to changing notes for easier playing in this arrangement (see the last post). There are some strange intervals (contrast with an otherwise rather stepwise melody) in the B part. E.g. that approach towards and fall from the leading tone in the B part (m. 20) is certainly a strange reach for the right hand that I haven’t shown much to this student just yet. I am definitely also very much taking advantage that this student knows this song already. I’m confident he can find the notes with his internal ear and trial-and-error with his memory, so I’ve taken that opportunity to introduce some stretches in the suggested fingering (I’ll get into more detail on that later).
Rhythm. Sight Reading.
Alright let’s get right to it. I didn’t shy away from dotted rhythm at all here. Or ties. RCM 2 piano students can definitely handle ties. It’ll be fine. (We'll have to see if he agrees with me haha).
dotted half note
Look at all the dots! I put them everywhere in the left hand in the intro. It’s more interesting to me than just having whole notes, especially in that descending line. And even though I’m repeating the same pitch, the added frequency of having another note onset gives it a bit more forward momentum to get things going in this ballad! I can see m. 6 being a potential practice moment. The hand coordination pattern of note onsets being B – R L. I could’ve simplified it by removing the repeated F to B – R – but thought the bass line provided some forward direction in that moment of space – same as the last D note in the LH in the next m.7. Maybe I’m totally insane and “hearing” things. I don’t know! Do you agree? Does this make sense outside of my brain? …
eighth note syncopation
This moment in m. 13-14 could’ve been all notes landing on all quarter note “gridlines”, but it just sounded too bland. It’s the moment where “guiTAR” in the lyrics is sung. There’s a rush to accent towards the second syllable in that word “gui-TAR” vs. even duration on each syllable, “gui. tar.” so it felt appropriate to keep the syncopation of the original song here. Eighth notes and ties are not foreign topics at this level, but the execution of this type of hold in this particular spot over the strong down beat of the next measure is a challenge I’m foreseeing. I’ll write another end-of-post update after providing this to my student to see if I’m correct in this foresight or if I’ll be pleasantly surprised!
dotted quarter rests and notes.
I didn’t add toooooo many of these in my last arrangement. You can see below that my last arrangement of In The Summertime was quite simple and I only added dotted rhythm where I felt it was vital in capturing the character of the piece. (You can read more about that on that post here!)
I hope it was not in excess and is still musically appropriate, but my reasons for adding more dotted rhythms in this arrangement are actually more pedagogically based to sneak in some more rhythm practice for this student 😅. I think there’s benefit in having it around, even if just to increase exposure and familiarity to it, even if the dotted rhythm is only being recognized and associated with its sound and feeling after being played (vs. being read before playing).
Here’s a dotted rest figure in m. 21 that really could’ve been just like m.19, but I find the rhythmic variation to the same pitches really adds something. It stays.
Here’s another moment at the end of the B section that I thought would be easy enough to imitate in the bassline walking back up. So much of this arrangement has whole notes in the LH. The melody is important to capture at this level, and I’m hesitant making the LH too complex in fear of discouraging the student from a favourite song being “too hard to play nicely”. But! This first ending has very little RH action, so it was an opportunity to practice some counting and LH finger action.
2-handed arpeggiated figure.
There is a moment I sneaked in that I foresee some practice needed: m. 28 in the second ending of the B part. It’s heard in the cello part at 2:20. It’s quite a beautiful end to the G Major B-part. Since G major and G minor share the same V chord, D F# A, I thought this was a pretty neat transition between sections; measure 29 is from 1:20 (bookmarked below), one of my favourite moments in this song – the chromatic raise to the minor third in the strings is such an eyebrow raising transition!
Suggested Fingering. Phrasing Possibilities.
There are so many ways to play the same notes! I find fingering is quite important in affecting changes in articulation and phrasing, both of which I have purposefully left out (something I think I might introduce in the next arrangements for this student to come).
There’s a moment between m. 31-32 (see above figure) where I’m expecting a RH 5 to play the D, and by suggesting a thumb 1 on the next G, 4 notes away, I’m intending for a tiny break in the melody, a breath so to speak, before the start of the next phrase – a fragmented statement of the opening melody.
There’s also small moment in m. 29 (see above figure) where it’s implied/expected that a LH 5 would be placed on the D, and a suggested printed 5 is on the next note, a C, to suggest lifting the finger/hand to do so, and thus breaking any legato connection between these notes. I don’t know how much detail I want to include with regards to phrasing in the future but it’s definitely a discussion I want to focus on more with this student when he’s ready. It might also be valuable to leave these arrangements “less notated” for us to experiment, hear different options, and for him to make his own musical choices after further understanding what phrasing is. Anyway, I digress…
There are definitely more moments requiring movement of the entire hand across different keyboard positions. In Section B, I had originally just outlined a single line of bass whole notes but decided the G major B-section was too bright and open to only be supported by a single note. I added a few more with the intention of giving the section a bit more harmonic strength. That definitely altered some hand positions but I hope for the better.
As previously mentioned, there are some stretches in my suggested fingering. I’m intending for it to introduce the topic of range, about the opening and closing of our hands, and how that’s used in piano playing. To be honest, I’m unsure how some of my suggested fingerings will be received. Some stretch moments include:
m. 8-9 RH 1 to 2 ranging a Perfect 4th;
m. 14-(second ending)17 RH 2 to 4 ranging a Perfect 4th;
m. 14-(second ending)17 LH 2 to 5 ranging a Perfect 5th onto a black key, Bb;
m. 19-20 RH 2 to 5 ranging a Perfect 5th onto a black key, F#;
m. 28 RH 2 to 1 ranging a Perfect 5th;
m. 30-31 RH 4 to (implied) 5 ranging a Major 3rd from a black key, Bb;
Some closed-hand position moments include:
m. 17-18 LH 5 to 1 ranging a Major 3rd from a black key, Bb;
There are also more crossovers in my suggestions! Is this efficient? Easy? Fun? I’ll have to come back and then we shall all see! Take the LH 2 on F# in m. 31, or the LH 4 on A of m. 37, or the RH 4 on F of m. 43.
Lastly, I’ve added some basic dynamics, cresc., decresc., but really nothing too crazy. I had mentioned in my previous arrangement post that I cautioned against different dynamics for repeats for this student at that moment, and definitely went for it in this arrangement seen in m.19 (mf-f). I think he’s ready for it.
I’m trying to slowly introduce more and more things to not overwhelm him! Learning more is important, but the primary purpose of these arrangements are for fun and to be motivational.
Here’s the final result of this arrangement. Once again, please don’t hesitate to ask for a better pdf if you’re interested! I actually timed myself with a stopwatch to get some more accurate data here. This one took just over 2.5 hours including adding all the details and exporting it into a proper pdf. I definitely took more time to ponder some more decisions with this arrangement. This classic deserves at least that!
An update to come…