Loren Barrigar's Presentation on Songwriting and Arranging, March 15, 2010

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Appreciative Audience!

If last month’s turnout was an attendance “rally,” I don’t even know what to call the droves of guitar lovers that showed up for this month’s presentation! This was, bar none, the biggest crowd we have had since our move to Abilene’s!

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Introduction by Kinloch Nelson

Our gracious presenter was Loren Barrigar, a founding member of the Syracuse Guitar League, and record holder for the youngest guitarist to grace the stage at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Some of us saw him open for Tommy Emmanuel at the German House a couple of years ago, but this was a much more intimate setting and we got to see so much more of his personality, raw talent, and rapier wit. He opened with a medley of the standards “See You in My Dreams” and “Avalon.” After which, a member jokingly asked him “…So, how are you related to Chet [Atkins]?” Without missing a beat, he responded “I’m not related to Chet, but I am on the Atkins Diet; it’s when you pick at what you eat!”

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Loren Barrigar

He then entered into the scheduled topic of discussion for the night, “Arranging and Songwriting for Solo Guitar. He began by dissecting one of the tunes in his opening medley “Avalon.” He suggested you start an arrangement by playing a very simple version of the melody and then adding the bass line to it. Work them both out individually, and then combine them.

In this case and throughout most of the night he used a Chet Atkins style alternating thumb bass line. This works, but isn’t enough to hold a listeners attention on its own for too long. The next logical step is to play with the theme a little bit to add a little interest. He recommended adding harmony to the melody and employing chord substitutions to spice up the lines and build dynamics. Once the theme had been established, he demonstrated how it is possible to abandon the melody and/or the bass line to go on fast picked runs while maintaining the tonality of the passage. Although this does take a fair bit of rhythmic awareness, it is a very useful and effective weapon in your musical arsenal!

On the topic of original songwriting, he had only to say that he started with a melody. Start with a melody idea and play around with it until you’re happy with it, then construct the bass line to compliment it. He made mention of his song “Highwire” from his first album “Dance with Me.” He had the melody, but had to work hard at making the bass line flow and not interrupt or take away from the main theme. He said that the inspirations for his original songs come from a variety of sources, from a long road trip through Kentucky in a Buick Roadmaster, or just picking up his guitar and noodling around.

The rest of the night unfolded in a much more informal manner, with Loren answering questions and taking requests from the very intent and lively audience. Many topics were discussed, including:

• Q: How do you develop that level of improv ability?
• A: Learn as many songs as you can, and start with standards. When a group gets together it’s easier to jam if you all know where the song is going, and standards are standards for a reason; everybody knows them!

• Q: You have impeccable rhythm; do you practice with a metronome?
• A: Yes I do, and it’s funny you would ask that because it’s something I have had to work on! You never realize how bad your rhythm is until you have to play with a click-track in the studio.

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Loren Barrigar & John Williamson

Among the interesting songs performed by request was “Chillaxin’,” a tune written for a close personal friend who was lost while fighting for our country in Iraq and named after a favorite catch phrase that he used to use. The song was requested by that friend’s mother who was present in the audience. Someone also requested that he play the Chet Atkins tune “Yakety Axe.” He said that he would play it if someone would play rhythm guitar for him;…enter our ever ready member, John Williamson who borrowed Jerry Carter’s coveted “Wegmans” guitar (so named because of the “W” on the headstock) and accompanied Loren in a surprisingly seamless unrehearsed performance. I guess that proves his theory on learning standards!

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Meet n’ Greet

The night came to a close well after the usual 9 pm cut off time thanks to the management at Abilene’s with a meet and greet and Loren selling some of his CDs and sowing the seeds for his upcoming performance at the April 9 RGC Presenters’ concert.

—Mark Grover
Photos: R. Taglieri

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