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Exploring Arrangements of the late great Ted Greene

John March

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Producer/guitarist John March introduces a series of lessons on the important works of Ted Greene – starting with ‘Over the Rainbow’.

Ted Greene was known as a virtuosic musician and a truly gifted educator. Possibly best known for his two seminal books on approaching harmony on the guitar; “Modern chord chemistry”, (which is basically a Chord “Bible”, that is an enormous and diverse resource with thousands of examples of voicings and chord qualities, as an aid to creating a chord vocabulary), and the other book “Modern chord progressions”, which is a pragmatic application of these types of Chord voicings, giving hundreds of examples of sounds and melodic movements using common chord sequences that are progressively more advanced harmonic approaches.

I had the great good fortune to have been a student of Ted’s for more than 25 years and was honored to call him a friend.

I recorded a tribute CD where I attempted to interpret some of his extraordinary solo guitar arrangements as a recording, and that was released as a tribute to Ted with the approval of his partner Barbara. You can find out more information about that HERE:

John March in the studio.

Many people will have seen Ted teaching workshops or private lessons as videos on YouTube, or possibly even heard his one stunningly beautiful solo guitar CD recording. All of this material and all of his teachings and recorded examples are phenomenal and extremely important to guitarists who wish to explore harmonic perspectives on the instrument. One area that I think is also extremely important is the continued and pragmatic application of his detailed approaches to using these materials in current contexts.

From my point of view there are a few ways of looking at what Ted was teaching: You can approach it mechanically and just absorb his approach to seeing the instrument differently by learning many different types of voicings for different chord qualities. By doing this you can also start to move away from a geographic or geometric shape style approach to seeing and utilizing the instrument, and move towards a more holistic viewpoint. That can prove to be invaluable in terms of finding new and creative ways expressing yourself as an arranger or an accompanist.

The other way is to explore not only the lessons and materials involved with developing a deeper chord vocabulary, but to also look at his solo guitar arrangements of popular tunes and not only learn them, but also learn how to use them as a basis for improvisation and a framework for combining solo guitar approaches with improvisational and ornamental playing. I think this is an invaluable aspect of what Ted was teaching. To incorporate his ideas, and then utilize them to develop your own “voice” on the instrument. (One of my favorite young players is Pasquale Grasso out of New York City who has taken this idea of structured solo guitar pieces, that have very strong improvisational frameworks in the style of Bud Powell, but on guitar.)

Ted Greene from 2005

So today I’d like to present an approach that I took towards one of Ted’s arrangements for the song “Over the Rainbow”.

Before I start a couple of simple technical things: Ted’s arrangements, were written in his unique block style diagram notation system, although if you look on his site (http://tedgreene.com/),  you can see that a number of these lessons and arrangements have been “transcribed” in standard notation against the visual diagram style that he works with. If you are only working with one of his arrangements like this one that is notated in his style the basic idea is that there is a fundamental playing order to the notes based around the structure of the song and especially the melody. Black dots in a block diagram are played first then followed by melody or voice movements within the block as X’s, then square, then triangle. Knowing the melody of the song obviously is very important, also understanding that Ted is trying to approach this from the point of view that in general the melody is being “sung” by the soprano voice of the instrument, and that the accompaniment and inner moving lines are supporting that melody and it’s all happening as one thing on a solo guitar.

For full arrangement, click on the A minor.

Here is an example of the arrangement with a link to the full arrangement – also a link to my recording of the song (below). I definitely take liberties with his arrangement. There is a lot of improvisation in between the structure that he writes, but I adhere very closely to the core structure of the arrangement. In other words, even though I’m improvising a lot, the entire arrangement is played as notated, just with a lot of connecting ideas and movements that I’m improvising in between. (If you need to find a more exact performance I believe Ted actually does this arrangement at one of his workshops and that that is available on YouTube.)

The way I learn to play Ted’s arrangements is I actually break it down into the smallest possible pieces and play that over and over again.

In other words I will look at the first one or two chords and learn to play them in sequence, and then I will move onto the next one or two chords. I try and keep a singing or vocal quality to the melody, connect all the ideas as smoothly as possible, and I try and keep a good sense of time/groove unless I’m intentionally playing rubato. I will learn the piece as written before I begin exploring places where I think I can improvise or connect sections. Ted was always encouraging me to find my own voice and I am mostly a blues guitar player and definitely not a solo guitarist. I would never try and sound or play like Ted because I am not sure that is even remotely possible. What I try and do is learn and play his arrangements as best I can and I know that as I do this process I learn more and more about what I can do to express myself on the instrument. I think that is what he wanted for all of his students.

Take a look at his arrangement, listen to my performance, and if you have questions I will look forward to answering them as best I can via my site – ZenGuitarGuy.

For me the most important thing is to try and keep Ted’s music alive and vital because I think that what he was offering was a very dynamic approach to exploring the instrument and being able to really find your own voice through the exploration of harmony and melody on guitar.

Good luck and definitely visit Tedgreene.com to see all of the amazing resources, lessons and arrangements that are available there!

Link to John March’s full recording

Feature photos (top) of Ted Greene by Bob Barry.

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