Arrange Fingerstyle Songs

Hey to all,

at the moment I try to figure out melodies (and hopefully complete fingerstyle songs soon) on my own. Inspired by Justin’s lesson on how to play a melody on guitar. So actually working out the melody works fine but I use some notes on the A and D string for the melodies and then it’s getting complicated to combine the bass notes, because these are on these strings too. How are you managing this problem, especially when the melody covers more that one octave? Switching to closed position rather than using low strings ?


Hello Julia,
Welcome here …

That seems to be the best choice if the bass and the melody are in each other’s way… a real example would be nice … but there may be other people here who can serve you better with this question…but at least you can try your first hunch, if it works and sounds good, then it’s good.
Greetings ,Rogier

This is a good question, JulesDules. In my (admittedly feeble) attempts to do a fingerstyle arrangement, I’ve come up against this problem.

As a concrete example, I was trying to figure out Mr. Tambourine Man in D major, which ranges from D (3rd fret B string) down to low D (open D string). I would like to play all the melody notes with my fingers (i.e. not thumb), but it doesn’t seem easy to work in the D string.

I suppose I could transpose to the key of G, which would put the lowest note on the open G string and hence accessible to the index finger. The highest note would be 3rd fret of the e string, also easily reached.

Any other ideas?

@jjw1 have you tried Drop D tuning? This puts most of the
Bass notes on the E string

That’s a good idea. Then the thumb could handle the base notes on the 5th and 6th strings and the fingers could play all the melody notes on strings 2, 3 and 4. My first thought was that fretting the low G on fret 5 would cause problems reaching the melody notes on fret 1, but there aren’t any melody notes on fret 1, so yeah, that should work.


Thank you!

@roger_holland, the actual song is in the key of F. The song ranges from a (at the moment I use open A string) to f (1st fret high e string). So when I‘m using 2nd fret, D string for the low a, I do not know how to „reach“ the high notes in an adequate way. Appreciate any ideas.

@JulesDules It would help if you’d tell us the song your trying to work out.
Sometimes the melody can go up when the bass is going down to avoid fingering
problems and some time the melody and the bass need to work together depends
on the song.

I’m not getting what your saying here. The second fret D is and E, the second fret G string is an A

You could try working higher up the neck so that your A could be 5th fret Low E, and your F could be 6th fret B string; the D string for A would be 7th fret on the D string and then work onwards from there. Really you need to think about the number of places you can play the same note; knowing the Fingerboard map is essential for doing it easier!

@stitch oh, sorry. Meant exactly that: 2nd fret G string for a.
It is a quite unknown German song called “Sommer in der Stadt” by Wolfgang Petry. Don’t think many know this song, so I tried to explain the problem instead.
@DarrellW I will try this. Thanks!

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You may find this even more useful (unless you’re trying to figure it all out for yourself), but be aware that these interpretations are not always 100% accurate.

Since I’m rather unexperienced in writing fingerstyle material myself but having developed a basic personal style in it, I’d say: try sticking with the the top 3 (or perhaps top 4) strings when it comes to the melody while you use the bottom 3 (or 2 if permitted) as bass notes.

It’s a classic way of keeping it simple, especially if you’re not doing this for years already AND it automatically suits the “3 string for thumb and 1 finger for treble strings” fingerpicking system.

Working that way will enable you to expand and decorate further along the road

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