Keeping It S.I.M.P.L.E. (part II)
Updated: Jul 3, 2022
I Is For Instrumentation
Last week, I covered how George Harrison structured "Here Comes The Sun." It is an A,B,C type song. Granted it was a team effort bringing the song to full production. Still, the song's bones were very strong because it was S.I.M.P.L.E.
This week, I cover instrumentation. I don't cover placement or production until later (see P is for Production). Still, instrumentation is an important piece behind music production. Again, let's boil things down.
Here Comes The Sun is partly great because the famous J-200, from Gibson was used. There is no other guitar on the planet that sounds like it. It's been on the market since 1937. Bob Dylan, Elvis and John Lennon all had one. Why? Because it's the biggest sounding guitar in the room. It is legendary. I suggest if you can afford one, get one.
As shown in the photograph, George Harrison also owned a J-200. But it was John's guitar that was featured on the recording's final touches.
Also featured on "Here Comes The Sun" is Moog's first generation synthesizer, Moog 3. If you're into electronic buzzes and whistles, here's a take from George's "No Time Or Space". I think it was the first time Moog was used on a popular record.
The song starts off with two acoustics guitars. They are placed in your left ear. Then synthesizer, vocals strings, bass guitar, and drums. As the song builds, you hear clarinets, cello, piccolo, flutes, alto flutes, and viola.
There may be more instruments. For example, the strings sound like mellotron to me. It may be because of how things were recorded and overdubs on tape ran at different speeds. I don't know. Again, production. But notice instrument selection. Strings, wood winds, drums, voice and synthesizer. Pretty basic.
Another part of instrumentation played on the song is interesting time signature changes. For example, during the bridge there are 3/8, 2/4, and 5/8 time changes. The Beatles used time changes a lot during their golden years. It is the time signature changes during the chorus which add so much interest in the parts where the lyrics are "Sun, Sun, Sun, here it comes." Playing these time changes perfectly is a testament to Ringo Starr's talent. Clearly, he was one of the most under rated drummers in rock history. Without Ringo keeping the timing right, the whole song would fall apart.
Opinions aside, instrumentation adds interest, color, texture and energy. You hear strings, drums woodwinds clearly. Each of these instruments occupy frequencies and resonances that are distinct when mixed together. For example wood wind instruments can occupy three or four frequencies, where a guitar is more broadband. Many guitars have annoying frequencies you've got to chop out, to focus on the mid-frequencies. In this song, the guitar has a capo on it, making it focus more tightly on mids. And the wood winds tie it down to low higher mid range.
So, when writing songs, don't be afraid to look at your instrument selection if things aren't popping for you. Go head and try synthesizers, pianos and the like. There are times when you want broad frequencies. But other times you need a distinct voicing to bring in something new an interesting.
These items (structure, instrumentation) set up mood. And here, the mood is happy, bright and light. Perfect for a great upbeat song about everything looking awesome in the future.
Instrumentation sets up a sonic foundation from which everything builds. Each instrument sounds different, so choosing the right instruments can fill in all the musical gaps.
Next week, we'll talk more about mood. The big M in S.I.M.P.L.E. speaking of it. I'll give you some tips on how to create mood.. And how major and minor modes can make bitter sweet moods, and natural minors can create dark and brooding music. We can even borrow notes from other scales to create new tension, use suspended chords to forgo resolving tension, and use sub-dominant and dominant chords to create the perfect balance of tension and release.