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pix How To Make Your Unplugged Acoustic Songs Sound Killer! pix
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pix pix by Simon Candy  

Page added in February, 2016

About The Author

Specializing in online acoustic guitar lessons, Simon Candy is based in Melbourne, Australia where he runs his own guitar school.

He has taught guitar for over 20 years to people of all ages and levels covering a variety of styles including blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking.

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  There is much more to creating unplugged acoustic versions of songs than meets the eye. Yes, you could just take the song you are creating an acoustic version from and play it, as is on your guitar. However, this approach generally yields a pretty plain and unimaginative arrangement of the original song.

The alternative, and much better way, would be to carefully observe and learn from the vast library of existing unplugged acoustic songs out there. Doing so, will give you great insight into the many cool and unique ways you can approach creating your own acoustic arrangements.

I am going to give you a head start with this in today's article. We are going to pull apart five existing unplugged songs that have been arranged by various musicians. Each is unique in the way it interprets the original song, with many cool tricks and approaches being used that you yourself can adopt when doing the same. A lot of the time, the acoustic version presents a much more stripped back, revealing rendition of the original song.

Avoid taking the tiresome, frustrating, and very often time consuming trial and error approach when doing anything with your acoustic guitar playing, especially when it comes to creating unplugged acoustic versions of songs. There is just so much to learn from looking at what others have done before you.

Analysis Of Unplugged Acoustic Songs

So let's take a closer look at some of the cool and unique acoustic versions of songs that exist out there. Be sure to check out the links to both the original and unplugged acoustic versions to each song.

Song title: "Hey Ya"

Artist: Obadiah Parker (original by Outkast)

Original version: video

Unplugged version: video

If you are wanting to create a really unique acoustic version, create one from a song that people least expect. Case in point is this cool and unique version of "Hey Ya" by Obadiah Parker.
Things to note
Groove and feel:

This acoustic arrangement of "Hey Ya" is almost a whole new song in itself. It has a completely different feel, groove, and tempo. Altering these elements of a song, if done well, will result in a cool and unique version compared to the original.

Key change:

We are also presented with a key change from G to E with this acoustic version of "Hey Ya", and the guitar has beed capo'd at the 4th fret. This gives you a new set of open chords to use. Although the original uses open chords too, having different shapes from which to create provides some nice nuances and subtleties to play around with in the acoustic version.

Notice also the last chord in the progression has changed from major to minor further adding to the laid back, mellow rendition of this song.

Song title: "Everlong"

Artist: Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters)

Original version: video

Unplugged version: video

This acoustic version of "Everlong" that Dave Grohl presents here is much more stripped back and exposed compared to the original. Gone is the band, replaced with a single acoustic guitar and vocal, resulting in a much more mellow and laid back version of the song.
Things to note
Change of tempo:

Slowing a song down helps change the feel of it, often leaving more space for things to breathe. You can hear how this works in the acoustic version of "Everlong". It is slower compared to the original, resulting in a different feel and groove. Varying the arrangement:

Listening from 3.10 into the acoustic version of "Everlong", you will notice that the arrangement of the song compared to the original changes. Re-arranging parts of a song can add to the uniqueness of the acoustic version. It can help give it it's own identity, and is sometimes necessary to make the unplugged version of a song work better.

Leaving out parts:

Leaving out certain parts of the original version is also sometimes necessary to do. In this acoustic arrangement of "Everlong", you will notice that the intro riff, that also appears throughout the song, has been omitted. Considering that there is only a single acoustic guitar, this is not surprising, however at no point does the acoustic version feel like it is lacking as a result. In creating an acoustic arrangement of a song, it is not necessary or recommended to simply copy the original note for note onto your acoustic guitar. Often, you need to change things up a little.

Song title: "Girls Just Want To Have Fun"

Artist: Greg Laswell (original Cindy Lauper)

Original version: video

Unplugged version: video

Much like "Hey Ya", this version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" is almost a whole new song in itself. It's played on piano, so is not strictly what we would call an unplugged acoustic version. However, listening to other instruments doing a take of a song will provide you with many ideas to translate to your own acoustic guitar arrangements.
Things to note
Substituting and embellishing chords:

The thing to focus most on with this version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", are the chords. There is much you can learn here.

The key has changed from F# in the original, to B. The fact that this song is played at a much slower tempo allows room for the chords to be arpeggiated and embellished providing a whole new feel to the song.

If you listen carefully, you will also notice there are some chords that have been substituted in that don't appear in the original. For example, listen for the slash chord in the introduction and verses.

To really absorb, learn, and apply what is happening with this version of "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", transcribe the chords from the original as well as this arrangement. Put them in the same key, let's say B, and compare them to each other to see what has been changed. Take then what you learn, and apply this to your own unplugged acoustic songs and arrangements.

Song title: "Message In A Bottle"

Artist: John Mayor (original by The Police)

Original version: video

Unplugged version: video

Here we have another unplugged version of a song with a single acoustic guitar and vocal. This time it's "Message In A Bottle", originally by The Police. In this acoustic take, John Mayor has stripped the song right back to it's foundations. The sign of a great song is when it still works with just a guitar and vocal, which is certainly the case here.

Once again the tempo has been slowed for a more laid back, mellow rendition.
Things to note
Fingerpicking:

John Mayor is adopting a fingerstyle approach throughout his version of "Message In A Bottle". Using your fingers produces a different tone to that of a plectrum. It will also allow you to do things that just aren't possible with a pick, and can be a good choice when creating an unplugged version of a song on your acoustic guitar.

Percussion:

No, there are no drums in this version of "Message In A Bottle", however a cool element to add to your acoustic arrangements is that of percussion. Throughout this unplugged version you can hear the strings of the acoustic guitar being slapped on beats 2 and 4. This emulates what might be the snare or hi-hat of a drum kit and provides the song with a really cool groove throughout.

Song title: "Imagine"

Artist: Jack Johnson (original John Lennon)

Original version: video

Unplugged version: video

Songs played by other instruments make great candidates for creating an unplugged acoustic version. This is exactly what Jack Johnson has done here with his version of the classic, "Imagine", originally by John Lennon.
Things to note
Other Instruments:

Throughout the entire song, Johnson is arpeggiating the chords he plays with a fingerpicking approach. The guitar has been capo'd at the 6th fret. This effectively puts you in the key of C, which will naturally give you a lot of open chords to use.

Rather than try to copy what the piano is doing in the original, Johnson has created his own unique take with this version. The reason why songs that use other instruments make good unplugged acoustic arrangements is because you immediately have something that sounds different to the original. Consider this when choosing a song to create an arrangement from.

Begin By Imitating

Imitating how others have gone about creating unplugged acoustic songs is your starting point. Through doing so you learn so much. However, don't forget the critical step of then applying what you have learned to your own acoustic takes on songs.

It was the great Miles Davis who once said, "First you imitate, then you innovate."

Ever wondered how people manage to play all the parts to a song at the same time on the one guitar? Let me show you how you can do this yourself by creating your own acoustic instrumental songs.

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