Compose Yourself: Transposition, Chuck-Berry Style

cb As promised, transposition on the guitar is on the menu for this month. Last month, we defined transposition as “moving melody or harmony up or down in pitch to a new key or a new range of notes.” No matter what your instrument or style, it is highly desirable to become an expert at transposition because it enables you to adapt to other players in a group setting, or to accommodate the vocal range of individual singers. It also annihilates the “difficult key” barrier, sharpens your ear, and elevates your Musical I.Q. (Imagination Quotient). Who wouldn’t want all that. A lot of guitarists, apparently, since “licks and tricks” far outweigh transposition as a topic of interest in the guitar world. (Jazz guitarists, who absolutely must be comfortable in every key, are a notable exception.) So what’s the problem. Simple: The guitar can be an angel or an absolute devil when it comes to transposition, and guitar players, as we all know, just wanna have fun. That includes me, by the way, so let’s start with the angels. When it comes to ease of transposition on the guitar, there’s no finer illustration than the day that Chuck Berry recorded “Johnny B. Goode” at Chess Records, Chicago, Illinois, in 1958. This was no ordinary date: It marked a milestone in the ascent of the electric guitar to preeminence in pop music. First, it was a song about a rock-star guitar player. Second, there was that often-imitated, but never-surpassed opening lick. Third, Berry’s song was to become such a cultural icon that it was etched into Voyager’s “golden record” and launched into deep space in 1977, in hopes of making the hit parade on Zeta Reticuli. True, I wasn’t hanging out at Chess Records when Chuck showed up to make music (and cosmic) history... Sign In to Keep Reading

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