08.31.2008

"Just As I Am," arranged by AJ Harbison

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:40 am

While you’re waiting for those CD reviews, you might find this interesting.

Several years ago, while I was still attending CSUF, I set the words of the old hymn “Just As I Am” to new music for guitar, in a contemporary worship style. It was pretty cool, and I was proud of it at the time. This is what it sounded like (the recording is new, not from that time, and unfortunately it’s rather soft):

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Not bad. However, I recently revisited the song, and made some changes to the melody and rhythm. Here is the new version:

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The main problem with the old version, as you may have noticed, is its almost complete lack of rhythmic variation. The same rhythm is repeated five times in a row, and then imitated closely. The last phrase, in addition, is too slow–there’s not enough happening during the phrase to carry it along, and so the momentum stops. I fixed these problems in the new version by varying the rhythm slightly, enough that it sounds coherent and remains similar but is different enough not to be boring, and by speeding up the rhythm of the last phrase to double-time.

The other problem with the old version is its lack of melodic variation. It’s not too exciting, but it’s decent, through the second line; but the third line (“And that Thou bidst me come to Thee”) is too similar to the opening lines and hangs out too much on the central note A-flat, moving just below and then just above it before returning. In the new version, I added some more flair to the second line by going up to an E-flat instead of a D-flat, and rewrote the third line to give it more motion and a wider range.

I’ve posted the full recording of the new version on my website, www.ajharbison.com. It’s not a perfect recording, but it’s pretty decent, and the melodic changes in the last verse are fun and worth a listen (in my humble opinion). You can go straight to the “Just As I Am” page by clicking here.

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Comments

  1. Gravatar

    Albert on 08.31.2008

    Nice arrangement and recording. May I be the first to request a post on the technology and techniques you used when making that and the other recordings on your website? I would certainly be interested, for one thing, in knowing how you got the guitar to sound SOOoo good [in your best Teen Girl Squad voice]. If no one else cares about that, just send me a really long, detailed email that will take more time to write than your song did to record. Great, thanks!

  2. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 08.31.2008

    Hi Albert,
    Thanks for asking! I was actually thinking about posting on such a topic, and now that you’ve requested it I will for sure–perhaps by the end of this coming week or next week. I’m glad you enjoyed the arrangement too. Thanks!

    AJ Harbison

  3. Gravatar

    ryan fleming on 09.03.2008

    Hey AJ! Nice idea to post pre- and post-edited versions of your arrangement for us to compare. Below is my critique:

    I thought overall the second version was better. The things I enjoyed are the whole step up from D-flat to E-flat. This definitely added some interest and made for a nicer segue into a higher and more varying melody. The double-time also helped the song by not lingering on the same chord for so long. In that instance, the words were few and the only instrumentation was the strumming of the guitar; so holding out the chord too long creates a drag point and your audience can lose interest. The double-time helped push the song through.

    The change I did not like was at the beginning of the phrase. The change in pitch on the word shed. In the previous version that word was sung on the fourth of the scale. You changed it to the fifth and held it longer. I liked the rhythm shift, but I think if you kept that note on fourth then it allows for better resolution into the next chord. Try the old pitch with the new rhythm and see how it sounds.

    My two cents!!

  4. Gravatar

    ryan fleming on 09.04.2008

    I just took a listen to the entire song and I must say that I really like it. This could easily fit into a nice mellow worship mix. I also was quite impressed by the quality. Are you still using Garageband and the computers built in mic? If you are then that is pretty darn good quality (yeah apple computers)! If you recorded it some other way please fill us in.

    Also, I really enjoyed the nice octave slide of the sixth string leading into the second verse. Even though there weren’t any other instruments playing, the bass slide combined with the more intensive strumming in the second verse gave a lot of movement to your piece. It would be nice to hear this song with a fuller band; bass guitar, drums, and possibly some keyboard. Other than that, very well done sir!

  5. Gravatar

    ryan fleming on 09.04.2008

    And one last thing, did you bump up the reverb in the second verse as well? I can faintly hear longer and more sustained vocals after the first verse? Anyhow, I like it.

  6. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 09.08.2008

    Hi Ryan,
    Sorry I didn’t respond earlier to your comments–busy weekend!

    I appreciate your critique, and I’m glad you like the arrangement. I did try out your suggestion of the fourth rather than the fifth on the word “shed.” I agree that it makes for a smoother transition to the next chord, but the melody line is less interesting that way. In this particular case I’d rather go for the interesting melody line than the smooth transition. But perhaps there’s a way to harmonize the two. I’ll keep working on it!

    AJ Harbison

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