A different holiday song

This weekend was Thanksgiving in the United States. This is a song I wrote and recorded a few years back commemorating this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere, where temperatures drop, the days are shorter, and the deciduous trees shed their leaves.

It’s a bit of a reflective piece, maybe an homage to Will Ackerman, the guitarist who more or less created New Age music with his playing and then by founding Windham Hill Records.

(I interviewed Will for a radio show, but I’ll save that story for another time.)

Anyway, this piece is short, but includes lots of key modulations and chord voicings to underscore the melody. If you are interested in the charts, let me know.

A little Christmas medley

It is that time of year: the time to practice all your holiday songs. Here is my first offering: acoustic guitar version of “Away in a Manger” mashed up with “Silent Night.”

Once again, I’m employing my “Drop E” tuning, where I use a capo across just the top five strings. This allows a sort of open E tuning and yet all your bar chords will remain the same; no need to learning different chords.

Hope you enjoy it. If you would like a transcript of the chords, sign up for my mailing list!

Playing Octaves, Minute by Minute

It’s hard to beat the Doobie Brothers for their contribution to the California sound. Even to this day, the opening riff (in 12/8 time) by Michael McDonald for “Minute by Minute” evokes memories of moving to the Golden State when this album was first released.

I decided to have some fun recreating the title song as a quartet. But for today’s lesson, I’d like to focus on the guitar work, in which I’m playing the melody using octaves.

Octaves are an essential technique for jazz, but for some reason, this style is rarely used in rock or pop music. Oh, maybe once in awhile Jimmy Page, Jimmy Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn have a little fun with them, but that’s about it.

Jazz cross-over artists such as George Benson, Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton and a few others really brought it to my attention.

Now, once you’ve heard the song in the context of my “quartet,” let’s break down what I’m doing to achieve the octaves.

This song is a great introduction to octaves because the riff is so simple and repetitive. Here’s a video of just the guitar part, playing the introduction, the verse and the chorus.

I play each section once, and then slow it down to half speed. And I’ve included a chart so you can find exactly where I am on the fretboard.

A couple things to note:

  1. I’m not using a pick, but instead plucking the two strings in a “pinching” style.
  2. There is, of course, a string in the middle of the two notes for the octave, and this I mute by just lightly applying pressure with my index finger.
  3. Although I don’t indicate it on the charts, I’m often “sliding” into the notes from the fret below or above. This is a classic jazz style of playing, and gives the melody a nice laid-back feel.

By the way, the overhead view of the piano should give you a good idea of how to play this riff on the keyboard if you are so inclined.

As always, I hope this lesson helps and if you have any feedback, please let me know!

Keeping it Simple, Eight Days A Week

Awhile back, I posted a sort of jazzy guitar version of the Beatles classic “Eight Days a Week.” It had lots of bar chords and typical chord voicings to achieve the melody.

Today, I’m going to show a very simple version of the song. It requires no barred chords, or fancy voicings. In fact, in most cases you will only be playing 2 or 3 strings at a time.

In this video, I’ll show you not only the exact position of my fingers on the fretboard, but I will highlight the actual note of the melody that you will emphasize to achieve a balance in playing the song with the underlying harmonies that provides the chords to the song.

As always, you can slow this video down to half speed to learn each part. To do this, simply click on the “Settings” gear in the YouTube window and choose the speed you would like.

Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon

I’ve always loved the laid back groove in The Rascals hit song “Groovin'” and decided to have some fun fooling around with some harmonics and fret tapping.

It’s a very basic song in structure and chords. But it’s a great melody. I’ve come up with a pretty simple set of changes that allows you to play the melody with chords and bass backing up.

Here’s the set up for the song:

If you watch closely for the introduction, I’m doing a very simple bit of harmonics/fret tapping. For the open G chord, I’m using my thumb on the sixth string, third fret, and then tapping at the 12th fret over the top four strings (essentially a G6 chord). For the Am chord, I’m barring at the fifth fret and then tapping all six strings at the 17th fret to achieve the harmonics there.

For the actual song structure, I’m included a second video with chord charts. I do not repeat any chords I’ve already played, so once I’ve shown a chord, you’ll just have to remember where it is in the sequence. For this version of the tutorial, I strongly suggest putting the video on half speed.

Dance With Me

A while back, a reader requested a guitar cover of this old soft-rock tune. I always like the melody and harmonies in this song, as schmaltzy and sentimental as the tune is.

I have been fooling around with a drop C tuning. And by that, I mean the entire guitar is tuned down to standard tuning. So this would be C-F-Bb-Eb-G-C.

I am playing a 1976 Guild D35NT. In fact, according to my research, it was exactly the second guitar off the factory line for Guild that year. I bought the guitar second-hand in 1978 and it has followed me around the country ever since.

We’ve made multiple cross-country treks, and even a few flights.

I had a bit of work done to it when I bought it. A luthier in Chico, CA, who had done work for David Crosby, re-fretted it and did a bit of scalloping to warm up the tone.

I only just recently began experimenting with the “tenor” tuning, and I am really enjoying it.

Anyway, here is my rendition of “Dance With Me.” And in this case, I am using the equivalent of “Drop D” tuning. The low E string in this case is tuned all the way down to Bb.

From ’65 to Sixty-five

Self-portraits from three different phases of my piano-playing years.

 

THE FIRST INSTRUMENT I can remember picking up was a harmonica at the age of 4 years old. But my passion for music began in earnest when I wrote my first song, in 1965. Composing has been a passion — maybe even a compulsion —  of mine ever since.

I have had prolific years and sparse years, but I have written every year since then.  This collection represents a baker’s dozen of these songs, covering every decade from the ‘60s up until the ‘20s.

Here is the playlist on YouTube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPn5IKvcr6Q

And here’s one on Spotify.

And finally, here are the individual songs. I’ve divided them into two volumes. Volume I is a bit more jazz and avant garde in style. Volume II contains more traditional or what might be considered modern “classical” music.

I hope you enjoy them. Here’s a little description of each:


VOLUME I


La Calle

Year: 2020

Key: A minor

Influence: Chick Corea

The first time I heard Corea was probably around 1973. I instantly was drawn to his fusion of traditional jazz and Latin rhythms. 

La Calle



Lost & Found

Years: 1974, 1989

Key: Eb major

Influence: Joni Mitchell, Larry Coryell

This began as a guitar riff in 1974.  I had taught it to a friend, then forgot all about it. Years later, we reunited for a jam session and he played the chord pattern. I named it “Lost and Found” on the spot and finished it up on piano that year.

Lost and Found

 

A Sample, But Not the Real McCoy

Year: 2011

Key: Db major

Influence: Joe Sample, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock

Based on the influences of these three great pianists/composers from the era of Miles Davis through jazz fusion, so you can probably guess how I arrived at this title.

A Sample, But Not the Real McCoy


 

In a Roundabout Way

Year: 1992

Key: G major

Influence: Vince Guaraldi 

Just a little ditty that I am pretty sure was inspired from the “Peanuts” TV specials when I was a kid. The piece is in 6/8 time, which has, to me, a feeling of a circular motion. Hence, the title. 

In a Roundabout Way

Monk’s Mode

Influence: Thelonius Monk, Scott Joplin, Jo Ann Castle

Year: 2019

Key: F major

An homage to the ragtime and honky tonk piano composers and players.

Monk’s Mode


If Only We Two Weren’t Lonely, Too

Key:  C major

Year: 2019

Influence: Bill Evans

This song pays tribute to the cool jazz ballads of the late ‘50s and ‘60s, in the style of tunes sung by Frank Sinatra or played by Stan Getz.

If Only We Two Weren’t Lonely, Too

VOLUME II

Angel’s Kitchen

Year: 2020

Key: B major

Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann, Ludwig van Beethoven

In the rural Connecticut of my youth, there was a favorite hiking trail with a cave known as “Devil’s Kitchen.” Being a good Catholic altar boy at the time, I christened a nearby rock to balance out the forces of good and evil. That memory came to me when writing this piece.

Angel’s Kitchen

Spider Dance

Year: 1974

Key: C minor

Inspirations: Keith Emerson, Béla Bartók, Igor Stravinsky

One of my first “serious” piano pieces. So named because the left hand pattern resembles a spider or maybe a crab in motion. 

Spider Dance

 

Ingenuous You

Year: 2019

Key: E major

Influence: Frédéric Chopin, Robert Shumann

Just a little ditty in ¾ time, reminiscent of Chopin’s etudes and Shumann’s “Kinderszenen” collection, which I studied quite thoroughly (but never truly mastered) in my youth.

Ingenuous You
 
 
 

Opposable Thumbs

Key: Ab major

Year: 2009

Influence: Beethoven, Chopin, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Johann Sebastian Bach

For most of this tune, the two thumbs are crossed over one another resulting in a battle of the hands audible in the countermelody. 

Opposable Thumbs

 
 

Indecision

Year: 1984

Key: D major

Influence: Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel

I had always imagined this piece as a theme song for a children’s show. The title refers to constant modal changes that leave the melody unresolved.

Indecision

 

To the Top of Stony Hill Road

Year: 1966

Key: Gb major

Influence: Claude Paolini, Sr.

Reminiscent of the carefree days of my youth, walking up the hill to meet my best friend. This song is in the key that is principally played on the black keys and is derived from a little ditty my Dad taught me on the piano. The introduction is the chorus of the first song I wrote at the age of 10.

To the Top of Stony Hill Road

 

A Hymn for Her

Key: A major

Year: 2002

Influence: Stephen Foster, Paul Simon

I’ve always been fond of traditional American folk music and hymns of the 19th century. Sometime in the ’90s, I had picked up a Lutheran Hymnal in a used book store. Playing through that provided the inspiration for this piece.

 

A Hymn for Her

All proceeds from this album’s sales and streaming will be donated to the NAACP.

Thank you for reading about and listening to my music. Below are links to all the streaming and purchase platforms.

Vol. I: (jazz) https://album.link/us/i/1517347148

Vol. II (classical) https://album.link/us/i/1517343305

 


Thank you to Sherry-Lynn Lee, who spent more hours on the audio engineering — mixing and mastering — than I did composing and recording. 

Step-by-Step Guitar Lesson: Scarborough Fair

CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEVE, this classic folk song has been around a lot longer than the version credited to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. But the duo certainly created a legendary rendition.

What I am going to show you is how to play this song as an instrumental on guitar. The voicings lend themselves well to an acoustic or even a nylon string. I just happened to have done a version on my archtop jazz guitar, so bear with me.

As always, I play the parts through at regular speed and then reduce to half speed so you are able to review the changes.

I hope you find this useful.

This particular song is in the key of E minor, which is one of the easier keys to play on the guitar, since it allows for open strings most of the time. I have noted where to leave the strings open with a O in the charts, and an X for where to mute the strings.

In this particular program I am using, I am not able to highlight the exact string that is playing the melody, but if you have a reasonably good ear, you will pick it out quite easily.

And here is my full version of the song:

Thanks for watching. And if you decide to learn how to play this song based on my lesson, please send me a video and perhaps I’ll feature one or two on my Facebook page.

Please sign up for my mail list to receive notifications of new video lessons when they come out.

Do You Want to Know a Secret?

A step-by-step lesson on how to play the Beatles song

THE BEATLES blasted onto the world music scene almost 60 years ago as a rock ‘n roll band. But if you listen closely and analyze many of their songs, you’ll easily recognize the melodies and chord changes as being straight out of popular song, a derivative of the days of Tin Pan Alley.

This is why so many of their tunes lend themselves to being played as instrumentals and are even included in the “jazz standards” books.

This particular song is one my favorites. I’m including a step-by-step video tutorial here. I play the chords and the melody for each section, and then it’s repeated in slow-motion to give you extra time to learn it.

And here is the song played through just for reference:

As always, if you’d like to keep up to date on my postings, sign up for my mailing list. I’d love to hear your feedback on whether you find these lessons useful. And if you learn the song, please send me a video!

A step-by-step tutorial: “A Little Help From My Friends”

A WHILE BACK, I posted this video of a simple way to perform the Beatles classic on guitar. It involves using a capo, but only on the top 5 strings across the second fret. This provides a kind of “Drop E” or “Open E” tuning that I really like to use.

The advantage of this technique is that you don’t have to learn any new bar chords as you might have to do with most open tunings, and yet you get the benefit of allowing open strings to resonate with the chords and notes you play in this particular key. Here’s the original performance:

Well, today, I’m going to show step by step how to play this song, with a chord chart that you can use to follow along.

To receive a PDF of the chords and to get more of these instructions, you can sign up for my mailing list. I’d also love your feedback on whether you find these lessons useful.

And here is there full performance that I previously posted for reference.

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