Adios 2020

NO SONG HAS A STRONGER association with the end of the year than Old Lang Syne. And no year can compare with 2020 for a collective eagerness worldwide to move on. So, I thought it was only appropriate I should attempt a rendering of this classic and use the guitar I have owned for over four decades.

I dusted off the old (1976) Guild D-35NT (NT= natural finish). I’ve strapped on a set of heavy guitar strings and lowered the tuning to nearly a baritone. The bottom string is set at C.

I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for listening.

“Open” tunings using a capo

As I’ve noted before, one of my favorite techniques (short-cuts?) is to use a capo across the top 5 strings. On the second fret, this will give you a type of “drop-E” tuning. The benefit of this approach is that you can continue to use all your bar chords without learning new fingerings.

Today, I’m applying this to a “drop-F” by using two capos: one across the first fret (all six strings) and the second capo at the third fret, across the top 5 strings.

Here’s an example of this technique with the Christmas classic, “Deck the Halls.”

As always, if you like what you hear, please follow this blog.

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!

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.

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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Harmonics and fret tapping

If you’ve been following my blog to date, you no doubt have noticed I love using harmonics and fret tapping as part of my style. Here’s an example where I combine the two techniques to produce some interesting percussive tones.

Don’t forget, if you would like to slow the video down to study the technique more, you can click on the little gear on the lower right side of the YouTube window and pick your speed.

As always, if you’re interested in learning more and staying up to date on my posts, click the FOLLOW over to the right of this blog.

Octaves and melody

One of the techniques in jazz that I think is underutilized in acoustic guitar playing is the use of octaves. Listen to any of the jazz greats — Joe Pass for instance — and you’ll discover how often they use octaves.

It’s a great method for emphasizing the melody and is sometimes even easier than trying to pick out the individual notes.

In this lesson, I’m going to continue with “Norwegian Wood” by John Lennon (The Beatles) and illustrate octaves as a way to play the melody. It helps that I am playing in a quasi-open tuning of “Drop D” (D-A-D-G-B-E) which is great for the key of D.

I’ve charted out the melody here. The arrows indicate to follow along from left to right, top to bottom.

And you can follow along to the actual progression in a slow-motion video here:

One thing to note is that I am not playing with a pick. I am picking the individual strings with my fingers. Now, it is possible to do this with a pick but you need to be careful to mute the middle string between the two strings that are forming the octave.

This can be done by just resting your index finger of the fretting hand slightly on that middle string.

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I’m using Elixir 12-53 Nanowebs on my guitar. I find these strings last a lot longer than most and have a clear and bright sound. The link here is an affiliate link to Amazon, if you’re interested in trying them out.

Don’t forget to click the subscribe button below to stay up to date on my latest posts.

A little fret tapping

Fret tapping is a technique that involves applying enough pressure on the frets to produce a sound without using the other hand to pluck or strum the string. Typically, you want to find a note that has the right harmonics or overtones that are complementary to the note you’re trying to produce.

In this cover of the Beatles song “Norwegian Wood,” I’m using this technique in a couple different ways. Let’s start at the beginning. After strumming a few harmonics on the 12th fret, I kick things off. You can view this in the YouTube video at 0:05 to 0:10 seconds in.

With the left hand, I’m tapping out two notes. After hitting the fret, I’m pulling the strings before releasing. This is sometimes referred to as “hammering on” and off the string. The effect provides not only the fret tapping notes, but the open string notes immediately after. This creates a trill in harmony.

Meanwhile, with the right hand, I’m tapping on the lowest string (here tuned down to D) and then the A string.

This technique is slightly different for fret tapping. Here, what I am doing is tapping with the index finger of my hand directly over the 12th fret. It’s a very quick action, almost a jab. I am not pressing the finger onto the fret. The jabbing effect produces the harmonics for that particular string.

I’m alternating between the low D (or drop D from the usual low E) and then tapping the A string. This gives the effect of a contrapuntal “bass” line to the left hand.

To view this technique in the video, look at the frames between 10 and 15 seconds in the YouTube video.

Once you have mastered each technique in the left and right hands, try putting them together and you have the intro! Good luck and let me know in the comments section how it worked for you.

I’ll post more about other techniques used in Norwegian Wood and other instrumentals in the coming days, weeks and months. If you are interested, you can follow this blog to get notified about updates.

Don’t forget to “follow” this blog (click button at top right of the page) for more handy tips and lessons!

Thanks for reading!

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I’m using Elixir 12-53 Nanowebs on my guitar. I find these strings last a lot longer than most and have a clear and bright sound. The link here is an affiliate link to Amazon, if you’re interested in trying them out.

Don’t forget to click the subscribe button below to stay up to date on my latest posts.