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.

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

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The Melody is in the Chords

It took me awhile as a guitarist to figure this out: If you want to play a melody look inside the chords.

I know, this sounds like a Yoda riddle, but here’s the thing: There are thousands of chords. There are only 12 notes to the scale. Every one of those notes belongs to a chord. This means that as you are playing the chords to a song, you more than likely are playing the notes contained in the melody. It is, of course, possible, that a note here and there is not part of that chord. That’s what makes it interesting.

But it means that you’re likely not more than a note or two away from a root, third, fifth, sixth, ninth, etc. of the chords that you’re playing. So as you play the chords, listen for the notes in the melody, and then work from there.

What’s more, if you learn and know your inversions for all those chords, it’s even more likely you will have the note for the melody you’re looking for as you progress through the song.

This is how you get to play the chords AND the melody simultaneously.

Here’s an example with the classic song from Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

Underlying walking bass riffs

I’ve written a lot so far about walking the bass lines in your chords. But it’s always worth repeating the value of doing so to keep the momentum moving when you are accompanying yourself on vocals.

This particular riff is what I use for an introduction to the classic “Paper Moon.”

Remember, you can slow down the speed on YouTube to watch the exact chord changes and hand movements. In the bass line, I’m walking the E bass note up to F, then to F# and then over to B.

Again, this is a way to keep the momentum going.

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.

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Picking the blues

I’m a finger picker. Sure, I can use a plectrum or guitar pick and do so from time to time, but I prefer strumming and picking with my fingers. I find I have more control and in many instances can play faster.

Most people would assume finger picking is relegated to either classical music, blue grass, Americana or folk. But I’m going to demonstrate how it can be effectively used for blues with a little riff in A minor.

Essentially, what I am doing is using all five fingers on the right hand to voice the chords, and then arpeggiate (that is, play the chord by picking out each individual note in succession), providing what I think is a nice effect because it straddles between strumming a chord and sounding like a guitar riff.

Check out the video here on Youtube. Remember, you can slow the video down by going to settings to watch the finger style playing more closely.

Let me know what you think about this approach.

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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.

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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.