It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these bad boys, but they’re always fun and they always seem to get a good response!
As you might remember from earlier volumes, this series is dedicated to songs my students have played in guitar lessons. Sometimes we’ll pick a technique or concept and find a song to match it; at other times, we’ll pick a song first and see what we can learn from it.
Listed below are just a few of the songs we’ve jammed to over the last few weeks and months. I’ve tried to make the list diverse, featuring various concepts and techniques. As always, I’ve outlined a few of the main elements and takeaway points from each song. Hopefully you’ll see something here to inspire you!
RIP Lou Reed
Speaking of inspiration, the legendary Lou Reed died recently (October 27, 2013). His fearless and poetic (yet conversational) songwriting, both as a solo artist and also as a member of Velvet Underground, was an inspiration to countless songwriters and bands that followed.
Indeed VU’s debut album The Velvet Underground and Nico is an all-time classic and iconic recording for indie bands around the world. Ambient music artist and producer Brian Eno has been quoted as saying that the album only sold 30,000 copies, but every person who bought one started a band!
You might know Lou’s work through his only real hit, “Walk on the Wild Side”, but there are other classics to investigate, such as “Sweet Jane” (famously covered by Cowboy Junkies and included in the movie Natural Born Killers), “Rock and Roll”, “Satellite of Love”, “Waiting for the Man” and “Femme Fatale”. Hope you take some time to discover some gems here.
And now for my quick takes on the tunes…
“California Dreaming” by The Mamas and the Papas
This 60’s classic is a great song for practicing strumming. It mostly changes through common chords every two beats, which forces you to think fast and execute. It also uses the F barre chord a number of times, so it’s a good choice when you want to practice a single barre (and not get overwhelmed with too many of them).
“Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons
This hit is surprisingly adaptable to acoustic strumming. Indeed, it begins with acoustic guitar, but it sounds great strumming through the whole song. It’s also a nice lesson in getting a lot of bang for your musical buck, in that it uses the same handful of chords in a few different strumming variations and sequences throughout the intro, verse, chorus and bridge. The single use of the D/F# slash chord in the chorus is a sweet detail!
“Everything Has Changed” by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran
Another nice tune for strumming! If you know the basics – G, Em, C, Am and D – you’re set. Just make sure to tune a half step down to play along with the recording. Beautiful lyrics and vocal performances are a bonus.
Of course everyone knows who Taylor Swift is, but if you’re unfamiliar with Ed Sheeran, do yourself a favor and check out this awesome young singer-songwriter. He’s a fine guitarist as well, and one of the current crop of players who makes great use of loop pedals to build tracks live. This video is a fantastic example, with the live looping at about the 4:00 mark.
“Hotel California” by The Eagles
It seems like every few weeks I’m back to the “Hotel”! In fact, I probably get as many requests to learn this song as any other. I love teaching it because it has so much to offer the developing guitarist.
For early to mid-level beginners, you can capo at fret 7 and work on strumming the chords in the key of Em. For late beginners working on barre chords, you can play without a capo in the key of Bm and incorporate Bm and F#. And finally, for intermediate players who want a soloing challenge, this song is simply one of the best tunes you can learn and was featured in my 10 “Must Know” Guitar Solos.
Make it a project and soak up the awesomeness!
“Drunk On You” by Luke Bryan
After learning this country hit for my band, I realized it would be great for my acoustic students. For early beginners, you can keep the strumming simple with standard chords like G, Cadd9, Em and D. To up the challenge for late beginners, add in the syncopated aspects of the strum pattern as heard on the recording. For electric players, it also has a cool thematic riff and a pretty sweet solo!
“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
Another classic featured in my 10 “Must Know” Guitar Solos, “Little Wing” is quintessential clean, r&b-style Hendrix. Jimi makes it sound easy, but it is deceptively difficult to play cleanly and to make it flow. Learning the intro to this song is as worthwhile a project as just about any tune you can think of.
“Give a Little Bit” by Supertramp
This Supertramp classic is a fantastic project for the intermediate-level acoustic guitar student. It features a nice combination of straight 16th-note and syncopated strumming, as well as a few barre shapes and some moveable shapes that travel the length of the fretboard. You’ll probably need to invest some time into this one, but it is totally worth it and a lot of fun to play!
“Locked Out of Heaven” by Bruno Mars
For my money, Bruno Mars is one of the truly talented performers in pop music today. He can do it all – sing, dance, play guitar and write hit songs. This chart-topper is a great vehicle for electric guitarists to work on barre shapes, especially when they incorporate the “squeeze and release” left hand muting technique. This keeps the chords poppin’ and authentic.
“I Want You Back” by The Jackson 5 and “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder
My bass student has graduated to more complex and challenging tunes, so we broke out the classic r&b! The Jackson’s hit was played by one of the most influential bassists in history, James Jamerson. He was the backbone behind the “Motown Sound” and plays some incredible lines on “I Want You Back”, with heavy doses of syncopation and chromaticism.
In “Sir Duke”, the genius of Stevie Wonder is evident from start to finish: wicked, bluesy pentatonic chops on the instrumental break, lots of samba-style root-5 work in the verses and choruses, and some strategic chromaticism give this song a little bit of everything. The world-class bass part was played by Nathan Watts, a disciple of Jamerson.
The Songs From the Guitar Studio Series
Wanna check out some of the earlier volumes of this series? Need some new inspiration? Follow the links!
QUESTION: Got any song suggestions for other beginner-intermediate players? Leave a comment below!