Welcome to Songs from the Guitar Studio, Volume 3!
As you might remember from Volume 1 and Volume 2, this series is dedicated to songs featured in my guitar lessons. Instead of picking a technique or concept and finding a song to match it, we’ll sometimes pick a song first and see what we can learn from it.
Listed below are some of the songs my students have worked on in the past few weeks. I’ve outlined some of the main elements and takeaway points from each one. Hopefully you’ll see something here that may inspire you.
Let’s check out some tunes!
“Sultans of Swing” (Dire Straits)
One of the great solos (actually TWO solos) in rock history! There is a ton to learn here, but it is for the intermediate to advanced player (especially solo two). It’s like rock meets blues meets country meets jazz meets Chet Atkins, so needless to say, it presents quite a technical challenge. In order to play it just like Mark Knopfler, you’ll have to abandon the pick and go fingerstyle, but it can be done with a pick – it’s just a little tricky on the faster passages. Not the best starter tune for hybrid picking, but if you’ve got some hybrid experience and you’re up for the challenge, you’ll find that hybrid picking works like a charm.
“Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (Jet)
Relatively easy for most rockers and a ton of fun to play! Good barre chord practice and good practice for that tribal strumming groove (see below, “You Can’t Hurry Love”). Great pentatonic blues riff as well. As a bonus, it doesn’t need to be surgically precise, so it’s a good fit for late beginners who still struggle with clean strumming and chording.
“If I Die Young” (The Band Perry)
This song is crazy popular in the country-pop crossover market, so it’s great for late beginner acoustic students. It’s got a classic, must-know strum pattern (“boom, boom, strum”) and when capoed at fret 2, it can be played relatively easily in the key of D.
Two technical challenges are present for the student who needs a little something extra: there is plenty of Bm barre chord action, and the bass note hits are often tricky to play cleanly, as they weave between strings 6, 5 and 4. Work on those two elements and watch your skill level go up. One of my new faves!
“You Can’t Hurry Love” (The Supremes/Phil Collins)
Like the Jet song, this tune feature that cool, tribal-sounding strumming pattern. The difference with this one is that, except for the first chord, all the rest of the chords change in the middle of the pattern, which ups the challenge level. My student also needed some work on the basic major and minor barre chords, so this song accomplished both tasks at once. Although it’s not really thought of as a “guitar song”, this R&B classic gives you a lot of bang for your six-string buck.
“Study in E Minor” and “Lagrima” (Francisco Tarrega)
Excellent for a rock student who has an interest in easy-intermediate classical pieces. These two standards by Tarrega are relatively easy for the guitarist that has a bit of fingerstyle background. “Study” is a tiny bit more basic and features a lot of arpeggios with simple moving parts. “Lagrima”, on the other hand, is more of a challenge in terms of general technique, more difficult position shifts, lots of moving parts, and mental organization. Highly recommended.
“Walk This Way” (Aerosmith) and “Hey Joe” (Jimi Hendrix)
This is an example of the concept directing us to a particular musical example. Only the main riff of “Walk” was used, as was the outro riff of “Hey Joe”. They were picked for a student who had been working diligently on the 2-finger combos, and was moving onto the 3- and 4-finger combos. These riffs were ideal since they featured some of the same combinations. Simple and effective!
“Seven Nation Army” (White Stripes)
When you’ve got a young student with limited skills…and he wants something cool to play…and you want to make it a relatively quick lesson…PLUS he’s a Ravens fan, then the choice is obvious: “Seven Nation Army”! This song can be taught in about 10 minutes, which is nice, and it can be played on one string with one finger. The fact that it’s associated with the Ravens ups the cool factor, ‘natch. And for a young kid, one finger + one string + rockin’ tune = FUN!
Although it’s pretty easy to learn, we tackled it in two phases since my student is an early beginner. First we learned the first phrase. The following week we reviewed that phrase and added on the second phrase, which is imitative of the first, with one significant exception: it features back and forth slides. Slides are technically challenging for a kid, but they’re a fun challenge. Two lessons and twenty minutes total, FTW!
“She” (Andy McKee)
If you know anything about Andy McKee, you know that he plays some of the most intricate and advanced fingerstyle known to man. The song, “She”, is only moderately challenging in Andy’s world, so it’s actually feasible for us mere mortals, as long as you’ve got intermediate fingerstyle skills and a decent supply of patience. My student wanted a song impressive enough to play in a talent show at school, but not so challenging that it would take months to learn. I guess you could say this is a good starter tune if you’re interested in the modern fingerstyle approach of players like Andy and Antoine Dufour.
This song also gives you some experience playing in an altered tuning, and features some of Andy’s signature right hand chordal tapping (that is not as difficult as it might first appear). Please do yourself and favor and check out Andy McKee on YouTube. You may not ever want to learn one of his songs, but you’ll be amazed at how someone can take a traditional instrument in cool, new directions.
“Wind Cries Mary” (Jimi Hendrix)
One of the iconic Hendrix tunes featuring his favored rhythm-and-blues double-stops. There needs to be a certain amount of fretboard understanding in place first, but this song is a terrific vehicle for the double-stop licks that characterize so many songs, including Hendrix’s “Little Wing”. Learn how to navigate this tune and you’ll have great vocabulary to add to your improv vocabulary. For the solid intermediate.
“Blue Bossa” (Kenny Dorham)
A great starter for the rock player just getting into jazz! In this case, my rock/pop student needed a jazz standard for a college audition, so “Blue Bossa” was a strong choice. The chords are manageable – not a ton of changes – and the melody is imitative of itself rhythmically, so the learning curve is gentle. This is also a nice tune for adding moveable, “next level” chord vocabulary, like major 7s, diminished 7b5s, and altered dominants. An all-time classic…or, in his words, “elevator music”. You decide! 🙂
“Drops of Jupiter” (Train)
Fantastic song that offers a ton of musical goodies for the late beginner-intermediate guitarist. It’s an especially good candidate for learning by ear. The fact that it’s a piano-based song definitely ups the challenge level, as the guitarist must determine the “feel” of the song without a strum to lock into.
Learning by ear is one of my all-time fave lessons once a student is at a certain level of understanding, and it’s great for reinforcing basic theory like keys, scales and primary chords. Learning by ear just makes you an all-around awesome and powerful musician (see my post The Lost Art of Learning by Ear for details). Highly recommended.
“Two Tickets to Paradise” (Eddie Money)
An all-time classic 80s guitar solo for the intermediate-advanced player! This one is not particularly challenging in terms of the fingerings – it utilizes the basic pentatonic positions – but the fast and furious nature of it takes the difficulty level up significantly.
It’s a great song for working through pentatonic patterns in various spots on the fretboard and for introducing players to long phrases that will challenge their coordination as well as their mental endurance. The classic hemiola section (odd-against-even rhythmic phrasing) at the end is very valuable, as this technique can be found in a number of classic tunes (“All Right Now” by Free comes to mind immediately). For the student who’s got a bit of a grasp on the theory behind modes, this is also a fine example of the use of Lydian mode (or Mixolydian, depending on your perspective) in a rock context. An iconic and satisfying solo for the advancing guitarist!
“This is the Stuff” (Francesca Battistelli)
This song was suggested by my student. It’s a very cool Christian pop tune with rhythm guitar in the “Hey Soul Sister” vein. We bumped up the capo pretty high to imitate the ukelele sound that is so popular today. The “boom-shaka-laka-laka” strum is an extremely valuable one to have in your repertoire, but it’s often played relentlessly and at a fast tempo, so the challenge here lies in the guitarist’s endurance (NOT a challenge normally associated with guitar – more often drums, I think).
My student was definitely having trouble keeping up with the song’s tempo, so we worked the strum one phrase at a time, often with us “trading strums” – she does one bar of strum, followed by me. We eventually built to the point that she was able to keep it going for 10-12 bars on her own before slowing down. Then I sent her home exhausted!
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Until Volume 4…