Welcome to the latest installment of Songs From the Guitar Studio!
As you might remember from earlier volumes, this series is dedicated to songs my students have played in 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 just some of the songs we’ve jammed to over the last few months. It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, so there’s no way I can touch on all the great tunes that have blasted through the studio walls over the last couple of months. However, I’ve hit on a dozen tunes below that, for one reason or another, stand out to me.
We’ve got hair metal, acoustic rock, classic solos, altered tunings, classical guitar…and of course, Devo. I’ve outlined a few of the main elements and takeaway points from each song. Hopefully you’ll see something here to inspire you!
Let’s check out some tunes…
“Round and Round” – Ratt
This song has seen a lot of action in recent months, as your friend, JB, has been in an 80’s hair metal frame of mind. (Perhaps I’m compensating for my own lack of hair? Hmmm…) Anyways, this has always been a favorite of mine, dating back to its days on MTV. Some students and I were talking about the influence of Van Halen on the bands that came after, and this one naturally came to mind, as I’ve always thought of “Round and Round” as being “Van Halen-esque”.
A fine player in the VH tradition, Warren DeMartini utilizes many of the techniques that Eddie made popular: triads and double stops, pinch harmonics on the low strings, suspended chords, and a healthy dose of rhythmic syncopation. It requires Eb tuning (half step down) to play along with the recording, which is also a VH staple. If you only learned the intro, you would still learn an awful lot.
“Hotel California” – The Eagles
The great thing about “Hotel” is that you can adjust it to match your skill level. If you’re a late beginner who is learning barre chords, this song provides a great set of chord changes to offer you just the right level of challenge. It features Bm (a root-5 type barre) and F# (a root-6 type barre); as luck would have it, both of these barre chords share the same shape, which softens the learning curve. Mix in a few open chords and you’ve got a quality song/exercise for your barre chord-learnin’ guitar student.
If you’re looking to crank up your lead guitar skills, then you’ve also come to the right place as well! The outro solos are world famous and for good reason: they are among the greatest lead solos ever. Don Felder and Joe Walsh absolutely kill on this song, so you need to make a project out of this one. Definitely for the intermediate-advanced player, “Hotel” features all manner of lead guitar moves, but it’s a string bending extravaganza fo sho’!
“Reeling in the Years” – Steely Dan
Another mighty fine solo – or three – for the intermediate-advanced players among you. This all-time Dan classic – played with a nicely buzzy tone by Elliott Randall – starts off with the iconic intro solo. In the middle, our boy Elliott also provides you with an extended break (played in harmony at some points) as well as a second solo. Although the moves themselves are not especially difficult, the tempo at which the lines are played makes things pretty tricky. The middle break is an especially good test of your alternate picking and slurring technique.
“Distance” – Christina Perri and Jason Mraz
A beautiful and fairly easy fingerstyle tune. If you’re looking for an acoustic song to add to your repertoire that isn’t overly complex, this is a solid choice. “Distance” was originally done as a full pop arrangement by Perri, but the version my students have been requesting is this acoustic one. Very intimate, just one guitar and two voices. (And for my money, anything Jason Mraz does is worth your time.)
“More Than Words” – Extreme
This ballad has also gotten a lot of play in my studio in recent months, as I’ve rediscovered its value. Not only is it a great song for listening purposes, but for the acoustic guitarist, it offers some nice technical challenges.
“More Than Words” features two pop fingerstyle techniques that are essential for the developing acoustic player, namely chord pinches and string “knocks”. Both of these techniques are described in a little more detail here, but in a nutshell, we make extensive use of a three-banger move that I like to call “pinch-strum-knock”. You pinch the full chord, use your index finger to upstrum, and add a percussive “knock” to the strings with your knuckles. Rinse and repeat. Although Nuno Bettencourt makes this one sound easy, it’s actually pretty challenging. You’ve been warned!
“Looks That Kill” – Motley Crüe
Another great hair metal tune in the Van Halen style (at least to me). The main riff is a standard move of 80’s pop-metal: palm muted open strings against higher-pitched power chords in a syncopated rhythm. This is a “must be able to play” type of riff, since the use of hemiola – the 3-against-2 rhythmic feel – is so common in rock. Tune it down a whole step and it really growls!
Mick Mars – a scary looking dude but a severly underrated guitarist, IMHO – employs another great technique in the chorus, where he pits the ringing open A string against chromatic movement in the chords. This gives the song an eerie vibe, but it is wicked cool! If you haven’t gotten your Crüe on lately, now’s the time.
“Whip It” – Devo
I must be late to the party on this one, because I never would have thought that an 80’s two-hit wonder (with “Working in a Coalmine”), known primarily as a New Wave synth band, would have such a great guitar song! If you’ve never given “Whip It” a chance, I highly recommend it. Not only is it a ton o’ fun to play, but it’s got lots of interesting things for your friendly neighborhood guitar player, including the famous intro riff, palm muted arpeggios, and meaty power chord maneuvers. Whip it good!
“Suite: Judy Blues Eyes” – Crosby, Stills and Nash
I like to think of this epic song as the “Bohemian Rhapsody” of acoustic music, a sublime mix of vocal harmony, compositional complexity and sweet altered tuning.
The tuning in question for this CSN classic is E5 – basically a big ol’ power chord. It allows Stephen Stills to play double-stop melodies and improvised solos on the top two strings (sometimes the third as well) while keeping the bottom strings droning. Since the top two strings are the same as standard tuning, it makes the learning process fairly easy for the intro melody and licks. Chord changes are pretty easy as well, typically using two fingers. The challenge here lies in the multiple sections and in the rhythmic feel of the piece, as well as the sitar-inspired lead break.
“Study in E Minor” (Francisco Tarrega) and “Opus 59, Number 11, Moderato” (Matteo Carcassi)
Classical lessons are a fantastic break for me, since the vast majority of my roster is playing some form of rock or pop. Recently I took on a legit classical student – my first ever! – and it’s been a blast. The lessons keep me on my game as well, and I’m currently enjoying the above Carcassi piece at her suggestion. Another student is more of a rock player, but he enjoys experimenting with all sorts of different music. Lately we delved into the Tarrega piece because it reminded him of a Spanish movie soundtrack that he likes. He was hooked!
Both of the above pieces are great for late beginner to early intermediate players. They feature lots of arpeggios and a-m-i right hand moves. Check ’em out if you want to see what the classical repertoire is all about. I highly recommend the book Classical for Guitar to get started.
“Money” – Pink Floyd
ThIs Floyd classic is great for guitar or for bass. I’ve recently made a project out of this for a bass student and the results were pretty dang sweet. Some of the features of “Money” are a 7/4 time signature, minor pentatonic lines, and raked root-5-root moves (high to low) that are a staple for bassists in every style. The hypnotic main riff and the extended line at the end of each verse are standouts. If you’re a bass player, this should be in your repertoire.
“Pink Houses” – John Mellencamp
Last but not least, we’ve got a fantastic acoustic tune for rockin’ out! “Pink Houses” is not only great for general strumming and riffing – in open G tuning, if you like – but it was also the subject of a recent article, Sticking To It, Sully-Style. That Student Success Story was on my adult guitarist, Ryan Sullivan. Sully struggled for a few months to make sense of our beautiful instrument, but he is now addicted to the six-string and doin’ work. For that, we can thank a little Mellencamp tune.
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!
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