Serious fingerstyle songs good for beginners

It’s usually prudent to start your fingerstyle adventure with something that’s specifically aimed at your current level of playing. There are a lot of publications containing songs especially written or arranged for students. Sooner or later however, you might want to learn some real “stage” songs by your favourite artists. That’s where this list might come in handy. Have in mind that these are by no means easy songs. They are just easy compared to other “stage songs” by the likes of Tommy, Chet etc.

 

Freight train – a lot of people start with this one even though it isn’t the easiest one I can think of. There are couple of reasons for that: there is quite a lot of barre, there is some thumb-over-the-neck fretting, it’s played in boom chick which on its own isn’t that easy. It’s easily customizable so a lot of artist have their own iteration.

Trambone – Chet’s classic. Again it’s in boom-chick. Some thumb over the top but no barre.

Windy and warm – Depending on the version it can be very easy or very hardcore (see Tommy Emmanuel’s medley with Classical Gas). Nice introduction to boom-chick.

Imagine – aside from false harmonic ending and repetition of the theme in higher positions, Tommy’s arrangement is pretty straightforward and sounds great thanks to the 6th string dropped down to D.

Here comes the sun – short and not that difficult.

Blue moon – not all of it. If you’re just starting, do the main part and ending as a great introduction to walking bass lines. As you progress, you’ll be able to add other segments.

***

From this point on it gets a little more difficult

Mr Bojangles – arranged by Chet Atkins. If you cut a little here and there it’s pretty straightforward.

Stay close to me – requires strong barre but pretty doable.

Papa George – sweet tune, has couple of tough spots however.

Up from down under – if you loose crazy cascading harmonics part it’s not that hard.

Countrywide – solid boom chick song with not so many difficult parts.

Cowboy’s Dream – G6 tuning but overall doable.

 

This list will expand with time. Also feel free to suggest your songs.

 

Tommy E’s slide turn

In this post I’m going to write about an ornament that Tommy uses quiet often, especially in his soulful ballads. To be able to learn it you should have prior experience with barre, slides and hammer-ons. Without further ado let’s take a look at our little bugger:

https://youtu.be/DTFCVwQNHVQ?t=50s

So here it is. Notice the pinky doing it’s dance at around 51 s into the clip. What is actually happening there is a consecutive hammer-on, slide up and then slide down. Let’s take a closer look and try to refine the pinky move. By the way, Tommy’s guitar is tuned down a whole tone so he starts with barre on 7th fret. We’ll start with barre on the 5th to sound like him.

slide-turn-1Here our main note is the B on the 7th fret. It means that we could simplify all those hammer-ons and slides to just this one note. We start with the 5th fret and hammer-on the 7th with our pinky. Now we rapidly slide our pinky to the next fret and return to the 7th. I noted an accent on the final 7th note as it is most important in this lick and it should be well spelled (even if it’s just slided).

The hammer-on is pretty straightforward. The slide on the other hand might be a little tricky. First of all I don’t recommend using your whole hand movement to achieve it even if that is the initial temptation. It should be performed with muscles that distance your pinky from your 3rd finger. To locate those muscles lay your left hand on a table palm down with fingers slightly bent (there should be some air between your hand and the surface). Than try to move your pinky left (away from the rest of the fingers) with as little overall hand movement as possible. If you understand the correct movement you can isolate just the slide part and practice it while holding the 5th fret barre like that:

slide-turn-2 There are two key aspects of successful execution of this double slide. First of all muscles of your metacarpus (the main part of your hand) should be relaxed. It will ensure effortless sideways movement of your pinky. The pressure that you put on the string with your pinky should also be as tiny as possible. The less pressure – the less friction while sliding. Once the sliding part is no more a problem for you, try to add the initial hammer-on (5th to 7th fret).

Here are some modifications of this pattern that I stumbled upon the way (I’ll use our initial example as a base)

slide-turn-3In this example you remain on the first 7th a little longer. It sort of breaks the lick into two two-notes parts.

slide-turn-4Similar to the previous one but here you don’t slide 7-8. Instead you pluck the 8th fret and then slide back to 7th.

So this is a basic concept. Try doing it with different chords (open CAGED chords work very well for this). The other thing you could try is reversing the slides direction (as in making your main note the 8th fret and doing slide to 7th and back to 8th. Do you have any other ideas for this pattern? As for some homework for you, check Tommy’s Stay close to me and Angelina videos and try to spot patterns similar to what we’ve been discussing here.

Have fun!

Dynamics

Dynamics in music is a relation between loudness of individual sounds in a piece. Of course the loudness of what you play is important, no matter what instrument or genre you play. It is the way to express intensity of emotions, build tension and release. In so many words, its vital for mature performance. Chances are, you are using dynamics already but you might do it unconsciously. Let’s try to make it a little more controllable and deliberate.

So here is the most basic exercise to make you aware of dynamic.

dynamics1

The “arrows” between standard notation and tabulature are signs of crescendo (increasing volume) and decrescendo (hope you can guess by now). In other words, start rather quietly and with each of the first 8 notes increase the volume. Then over the next 8 notes decrease it to the initial level.

While absolutely basic, this exercise allows you to get acquainted with the concept that you are responsible for controlling the loudness of notes that you play.

Now let’s try something else.

dynamics2

Notice  the letters over each bar. They are relative dynamic marks. Mf means moderately loud. F means loud and more f’s means even louder. P on the other hand means soft (quiet), and similarly the more p’s the quieter you should play. So the mf is your base here. While playing try to establish three levels of “louder than average” in first line and three levels of “quieter than average” in the second one. Remember to return to the base level (mf) between each change. Later you can experiment and mix different levels of loudness more randomly.

In tab books of your favourite players you won’t always find dynamic marks. That doesn’t mean there are no dynamic changes in the song. While listening  try to concentrate on how the loudness changes throughout the piece. Take something you can play well and try to consciously apply dynamics to it. Plan ahead. Think about how emotions are flowing through the piece. Where are the intensity peaks.  Also think about how the sudden changes of loudness attract attention of your audience. What will happen when you suddenly start playing very quietly in the middle of a piece? What would happen if you suddenly started speaking very quietly during a conversation?

If you’d like to know more about ways to note dynamics, read the wiki page on the topic. Also more information and exercises on controlling the dynamics (especially in fingerstyle) are coming soon.