After many years of playing guitar, I recently started teaching myself
piano. It has been a challenge and great for reminding me what it was like to
first learn guitar. I'm already seeing how learning piano will help my guitar
The piano is a really powerful instrument. With ten fingers, you can play ten notes at
once, or more if you use the sustain pedal or you mash two keys
with one finger. It can play both higher and lower than a guitar - at the same time! Unplugged, a piano is louder. And there is tons and tons of music for the piano - a lot of it
classical, but going through ragtime, jazz, some blues, and even some rock.
That got me thinking. Why is the guitar the indisputable queen of instruments in today's popular music? Folk, blues, and
especially rock and roll? What is so special about the guitar that makes it so
perfect for rock? I love Billy Joel's music, and Jerry Lee Lewis kicked ass,
but numbers-wise, guitarists leave pianist in the dust. Why is that?
I am not a jazz musician. I prefer to stick to rock or folk,
and I see a lot of what modern jazz musicians do as showing
off or needless complication of what should be simple. And so,
for a long time, I resisted learning many ideas and techniques
that I thought of as "jazz techniques," or "jazz theory," or
even "jazz chords."
I was, of course, being silly. There is no such thing as a
"jazz technique," just as there is no such thing as a "jazz
chord." Jazz musicians (most of them, anyway) are trying to do
the same thing the rest of us are trying to do: make music
that sounds good. So, while you may not want to bust out the
augmented seventh chords in your next Woody Guthrie cover, a
lot of the tips and tricks that jazz musicians use can be
applied in other contexts. One of these tricks is the concept
of "chord substitutions."
Wait, don't run away!
Chord substitutions sound scary, because we hear people talk
about things like "ah yes, the quintessential tritone
substitution with the dominant seventh over a flat
fifth blah blah blah." It really doesn't have to be
that way. A substitution is just replacing one thing with
another thing. In this case, it's replacing one chord with
As promised, here is another easy fingerpicking song: the old
children's song, Skip to My Lou. It's a melody almost
everyone knows, and in terms of chord progression, you can't
get much simpler than this. This arrangement is in the key of
D, and it's composed of only two chords: D and A7. In addition
to making it easy to focus on the fingerpicking technique
without worrying about a complex arrangement, the simplicity
of the chord progression leaves a whole lot of room for
improvisation around the basic melody, if you so desire.
Previously, I presented
an easy fingerstyle guitar version
of When the Saints Go Marching
In. Now I’ll try and take it to the next level, by
adding some syncopation, bass runs, and a slightly more
complex chord progression. I make no claim to be a
fingerpicking virtuoso, but I believe this demonstrates some
useful techniques. I find it lots of fun to play, and to my ear it sounds
If you haven’t learned the previous version, I suggest
checking it out now, as this lesson builds on that. If you
find this one to be too big of a jump from the last one,
stay tuned, as I will be posting some more intermediate
songs, or check out some of the books listed below.
Continue reading Oh When the Saints (difficult fingerstyle)