I had a conversation just last week with Guitar Noise Moderator-in-Chief (and all around terrific person) Nick Torres and we got to discussing what we call the “slap yourself on the forehead” moments – those times when you suddenly get something and can’t believe (a) how easy it is and (b) that you never got it before.
Two big “slap yourself on the forehead” moments for me were when I realized how many chords could be formed by sliding the shapes of open position chords I already knew up along the fingerboard of the guitar and when I discovered that fingerpicking could be relatively easy and painless to deal with. More important, that one could often simplify a fingerpicking pattern and still retain enough of the flavor of a song that other people would recognize it. Let’s see if we can’t help you feel the same way.
To help us with our lesson today, we’ll be using the Pink Floyd song Brain Damage, the penultimate number from their album, The Dark Side of the Moon. And, as an added bonus, we’ll toss in the last song, Eclipse, as well. So let’s get going…
First thing we notice when we look at chord charts for Brain Damage is that we know most of the chords. Don’t take my word for it; check it out yourself:
Nothing here that’s too much trouble. A few slash chords, but we’ll deal with those in a moment. When listening to the original recording, it sounds like two guitars are playing the same part, a picking pattern like this:
This, just by itself, is not all that hard. You can play it with a pick or with your fingers or even both if you so desire. But performing this pattern while singing might be a bit of trouble for some (it was for me when I first learned it), so let’s simplify our pattern slightly. All that involves is removing one note and changing the timing just a little:
If you listen to both examples, you do hear a difference. But is it a big enough difference to matter? Not unless you’re getting judged in a “Sound Exactly Like Pink Floyd” competition. Again, you can go with pick or fingers (or both) here. One thing that sounds very cool with finger style is to use a “pinch” for the first beat. Your thumb picks the D string while a finger (any finger, really) plucks upward on the high E (first) string. You’ll see (and hear) that in a moment.
And there’s nothing saying you can’t simplify matters even further. Let’s get rid of the last note in each measure and listen to it. Oh, and you’ll also get to hear that pinch on the first beat we just talked about:
Of course, one can always go the other way and make things a little more complicated. But since we’re looking at this song from a beginner’s point of view, we’ll use either of these last two examples as our template for a picking pattern.
Regardless of which pattern (original, simplified or “even simpler simplified”) you choose to use, you want to take time and get comfortable with it. This basic pattern is used pretty much through all the “verse” parts of the song. The first three chords, D, G7/D and E/D, all employ the same exact pattern. That’s why the slash chords are used in the first place.
You may recall from Eleanor Rigby or other lessons here at Guitar Noise, that a slash chord is simply a chord using a different note as its bass (or lowest) note. When a guitar is in standard tuning, the lowest D note you can get is the open D (fourth) string. So the picking for the G7/D and the E/D both use only the four top strings of your guitar.
And it gets even better! G7 is one of those chords requiring, for most people anyway, a big stretch when you’re playing all six strings. But if you’re only playing it on the four high strings, it becomes a one-finger chord! All you’ll need is a finger on the first fret of the high E (first) string.
Better still, let’s tackle the E/D with a little bit of magic known as music theory. Since E is a full step from D and since every fret of the guitar is a half-step, then we can figure that any E note is two frets higher than any D note. That makes sense because we know that E can be found at the second fret of the D string as well as at the fifth fret of the B string (that’s how some of us tune our high E strings).
Well, it’s not that great of a leap to realize that what works for notes will also work for chords provided no open strings are involved in the chord. And since the open D note of the D chord is also going to be the bass note for our E/D chord, why don’t we just shove the D chord up two frets and use the same picking pattern we’ve been using? Well, try it out yourself and see:
The only other chord that’s left in the verse section is A7. There are many, many ways of playing this, but using this particular voicing of A7 works nicely because you get the G note on the high E string:
Most people find the easiest way to play this is to lay your index finger in a “mini-barre” across four strings at the second fret and then use one of your other fingers to get that G note at the third fret of the first string. You might also see that, since we’re using the same picking pattern from our other chords (except for the use of the open A string as our bass note on the first beat), that you can just barre three strings. But it’s a good thing to get across all four so that, should you happen to play the wrong string, it will still sound fine because all the notes are part of the A7 chord.
We can also get a little fancy here, adding a more interesting, not to mention melodic, line to the A7 as well as switching from D to Dadd9 (which some texts will call “Dsus2”) at the very end of the verse, like this:
This isn’t anywhere near as complicated as you might think on hearing it for the first time.
The second verse is pretty much a repeat of the first verse, but at the very end we want to from D to D7. We can do this very easily while using the “optional” ending we saw in Example 4:
But another option is to use these last measures of D and D7 in the second verse as a chance to switch from picking to strumming. In the chorus sections on the original recording, the guitar mostly plays arpeggios and the occasional broken chord, but there’s also a whole band making a lot of sound in the background. Since we’re working on a single-guitar arrangement, it’s not a bad idea to give the chorus section a different feel, and since the overall effect we’re looking for is “more” – more intense, more involved (louder, in other words) – changing from picking to strumming will help create the feel we’re looking for.
It doesn’t even have to involve that much strumming. Here’s an idea to help us switch over:
In this particular pattern, we’re using a measure of D played in two half notes. Nice lazy downstrokes. We follow that up with a simple arpeggio that starts with playing a regular old D chord, but also adding our pinky to the third fret of the high E (first string) and then performing a pull-off to get the F# note at the second fret of that string. We then play the B string, where our ring finger is already on the third fret and finally remove our middle finger from the high E (first) string to get the open E string to sound during the last three notes of the measure. This is a typical flourish one might play with a D chord and, with a little practice, will probably be something you find yourself doing without conscious thought before too long.
Even though we’re strumming the chords of the chorus, we probably still want a lot of space in our strumming pattern. How about we try something like this:
We’ll keep this up until the very end of the chorus, ending with a single strum of G on the word “moon.” And, to ease us back into doing some more picking, we’ll stay with single strums of the Bm7, Em7 and A7 chords, like this:
And that’s pretty much all there is to Brain Damage. After the first chorus, you go begin the third verse, which starts out exactly like the two earlier verses. But there’s a slight “hiccup,” if you will in the chord progression. Up through the line “…you rearrange me “˜til I’m sane…” everything stays the same and you find yourself going through two measures of D here. But in the next line (“…you lock the door…”) you want to go back to the D to E/D to A7 part of the verse once again before finishing with D and D7, and that takes you back to the final chorus.
After this last playing of the chorus, Brain Damage closes with an instrumental run through the third verse, complete with the two passes of the D to E/A to A7 progression, ending with two measures of D as we played in Example 4.
And this leads us directly to Eclipse. The first important thing to know about this song is that it’s in 3 / 4 time, as opposed to the 4 / 4 timing of Brain Damage. So right away you have to be acutely aware that when you begin the introduction that you want to pay attention to your counting. It’s not that hard of a switch if you’re ready for it.
At its heart, Eclipse is simply four chords repeated over and over again. Or five or six chords, depending on how you choose to look at it. The many layers of guitar parts are essentially arpeggios playing over each other, with a bit of a more traditional “lead” part coming in at the third sung stanza.
If you listen closely to the original recording, you’ll also hear that none of the guitar parts are played identically throughout. There are little changes in the strings played or in the order of notes on the arpeggios – even to the point where extra notes and occasional double stops can be heard. So what’s a person to do?
The answer to that is simple – play around and experiment. See what you like and what you don’t like. Here’s a template that you can use to get you started:
There are all sorts of possibilities open to you. One of my reasons for using this one is that I’m actually only playing four of the six chords listed. If you’ll look carefully, the notes I’m playing for the Bbmaj7 can use the same fingering as the Bbmaj7(b5). Likewise, on the A I can use the fingering for A7 to play this particular arpeggio. In fact, on the original recording it often uses only the A7 chord for both measures.
You should mess around with this progression and find out what you like and what works for your hands. There is no one right way to play it, as obvious in the original recording. I know that this is something I tend to harp on in all our lessons, but in this age of cut-and-paste digital performance, it never can be said enough.
This progression of chords runs through to the end of the song, where you go directly from the Bbmaj7(b5) to a resounding D chord for a finale. So here’s our complete cheat sheet for Eclipse:
I hope that you’ve had fun with this lesson and maybe have had a few of those “slap yourself on the forehead” moments! Whether you’ve been learning the guitar for a few weeks, months or most of your life, there’s nothing like the feeling when you start a song and someone recognizes what you’re playing. It’s a feeling that certainly makes you want to go out and learn some more! Not to mention play some more.
Until our next lesson…