For the most part, simply playing a song doesn’t involve a lot of work. You learn the chords, figure out a way to strum them, add (or don’t add) an occasional fill and off you go!
But even the simplest of songs can be made more interesting by spending a little thought and effort in arranging it. Conversely, a song that seems too hard to play can be made to sound perfectly suited for the single guitar. It doesn’t always work out that way, but more often than not it will. Also, even if you ultimately decide that you don’t like the arrangement you’ve come up with, you can learn a lot just by trying.
Today we’re going to look at an old REM song, Driver Eight, and come up with an arrangement that you’ll (hopefully) find both fun and easy to play. Oh yes, I suppose we’ll also have to learn a few things… How about incorporating a riff into the strumming and just generally switching our strumming around with different patterns for different parts of a song? Are you okay with that?
In terms of structure, Driver Eight is very formulaic. There’s an intro, then a verse, a chorus, a second verse and chorus, a bridge, a short instrumental break (which is a repeat of the intro) and then a final verse and chorus. The last chorus is slightly different than the others in that its length is expanded a bit. Let’s set to breaking it down, shall we?
The intro and the verses use the same chord progression and the short instrumental, as mentioned earlier, is actually a replay of the intro, so you can get most of the song into your head very quickly. Here are the chords to these sections, as well as a basic strumming pattern to use as a template:
Let’s take a quick moment and note the third and fourth chords. When I first tried figuring this out (many years ago), I thought that the progression was Em, Am, G and Dsus4. I came to this conclusion by listening to the bass line which at that point was descending from G to F# to E for the Em at the start of the next phrase. Since I could also hear the G on the high E (first) string, I thought this was a reasonable guess.
Subsequent listenings led me to change my thinking to the chords I have here. The difference between the G/F# and the Dsus4/F$ is subtle, but I think it helps make the progression more interesting to listen to than the one I initially had.
For this strumming pattern, no matter which chord we’re playing, you hit bass note, which will be either on the low E (sixth) string or the A string and follow that with a stroke of the G string and then the D. We then finish up the measure with three upstrokes of the chord.
By now, it should go without saying that these strumming “patterns” (or any strumming patterns, for that matter) are merely suggestions. You can decide to strum straight chords throughout or do arpeggios or whatever. But whatever pattern you choose to use, it’s going to be vitally important to have the feel for the rhythm of this portion of the song down pat. So take however much time you need to do that before moving on. Whenever you’re ready, we’ll move on and tackle the intro.
The Introduction / Instrumental Break
While the chord progression for these parts of Driver Eight is the same as those in the verses, there’s something totally different going on. On the recording, you can hear the electric guitar come through with what we’ll call the “signature riff.” It looks and sounds like this:
Our problem with this riff is not in playing it – I’m sure you all can do that very well with a minimum of practice. We start out with a simple run of notes in the G major scale – beginning with the open E on the sixth string and ending with the C on the third fret of the A string. This takes up the first two measures, which are when we’d be strumming the Em and Am chords. The last two measures consist of a descending series of notes in the G major scale, alternating with the open G string (that old pedal point thing yet again!). Big bonus points if you recognize this as example #3A from the America lesson. You’ll find this technique used in a lot of songs. If you used an F (third fret of the D string) instead of the F#, you’d think you were playing Last Train to Clarksville.
Anyway, as I mentioned, playing the riff itself shouldn’t present much of a problem. But going from strumming into a string of single notes is going to sound pretty thin. We came across something like this in our lesson on Like a Hurricane. What we want to do is to add some depth to our riff, and we have to do it ourselves, since there’s no one else in the band!
Because this riff is a lot busier than the melody of Hurricane, we have to think a minute. Obviously, what we did with the Neil Young song won’t work as well here. For starters, this riff takes place in the bass and mid-range of our guitar, so it might get lost in the background if we tried a straight-chord approach.
The thing to do is to look again at the riff and fill in the space as it allows us to. What do I mean by that? Well, logic dictates that the fourth measure, as well as the last half of the first measure, will be hard to add to since they are already filled up with eighth notes. But the first half of the first measure is a single half note. That’s two beats of space. Likewise, the second and third measures have a lot of breathing room. This is where we’ll flesh things out:
Do I have to tell you to start slowly with this? I hope not! In the first measure, we’re simply going to add two eighth notes (down and then upstroke) of the Em chord. Then we continue with the rest of the riff until we reach the second measure. Here, we’ll switch to arpeggio strumming. The first set of three eighth notes is from your Am chord. The second set of three, as well as the final set of two, are the notes of the riff accompanied by some open string playing. Using the full Em chord and the open strings in measure two give us some ringing, resonating notes which will fill out the sound. We still will hear the riff very clearly, particularly since, for the most part, we’re accenting it with downstrokes.
I’m not even bothering to fret a chord in the last two measures. Our open G and B strings pretty much shout out “Hey! G major chord here!” without our help. For good measure, I add the open B string to the pedal point in the final bar of the intro.
Once you feel you have the intro under control, practice going from the intro to the strumming pattern of the verses. This will happen twice in the song: at the beginning (obviously!) and again between the bridge and the final verse. Sometimes when I play this I will start with the strumming the chords of the verse, maybe two lines, as the intro and then go into the riff before coming back to the verse with the singing.
Driver Eight’s chorus gives us a chance to play around with the rhythm pattern even more. The majority of the chorus is a measure of D alternating with a measure of C. I tend to play it like this:
In the first measure, let’s use a very simple technique that carries a surprising amount of punch. We’re going to put our emphasis on the second beat! Play the open D string and then cut it short (you’re creating a rest of about an eighth note in duration) and then come crashing down with a full chord (downstroke) on the second beat. We’ll follow this up with three eighth notes (up, down, up) to complete the measure. This will work very well with the lyrics of the chorus and create some dynamic tension in your arrangement.
We’ll then switch to arpeggio and broken chord strumming for the measure of C. To make it even more interesting, I’m using the Cadd9 chord instead of our regular C. This voicing adds some dissonance (but of the pleasant kind!) to the proceedings.
For the end of the chorus, I’m going to reintroduce to a chord I’ve only used in one other song, Horse With No Name. It’s one of those “guitar-centric” chords that are easy to finger on the guitar and sound perfectly fine but are simply just a means of “passing” from one chord to another. Most other musicians would think of it as a passing tone. Technically, you could call it E7sus4/F#, or D11/F# or even D6 9 /F# or something equally outrageous (which is why we just called it “F#m” in our first beginner’s lesson). But for the sake of this song we’re going with just D11/F# for the sake of simplicity. I should go back and just call it the “horse chord” but this software won’t let me do that!
Anyway, this is probably the trickiest part of the song. What we want to do is to recreate the guitar riff on the recording without sacrificing any of the momentum of our strumming. I’ve seen a lot of different TABs for this particular part of Driver Eight and, as always, please feel free to go with whatever one pleases your ears most.
This particular strumming works for me. By using chord shapes as the basis for this riff (instead of arpeggios, as most TABs use), I can have a pulsing, driving riff on my single acoustic guitar without losing any steam. Yes, I know… “no pun intended!”
I find that a strict alternating picking pattern works well here. Another thing that plays well, for me anyway, is not hitting the high E (first string) in this sequence. Keeping things low and rumble-y adds to our whole “train” atmosphere.
It’s important to note here that the last chorus of this song differs from the first two in that there are more alternating measures of D and C. This section is twice as long in the third chorus, so please do remember that when you get there!
In the bridge, I have thrown together almost all the strumming techniques we’ve used in our arrangement so far. Since each chord (Am, C, G and D) is played for two measures, I’ve created a kind of rhythmic “call and response” sort of thing:
Our “call” (the first measure of each chord change) is identical, rhythmically, to the D measures of the chorus. What can I say? I liked it so much that I had to use it again! And again and again and again!
The “responses” change with each chord. In the second measure of Am, we bring back an echo of the introduction with the walking bass line from the open A string leading to the C that starts measure three. This is strict arpeggio picking and, again, I find that straight alternating picking works very efficiently.
Our second response, in the second measure of C, probably requires the most attention. What I have here is a fairly standard fill, but you’re going to want to pay attention to the hammer-ons that act as grace notes before the second, third and fourth beats of the measure. I play these all with the middle finger of my fretting hand, moving it from the D string to the G string and then back again. If you keep the rest of your hand in the C chord shape (index finger on the first fret of the B string and ring finger on the third fret of the A), you’ll find that even if you mess up, you’ll only hit another note of the C chord. So it’s highly unlikely that anyone besides you will even notice that you’ve goofed!
For the G chord, I choose to slightly change the rhythm from the straight eighth notes we’ve been playing. But not all that much! We start with an arpeggio of three eighth notes, and then play a quarter note on the open B string and then three more eighth notes to round out the measure. It’s a subtle difference, to be sure, but your ears will definitely catch it. Picking, I use down, up, down for the first set of eighth notes, up on the quarter note and then up, down and up on the last set.
In the final measure, I use the time honored tradition of embellishing my D chord with the suspended fourth and suspended second. In other words, I play a regular D chord, then add my pinky to the third fret of the high E string (Dsus4), remove it (regular D again), play the D chord with an open high E (Dsus2) and then finish with a regular D again. I like to really play with the timing here as it creates a nice little “stagger” before barreling onward again. As far as the strokes, it’s down, up, up, up and down. You’ll see that I’ve included a D note (open D string) in parenthesis. I hit that sometimes in my haste to get my hand back in position for the upstroke on the Dsus2. Since it is part of the chord, it won’t stand out as a mistake.
And to prove that you don’t have to play everything letter perfect, let me give you this final MP3, which starts with the bridge and then goes into the intro (it would be the “instrumental break” at this point) and then into the verse and chorus:
If you listen carefully, you’ll find quite a few mistakes here. I don’t catch the verse strumming immediately after the instrumental break and I practically drop it outright on the end of the second time through! I miss a couple of notes here and there. The point is that when you’re playing and you’re moving along, most people aren’t going to start pointing each time you make a mistake. It happens in the blink of an eye. As far as I know, there’s only one sure way to play a song totally free of mistakes – don’t play it. And I don’t know about you, but that’s not an option open to me.
Alright, then, let me give you the chart for the complete song. It goes without saying that since this is an early REM opus I am not going to vouch for the validity of any of the lyrics! If you like yours better, by all means use them and with my blessing! By the bye, I’ve also taken the liberty of calling our Dadd6add9 by the label “F#m” simply to save space on this chart.
I hope you had fun with this lesson and have fun with this song. Being able to switch from one rhythm pattern to another, even from one measure to the next, is, like everything we do, a matter of our “three P’s.” You may not think so, but with practice and patience and perseverance, you will start to incorporate this sort of playing (and thinking!) in all the music you do. Often without being conscious of the fact that you’re doing it! One day you’ll just take it for granted that this is how you’ve always played. Write me if this doesn’t happen!
Speaking of which, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments, concerns or songs (and/or riffs and solos) you’d like to see discussed in future pieces. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums page or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until our next lesson…
“Driver 8″ is a quintessentially R.E.M. song, with ringing guitar riffs, infectious melody and evocative lyrics. The train referenced in this song is the Southern Crescent, a passenger train that traveled between New York’s Penn Station and New Orleans’ Union Station daily until 1979.