Okay, one more lesson featuring a descending walking bass line! Oh, and we’ll throw in some Travis picking and pinching), too, so we can keep those skills practiced with some regularity. And how about we also look at the whole idea of picking and chord voicings in general? Sound like fun?
One additional short note of introduction: while we’ve labeled this lesson a “Song for Intermediates,” it is certainly within the capabilities of a beginner who’s not shy of a bit of practice. Or of learning a few things! I think that covers it, so let’s get tripping down the cobblestones, if you will…
Today’s lesson is The 59th Street Bridge Song, a Paul Simon piece from back in the days of Simon and Garfunkel, probably better know to the general populace as Feelin’ Groovy. The song itself is a repeated pattern of three chords, although I’m sure we can, if you’re so inclined, spend some time arguing that there are four chords. Be that as it may, once you get a handle on it, you’ll find it actually easy and quite fun to play. We’re going to make a quick study of the structure, get the basic picking pattern in hand (and fingers) that will allow us to perform a “˜no-frills” version (which is, again, relatively easy even for beginners to play) and then add a few touches to make things a bit more interesting.
And I have to apologize in advance. When I first started preparing this lesson, I really got caught up in the “adding a few touches” stage, so much so that this lesson initially ended up being all over the place! So I’ve pared it down (quite) a bit to make things more manageable. Sorry for both my indulgence and the delay it caused in getting this lesson to you.
Let’s also take a moment to go over things we go over all the time. First, this lesson is, as are all the Guitar Noise song lessons, an arrangement of this particular song. It’s not a transcription from the actual recording. If anything, it’s taken from numerous recordings of song, from the original studio recording (off the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album) to the various live versions from albums like Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits and Concert in Central Park. And there are a few touches of my own that have developed from playing this song for a long time.
Second, not having a recording lying around the house at the time I’m writing this (all my Simon and Garfunkel CDs currently in the hands of students), you’ll have to rely on my memory a bit in terms of things like the key of the song. If I remember correctly, the original studio version is in Bb. So we’ll get out our trusty capos, put them on the third fret and play like we’re in the key of G. To make our lives easier, I’m going to write out all the notation and guitar tablature as if we’re playing the song in the key of G. But all the MP3 sound files will be played with a capo on the third fret. So, any of you who don’t read this paragraph and write me to say the MP3 files don’t match the tablature examples will end up reading this paragraph at some point as I’m very likely to copy it out of the text and email it back to you. So let’s pretend you did read it the first time and simply forgot, okay?
The Bass Line
At the heart of Feelin’ Groovy is, big surprise coming here, a simple descending walking bass line, running from C down the G major scale to G.
You want to think of this bass line as your fallback, or default, position. In other words, you really, really want to get this into your brain and your fingers. I should say your thumb, because I want you to try to only use your thumb to play this bass line. Your thumb is actually going to serve as your metronome, keeping a steady “one, two, three, four” beat going for you.
So any time you happen to get lost, remember that your thumb playing this descending bass line is the thread that goes through the entire song, over and over and over and over again. It should give you a bit of security. Remember that no matter how complicated we try to make our playing as we progress through the lesson, this is where you come back to when things get wonky.
In fact, you can play the whole song just using this bass line with a simple strumming pattern, like this:
This is probably a good time to talk about “swing eighths,” no? We’ve actually discussed this before, all the way back in our lesson on the “blues shuffle” rhythm, Before You Accuse Me.
Swing eighths, just like the blues shuffle rhythm, is based on triplets, but the middle note of each triplet is left out, leaving you with the following pattern:
Often times if you are reading this in a book, the author will write it out as a pair of eighth notes and have a remark somewhere on the page that a pair of eighth notes equals one of these triplet sets we’ve just spelled out (it is much easier than writing it out over and over (and over and over) again!).
If you want more discussion on swing eighths, not to mention audio examples (since folks seem to like a bit of an audio tutorial), then go to the Guitar Noise Podcast page and give Podcast #13, “Getting Into Swing,” a listen. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program…
Looking at our strumming pattern once more, you’ll note that we’ve got three chords, C, G and Am7. We can also say that there’s a fourth chord, “G/B,” if we want to be nitpicky or we can say that “G/B” is simply a different voicing of G so it’s essentially the same chord. Some folks seriously love to argue about these things, but for now we’re going to press ahead. The important thing is to get comfortable making the changes between these chords. The whole song, as I’ve already mentioned, just repeats this chord progression over and over, so it’s essential that you feel up to the task.
Once you have, and assuming that you’ve also gotten your descending bass line down and understand a bit about swing eighths, and if you’re willing to work (a bit) on your finger picking, you truly have everything needed to play this song. Let’s walk though our “basic Travis style” pattern step by step:
To make matters even simpler, we’re going to break this down into two mini-patterns. Each pattern will last for two beats. Our first mini-pattern will cover the first two beats of the first measure and then our second mini-pattern will hold for the rest of the way. Are you with me so far?
The first mini-pattern is incredibly easy. On the first beat, just hit the C note (third fret of the A string) with your thumb. On the second beat, hit it again while pinching the open high E (first) string with a finger. That’s all there is to it.
Our second mini-pattern, which begins on the third beat of the first measure, is slightly more involved but no less easy. We want to form a different voicing of “G/B” than we had in our earlier example. I’m also going to make a fingering suggestion that you may not like, but let’s try it anyway. Since you probably used your ring finger to get the C note at the third fret of the A string, use your middle finger to fret the B note at the second fret of the same string. At the same time, use your pinky to fret the D note at the third fret of the B string. Now pinch the A and B strings (with fingers in place) on the third beat and then strike the open G string with a finger on the second half of the third beat. Finally, follow that with another strike of the thumb on the A string (middle finger still on the second fret) for the fourth beat.
This “pinch / open G string / bass note” is the second mini-pattern. You’re going to use it again on, starting with the first beat of the second measure. This time, though, the pinch is with the open A string and the B string, where you’ve placed your index finger on the first fret to get the C note there. The final repetition of the second mini-pattern begins on the third beat of the second measure, where the pinch is performed using the third fret of the low E (sixth) string, played with either the middle or ring finger, and the open B string.
I can’t stress this enough: Take the time now to get this into your system. Once you find you’re handling things nicely, take a stab at Example 3A, which incorporates a short bass run as a “turnaround” to get us from the G back to the C that sends us through the pattern again. This ascending walking bass line might be familiar to many of you, especially since it’s taken straight from the You Are My Sunshine lesson here at Guitar Noise. It’s a classic example of how you sometimes have to tailor your bass lines to fit the timing involved to make them.
Another thing that’s very cool to notice is that if you get confident with your fingerings, you can actually play all of this only using one or two fingers at a time. You only need one finger for the C, Am7 and final G chord and two to play the G/B. That’s kind of nice!
Alright then, now that you’ve got the basic package down, you’re ready to spice things up a bit. As mentioned more times than even I care to count, Feelin’ Groovy is essentially the same pattern played over and over. And if you’re the one playing it, you don’t want to get bored. You probably don’t want your listeners to get bored either. So it’s a great idea to have some “slight variations” in hand to play when you want to mix things up a bit.
You should notice in the following examples that I’ve already made some modifications to the “basic” pattern from Examples 3 and 3A. Also, you will probably hear some variations in the MP3 sound files that may not always be reflected in the notation and tablature. Don’t panic about that. It’s just that when I’m recording (or playing for that matter) I sometimes get on automatic pilot and just do things. That’s ultimately what we want you to be able to do, too.
In the following example, we use the technique of anticipation:
“Anticipation,” in case you’ve either forgotten or simply think it’s a song about ketchup, is when we come to a chord change at a slightly different time, usually a half-bear earlier than we might think the change would happen. Here, we get to the final G chord at the second half of the second beat in the second measure instead of at the third as we’d been doing in our previous examples. This is a technique you’ll hear in a lot of music; it gives the impression that the music is speeding up when the truth is that it’s not. We’re tricking our ears. Creating rhythmic tension, if you will.
We can also take some basic guitar techniques and add them to the mix. Let’s keep working on the anticipation, but add a slide to it and then tack on the turnaround from Example 3A:
Another thing you can do, depending on how you feel about your finger-style technique, is add a few more notes to the basic Travis pattern, like this:
The thing to remember here is to keep your thumb solely focused on the bass line. Have your fingers do the work on all the other strings. Since the extra notes we’re throwing into the pattern in Examples 6 and 6A are all G notes with the open string, then you might want to dedicate that string to the index finger and use your middle finger for the high E (first) and B strings. Another option would be to use your ring finger on the high E (first) string and your middle finger on the B, again reserving your index finger for the open G.
Assuming that many of you have read some of my other song lessons, you know I’m big on chord melodies, or at least incorporating the melody line (or parts of it) into a song arrangement. And that’s certainly something we can do here:
Since there are already bits of the melody present in our basic Travis pattern, we only have to make a few adjustments in the second measure to bring out a few more. Example 7A, which you would want to use on the first and third lines of the verses, involves the use of a hammer-on (I suggest the ring finger or pinky, depending on what finger you have on the low E (sixth) string) to get the D note at the third fret of the B string.
In the second line of the verse, the melody (again, relative to the capo) ends on a swing from G to D. We get the same thing in Example 7B by covering the first and second strings at the third fret. The easiest way to do this is by using your pinky and ring fingers, while the index or middle finger plays the bass note of G at the third fret of the low E (sixth) string.
You might think that the last line of the verse (the “…feelin’ groovy…” part) might be a bit tricky as it jumps up to a B and then G note. But if we remember that we can also make G chord up the neck using a D shape (check out the Guitar Column, Moving On Up if you’re a little rusty on this) at the seventh and eighth frets, as shown in Example 7C.
And just to make matters slightly more interesting, you can use natural harmonics as well for the closing melody notes in the last line, as we do in Example 7D.
You can, of course, mix and match these variations or even create more of your own. That’s the whole point. Just because the song is a repeated pattern, it doesn’t mean that you have to be stuck repeating it. Try out things and have fun!
One last thing to point out is that the last verse has a bit of tricky melody. The second and third lines (beginning with “…I’m dappled and drowsy…”) are, for the most part, quarter note triplets. This means that you are trying to put three notes evenly into two beats. If you’re going to be singing this and playing it at the same time, it might be easier to incorporate this new rhythm into your accompaniment:
In the MP3 example, I do the whole verse to demonstrate how it all fits together. It’s a lot easier than it looks. Picture yourself as part of an “oom-pah” band and you’ll get the meter into your system very quickly. Also, it doesn’t hurt to sing along!
And speaking of singing, here’s a complete cheat sheet for you:
You may note, hopefully with not too much dismay, that I didn’t include an MP3 file of the complete song here. The whole point of this lesson is for you to try out different variations and combine them as you see fit. It’s not to copy me playing it.
And in case you’ve not caught on to that from my other lessons, let me make this as clear as possible – I want you to be your own guitarist, not my clone. Trust me, there are many, many guitar players a whole lot better than me to copy if that’s all you want to do. But I’d rather you had your own style. If I want to hear Paul Simon, I’ve got CDs. If I want to hear me, I’ll pick up the guitar and play. In these lessons, I’m here for you – to help and to suggest. You’re the one who’s going to be doing the playing.
As always, I hope that you’ve had fun with this lesson and that you come up with a great arrangement (or two or three) on your own. I look forward to hearing it!
So, until our next lesson…