Have you ever been haunted by a song? A simple song? One you know that you’ve just got to play?
“Where’s my guitar?” you say, “This should be easy”.
Yes, the song is indeed easy; but something just doesn’t sound right. No, it’s not it just doesn’t sound right. It really doesn’t sound anything at all like the recording. That doesn’t really bother me, though. What does bother me is that it just doesn’t sound good, period.
So, what do you do? Chances are that you sigh and say, “Oh well…” and move on to something else. Well, I’d like to show you today that it’s often not enough to just know chords of a song, or to know someone’s arrangement. Sometimes you’ve got to come up with a way to make things work for you. Believe it or not, you have it in you to do the job yourself.
I hope you all brought a lot of patience with you today. This is probably going to be the most involved lesson we’ve tried. It’s not much harder than the others, but there’s a lot to cover and some of it is tricky enough to explain in person, let alone trying to explain it with words and charts.
Sting wrote Fields of Gold, and most people know the original version. Many folks are also familiar with Eva Cassidy’s arrangement. It is a beautiful, simple and elegant song. I had specifically been asked to perform it for an event. So, I’d like to share with you the results of having to learn it!
If you find a TAB for this song on the internet, you’ll probably come away with a chord chart for Sting’s version, which looks something like this:
I have a few problems with this transcription. First, I don’t like the way it sounds in first position. Since I am playing by myself, I would like to have more bass notes. I’m not certain I can put it into words, but it sounds wishy-washy. Additionally, I really don’t like the way the A chord fits in the last line, or, for that matter, the D at the end of the third line.
I also have problems with Sting’s original version because it has a beautiful, lilting part immediately after the first verse. It sounds like a pipe or a reed of some sort but, for all I know, it could be synthesized. Eva uses this part as her introduction, by the way.
Sting’s version also incorporates a classical guitar playing some very fast chord arpeggios. While not hard to perform, there’s no way I can play them and sing the song at the same time.
Eva’s version (in the key of F# minor by the way), while a little more guitar friendly, showcases a voice I will never have. What I really need is an arrangement that uses the best from Sting’s and Eva’s versions, while also playing to my strengths.
This Arrangement’s Solution
I cannot sing like Sting and the last time I checked, I certainly was no Eva. So, I need my guitar to give me two things: (1) all the cover for my voice that I can get and (2) clues as to where the melody is. The key of B minor, the key of the original version, is definitely in my range, so I’d like to play it there. But how do I do this?
Most of you are already ahead of me on this one – I pull out my trusty capo and place it on the seventh fret. Why there? With a capo on at this point on the neck, a Bm is played as a first position Em chord. There is no other chord that will give me as much vocal “cover” – ringing strings and fingerings I don’t have to look at! Encouraged by this, I map out a transposition of the other chords used in this song:
Bm = Em
G = C
D = G
Where’s the A chord, you ask? Well, after playing around with the song a little in this position, I’ve decided to simply throw it away! Can I do that? Yes, because it’s my arrangement.
Will it be missed? Will people point their fingers at me and shriek like pod people?
I don’t think so. You see, I’ve been listening to the song. And I’ve come up with (yet again) two things to get me through the whole arrangement process. First, the A chord in the TAB takes place at a point where the chords are transitioning from G to D (C to G with our capo). The melody at this point is clearly descending, so why not use a walking bass line (perhaps with a harmony part?) instead of switching to a new chord? After testing this out I find I like it a lot and also end up incorporating this little technique into other parts of the song.
Speaking of parts, I’ve decided that the best way to approach this is to break up Fields of Gold into three components: the verse (most of the song), the “pipe” motif we mentioned earlier and the bridge. Toying around with the bridge, I find I like what I’ve come up with so much I don’t want to play it just once so I make it the introduction as well. That’s another great thing about doing your own arrangements.
Another bonus is that my arrangement for the verses will stand up on its own as the instrumental! Sometimes you just live right.
To teach you, though, it might be easier not to go in the exact sequence of the arrangement, but rather to take each segment on its own. This may seem strange at first, but I think you’ll understand why as we go through. Now, since you know that we’re going to be spinning around a bit, grab onto something and hold on! Here we go!
I wish I could stress this enough: it’s incredibly important to know a song’s melody. This knowledge will give you all sorts of tools and ideas on how to approach an arrangement. It’s even more important if you intend to become a good soloist.
Our job, in this arrangement, will be to follow along and to support the melody line. If we are not actually playing it, we will be giving it a harmony or, as you’ll see in the bridge, a rhythmic accent. We will fill in the natural spacing of the melody with arpeggios of chords used in the song. Knowing these chords will be very important because the chords will usually give us both melody and harmony notes. Here is what we are going to play:
As you will see, we will either come to the verse sections via the “pipe” part or another verse. Both of these sections end in an arpeggiated G major chord, so this is how we start the verse. Starting with your chord shapes puts your fingers right where you want them to be. Sticking with the chord shapes will keep your fingers where you will need them.
Let’s talk a moment about the strumming hand. It should go without saying that this is a song we will be playing finger-style. I use my thumb to play the 4th, 5th and 6th strings, and occasionally on the 3rd string as well. Generally, I would recommend using the following approach for the first three strings:
E (1st) String is played with ring finger
B (2nd) String is played with middle finger
G (3rd) String is played with index finger
But, as I will show you, there are all sorts of ways to do this. You will no doubt end up using whatever is most comfortable for you.
The finger picking pattern is essentially a constant string of eighth notes. Let the strings ring out wherever they can and, for now at least, try to keep the rhythm steady. We’ll discuss this further in the lesson.
On the pick-up beat, we are already fingering a G major chord. We will play the outer E strings (1st and 6th) in unison, first the G on the 3rd fret, then the F# on the 2nd fret (by sliding whatever fingers we have on the 3rd fret to the 2nd) and finally the open E strings. Here, both guitar and voice are playing the same notes, but in different octaves.
When we hit the open E strings, we shift to an Em7 chord, just like in the diagram. The melody at the start of measure one is a quarter note and while that rings on the open E string, we will hit the E note on the 2nd fret of the D string on the offbeat. Use your thumb for this. This rhythm, using your thumb for eighth notes on the first and third beats, is a little tricky. Since it recurs frequently throughout the song, it’s a good idea to get it down pretty well. To make it easier, try breaking the pattern down into “thumb” and “finger” parts:
Believe it or not, I do this a lot – especially when I run into a picking pattern that I am unfamiliar with. Start out with the thumb part and count it out over and over ’til you’re happy that you’ve got it. Then, either do the finger part separately and work it in with the thumb; or, if you’re pretty confident, go right into playing the two together.
If you are keeping your picking fingers in place, then you can use them as I described earlier. You really should make an honest attempt to do so. If you have to bail, let me suggest this – use just your thumb and index finger, but allow your index finger to “sweep” a little. By “sweep,” I mean to let your finger strike not only the melody string but also one or two strings beyond. For some of you, this might be a good technique; for others, it might be more work than it’s worth. You can even, if you really want to drive yourself nuts, use a combination of two fingers (index and middle, index and ring, middle and ring) to sweep the strings. Don’t ask me which is better because you know my answer: All three. Each time I’ve watched myself play this in order to write out what’s happening I catch myself doing it differently. This is how I play!
On the fourth beat of the first measure, we go back to the same melody notes that began the verse. This time, though, we’ll play them only on the 1st string and whatever open strings we happen to play, either by design or accident. Why? First, I like to let the E in the bass (open 6th string) ring out and give us some bottom. Second, leaving the string alone is letting me set up for the Cadd9 that starts measure two (sneaky, sneaky!)!
I play this Cadd9 with both my pinky (on the 3rd fret) and index finger (1st fret) on the B string. This way, when I go to the melody note on the open 1st string, I can have a true C chord ready to back it up. This is just me. You should feel free to keep your finger on the D note and let the Cadd9 ring longer, should it strike your fancy. Or mix them up from verse to verse.
It’s still important to use the first position C chord as your base, though. Keep your ring finger planted on the 3rd fret of the A string, even when you strike the open 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings on the last half of the fourth beat. Then, just hammer-on your middle and index fingers to get the C chord that starts measure three. Finish the C arpeggio and then slide those two fingers up to the 3rd and 4th frets and then back again, using the open G string as a peddle point on the offbeats. I think of this as my trusty, moveable Am7 form, on loan from my good friend Keith (see the Happy lesson). Seriously, you will find that this particular chord shape will pop up again and again in your life, often when you least expect it.
Finish off the first half of the verse with a G chord, hammering and holding the D note (3rd fret, B string), which is the melody.
Now you’re ready to repeat the process. Measures five and six are the same as measures one and two, respectively. Measure seven even starts out the same as measure three. But instead of sliding your Am7 shape up, you take it totally off to get the open string, and then hammer it back on, but on the wrong strings! You’ll finger the 3rd fret of the A string and the 2nd fret of the G string. This is a practical use of what I call inverted thirds (and others call refer to as sixths. You can call them “Fred” if you’d like), which we covered in the Beginners’ lesson Bookends.
I also want to point out that I use the same fingers on these strings that I would when playing it normally. My index finger is on the 2nd fret of the G string and my middle finger on the 3rd fret of the A. I had never noticed that until I started watching myself play it in preparation for writing this. The things one learns!
We wrap up the verse with a G chord and hold our breath for a moment. Are you ready to move on?
The “Pipe” Part
As mentioned earlier, I call this the “pipe part” because (I think) it’s supposed to evoke the image of a shepherd or someone playing a flute, or pipe, out in the fields of gold. Of course, that means that the sheep are probably eating all the grain in the field…
Again, this is a matter of taking the melody:
and then filling in the blanks, just as we did in the verse. In my version, I give the opening note of the “pipe” the last beat and a half of the end of the verse measure. In Sting’s version, it gets a full measure. It gets the same treatment in Eva Cassidy’s arrangement, where she uses it as both Intro and Outro. Here, though, we use this part either as filler between verses or as a link between the bridge and the verse, so I think that close to half a measure is fine.
While we’re letting the high G note ring out on the 1st string, we will slowly walk our bass note on the 6th string down from G to F# to open E (6th) string at the start of measure one. We are still letting the high G resonate through the first beat of measure one as we reform our fingers into a different Em7 chord, one with an open D string. As we arpeggiate the chord from the bass up, we release the G note and finger the F# (2nd fret on the 1st string), striking much of the chord on the second beat and then releasing to the open high E. You can do this with all of your fingers or just one or two, as we discussed in the verse section.
We continue to follow the melody along the B string in the last half of measure one, using the low B note (2nd fret, A string) as a pedal point. I prefer to use this note because it makes a more interesting bass line when we shift to the Cadd9 at the start of measure two.
Do you remember what I told you about forming the Cadd9 as a first position C chord and simply adding your pinky on to the 3rd fret of the B string? It’s essential to have both fingers (index and pinky) on the B string during the “pipe” section. You will be holding the D note in the melody with your pinky for three beats while you do an arpeggio of the chord with the lower strings. On the fourth beat, the melody shifts to the C note, so all you have to do is take your pinky off the 3rd fret of the B string and place it on the 3rd fret of the high E (1st) string, where the subsequent melody note is. Shift back to the G chord (with the open B string) and you’re ready to go back to the verse, or to end the song.
The bridge section is one of those eloquent things that I tend to be quietly proud of. It is essentially a simple arpeggio of our Cadd9 chord alternating with an arpeggio of a G6 chord. G6 is a regular G with the D note fretted on the B string and the high E (1st) string open. The thing that makes it tricky is also the thing that makes it interesting: the rhythm is staggered a bit. We will accent the first beat, then the offbeat between the second and third beats, and finally the fourth beat.
Here it’s definitely a good idea to work the fingers and the thumb separately:
I use my thumb on the D string, but I recommend shifting your fingers down a string, particularly if you’re cool with using all three fingers:
E (1st) String is played with pinky
B (2nd) String is played with ring finger
G (3rd) String is played with middle finger
D (4th) String is played with index finger
This is going to take some time, so be patient. While you’re practicing it, this might be a good place to tell you that I use the bridge (most of it anyway) as my intro, going directly into the “pipe” and then into the verse.
Repeat the first two measures. The fifth measure is the same as the first. And, yes, the sixth measure starts the same as the second one. On the fourth beat of measure 6 we hammer-on our old friend, Mr. Am7, but again on the A (3rd fret) and G (2nd fret) strings instead of the D and B. Then we play the open D and B, and hammer-on a proper C chord to start measure seven. This measure is the same as measure seven of the verse part. Imagine that!
But instead of resolving to the G chord as we have in the past, we use Eva Cassidy’s arrangement which employs a deceptive cadence – resolving instead to Em. We then repeat the last beat of measure six and all of measure seven and resolve to a G chord, which takes us to the “pipe.” This takes us back to the verse.
I hope that wasn’t too confusing!
Here is the truly confusing part. All of the notation/TAB I’ve given you (and the accompanying MIDI files) is in strict time. How can they not be? BUT, songs, particularly songs like this, are living things. Seriously. They breathe, they move, they feel and they make you feel. In Jamie Andreas’ recent piece, Get The Juices Flowing, she writes:
“You cannot learn to play the guitar if you are not having an emotional experience from your playing. Without your emotional involvement with your playing, the music will be like a lifeless corpse. You breathe the spirit into the music with your involvement.”
I’d like to add something to this. When you breathe into something, you “inspire” it, as opposed to respire. This is where that word comes from. This is the sort of feeling you are shooting for.
On a song like this, you’ve got to let things flow. The MIDI files you heard in the above sections are nothing more than guidelines. It’s up to you to put the soul in this. Try things – add a hammer-on here or a trill there. It’s through experimentation that you come up with your style. Knowing your style will help you and encourage you to come up with more of your own arrangements.
So, use this as a starting place and then have fun. I’d set the metronome set at 105 BPM once you feel ready to play it for real:
Fields Of Gold
Play “Pipe” and hold final G chord
I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson and playing this beautiful song. Remember to let the song carry the accompaniment and not to rush through it. Let the song breathe.
This is a song that sounds wonderful played on almost any guitar, acoustic, classical or twelve-string. Let your guitar’s tone, along with the singing, dictate your pace and phrasing.
As always, 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 one of the Guitar Forums or email me directly at email@example.com.
Until next lesson…
On February 11, 2010 we received a letter from lawyers representing the NMPA and the MPA instructing us to remove guitar tab and lyrics from this page. You can read more about their complaint here. Alternatively, you can still find this complete article with tab and lyrics archived here.