I’d like to start out this lesson by dispelling some rumors. Or perhaps create a few more, who knows? Anyway, first off, I’ve not died or stopped writing lessons for Guitar Noise. This lesson you’re now reading should be proof of that. And no, I haven’t been chained to some desk while working on the various magazine and book assignments. If that were true I’d have a hard time teaching all my private students…
Secondly, I do know some songs that were written this century. No lie!
Coldplay is one band I’ve enjoyed since I heard Yellow early one morning at my desk at the ad agency. It was a catchy yet quirky song and that listening to it led me to buying the album Parachutes. Several Coldplay albums later (and you should definitely give their latest release, X and Y a listen), I still find myself enjoying their songs.
So I’ve picked two to use as lessons here at Guitar Noise. Hopefully some time in the next few weeks, I’ll be posting Don’t Panic over on the Songs for Intermediates page and, in the meantime, we’ve got the mysterious and moody God Put A Smile Upon Your Face here on our Easy Songs for Beginners lessons. Which brings us to the usual disclaimer:
These files are the author’s own work and represent his interpretation of this song. They are intended solely for private study, scholarship or research.
Truth be told, I’ve probably spent way too much time wondering which song to put onto which lesson page. Both are pretty easy and both can teach us some fun things. As songwriters, the members of Coldplay use some very interesting tunings and chord voicings and that in itself makes the songs fun to learn. Since God… is such a snap to play (once you’ve learned the tuning and strumming), I’ve decided to put it here with the “easy beginners” songs. But be forewarned! If you’re simply going to go straight to the MP3s and not read any of the lesson text, you’re going to miss out on some very important material. Not to mention all the great entertainment…
I should mention here that I’m basing this lesson on Coldplay’s Live 2003 CD and not the original version from their album, A Rush Of Blood To The Head. The two versions are very similar and you won’t have anyone screaming at you that you don’t know the song if you go with one over the other.
As noted earlier, Coldplay often makes use of various alternate tunings. On God Put A Smile Upon Your Face, the rhythm guitars (I believe there are two in the original mix) use an open C# tuning. If you’ve read some of our articles on open and alternate tuning here at Guitar Noise, you know that an “open” tuning means that when you strum all six strings of the guitar, you get the chord of the same name of the tuning. That sounds kind of convoluted, doesn’t it? All it means is that when we’ve tuned our guitars to open C# tuning, we’ll get a C# major chord when we strum the open strings.
But don’t go running to your tuners and start changing all your strings around! Not just yet, anyway. We need to take a minute to talk and to think about what exactly we’re going to do.
Let’s first look at our standard tuning and compare it to the tuning we’ll be using on this song:
Now I don’t know about you, but this tuning scares me silly! The idea of tuning my D up to F (or “E#,” since we’re in the key of C# major) conjures up images of busted strings (if I’m really lucky) and cracked saddles (if I’m not so lucky). And that’s without the added strain of tuning up the A and B strings a whole step higher.
What do I do? I could try another open tuning, but I won’t get the particular voicings that make this song sound so cool (is it only me or does anyone else hear traces of Roxy Music’s Out Of The Blue?). I could just pull out my baritone guitar and not worry about it at all, but then what would be the point of writing this lesson? And what about all of you without baritone (or seven string) guitars? So I do the thing I do best – think! And use some easy music theory to help me out. And, of course, and of course you’re just waiting for this, I grab my trusty capo.
To get this particular open C# tuning, I’m tuning up a lot of strings. Let’s see if we can lower our tuning even more and use a capo to bring us back up to C#. How about if I go with open B:
This will make my guitar a whole lot happier! Tuning both E strings down to B will initially sound a little muddy, but then I’ll put my capo on the second fret of the guitar and everything will be back in open C# tuning.
It’s important to note that this is a little involved. But, simply retuning your guitar without thinking about what you’re doing can have dire consequences. I image that you, like me and not like the member of Coldplay, can’t go running out and getting a new guitar each time you bust an old one. And if you can, please write me so we can discuss some charity work…
Seriously, taking a little time to analyze a tuning can only help you (and your faithful guitar) in the long run. And now let’s get to playing our featured song!
Structurally, God Put A Smile Upon Your Face is very simple. There is a “verse section” of four measures that are repeated four times (this section also serves as the song’s intro as well as an “instrumental buffer” between the verses) and a “bridge” section, again of four measures that get played four times.
And here’s the ridiculously easy part – even though we’re playing this song in the key of C# Major (not the friendliest of keys for any instrument, let alone guitar!) and even though we’ll be seeing chords like C#, E6, D#7(add4) and F#add9, we’re only going to use one chord shape for the entire song! No lie! And this is why I chose this song for the “Beginners” section.
But before we get to the chords, let’s get the basic strumming down. Here is our basic “verse” rhythm pattern, done with the open C# chord:
As with any strumming pattern, you should experiment with your strokes. You can do this as all down strokes since the song is at a medium pace. I find that I tend to use the strokes I’ve indicated in the notation, although from time to time I catch myself doing an upstroke on the last chord of the measure. When I do that, I tend to play it more like this:
If there’s a trick to this at all, it’s in trying to separate your three bass strings and your three treble strings a little when you strum, particularly at the end of the measure. It’s easy to fall into a “downstroke on the bass and upstroke on the treble” pattern, so take time to find what’s comfortable to you. Not to mention find what sort of sound you like.
Let’s add the rest of the verse chords and you’ll understand what I’m trying to tell you.
Now (and forgive the pun), don’t panic! Don’t look at the chord names, look at their shape. Can you play an open position A chord? Then you can do this without thinking! To get our E6, all we do is take the same fingers we use to fret a standard A chord and place them on the third fret of the fourth, fifth and sixth strings. Move the same shape down to the second fret and you’ve got D#7(add4). At the first fret you’ve created what is, essentially, a Dmaj7 chord (albeit one with an added G# note).
Some of you who have big hands and are playing this on an electric guitar may even be able to form all there chords with your thumb. No pun intended, but more power to you!
Now listen to what we do with the rhythm and with the chord voicing. Our top three strings, now tuned to C#, C# and G# create a drone which plays over and against the changing major chords on the three lower strings. This interplay gives God…its signature sound.
Pay special attention to the fourth measure of our “verse” pattern. The strumming is slightly different and we make the change from D#7 to Dmaj7 a little more interesting by making use of the open low strings.
As always, take the time to get this rhythm into your head and (more importantly) into your hands. It truly won’t take long and you’ll be happy with the results.
Once we have the “verse” section down, we can go on to the “bridge” section:
The rhythmic pattern here is not all that different from the verses. In fact, you might find yourself playing the same pattern as the verses and not noticing! That’s perfectly okay because it will sound perfectly fine. But for those of you who must do everything “by the book,” take a moment to listen to the little variations of the two patterns and you should be fine.
And the chords are still using the same “A on the bass strings” shape as the verse chords! Our Amaj7 is up at the eighth fret (remember we’re still counting the capo as “0” so that actually means the tenth fret) and the E6 (at the third fret) you already know. Simply slide that up to the fifth fret to get the F#add9.
On the MP3 you’ll hear me also use two other strumming styles for this section. “Full chord strumming,” that is, simply playing the chords and the rhythm without worrying about the actual TAB, sounds very full and contrasts nicely with the strumming we’ve set up for the verse section. Something more along the lines of arpeggios and broken chords also makes for a very pleasant change for both the player and the audience.
Another easy variation here is to use the open C# chord as a “quick change” device. This is the same technique we used way back in Three Marlenas, and using it between the Amaj7 and E6 will help to make that shift down the neck a lot easier. You can also use it to go from the F#add9 to the Amaj7 and even from the Dmaj7(addG#) at the end of the verse.
One reason for all these different types of strumming patterns is that I’ve only got my one guitar and I’m not a machine. Sometimes I like to create spaces and sometimes I like to fill them in – it truly depends on the mood. My mood, that is. When you listen to the last MP3, keep this idea in mind. You’ll hear some of the original patterns because they are great places to start, but then I’ll let the natural rhythm and strumming take over. I say “natural” because, to my ears at least, doing a specific pattern repeatedly not only sounds weird after a time but also feels strange. You should be a fly on the wall when I record these things! As we’ve mentioned in these lessons so many times, you’re the one who gets to call the shots as far as arrangements are concerned.
And that, my friends, is pretty much the whole song. At least for this lesson. Perhaps one day in the future we’ll come back and add the lead electric guitar parts, which aren’t at all that hard to do. But for now, let’s put our “verse” and “bridge” sections together and enjoy the music. The song’s tempo, according to listening to the CD anyway, is about 124 BPM but, naturally, it’s good to start at a slower pace and work your way up to it.
I hope you had fun with this lesson and that you enjoy playing around with this song. Remember that different tunings can make a song very easy to play, but you’ve got to make sure that you’re not going to be doing any lasting damage to your guitar. Think about what you do beforehand and you can almost always avoid problems.
And remember too how amazing some of these simple songs can sound when you’ve taken the time to learn their secrets. A song like God Put A Smile Upon Your Face is an easy addition to your ever-expanding repertoire of pieces and will probably put a smile on the faces of many of your listeners.
And, 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 the Guitar Forum page or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the warden’s come to take me back to my cell, so until our next lesson…