A good guitarist varies his or her picking style to fit the music at hand. This simple and fun arrangement of “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)” will help demonstrate the concept of “convenience picking” and give you a lot of practice improving your flatpicking skills.
I should also mention at this point, though, you can easily fingerpick this song using the same concepts. As you’ll learn, convenience picking shares a lot in common with fingerstyle playing so you’ll be good with this song regardless of whether you choose to play using either a pick or your fingers.
“Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” was a long time coming as a recorded song. Although Billie Joe Armstrong wrote in in 1990, he didn’t bring it up to the rest of Green Day until 1993, while they were putting together material for their breakout major label release, Dookie. No one really knew what to do with the song, though, as it didn’t really mesh with tunes like “Basket Case,” ”Welcome to Paradise” or “When I Come Around.”
Four years later when Green Day was determined to make Nimrod a serious step-forward in terms of focusing on creating good songs, “Good Riddance” was one of the thirty songs recorded for consideration on the album. Producer Rob Cavallo suggested adding strings and the rest, as they say, is history. The song got as high as #2 on both Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks and the Australian Singles Chart.
To make matters more interesting, we’ll be running some Guitar Noise Podcasts in a few weeks expanding on the potential playing possibilities of “Good Riddance,” giving you a chance to explore playing in a combination of strumming and single-note cross picking.
For right now, though, we’re going to focus on the basics in order to get a good grasp of how to play this song. The structure of “Good Riddance” is essentially a set of three verses. Each verse consists of six lines:
- The first two lines are two measures of G followed by a measure of C and one of D. This progression is also used as an introduction as well as an interlude between each verse.
- The second two lines are one measure each of Em, D, C and G
- The third line is four measures which alternate between Em and G
- The last line is one measure of Em and one of D and then a repeat of the first two lines serving as an interlude between verses.
We’re going to examine each of these in turn, but first let’s have a short discussion on picking. Beginners, especially those learning on their own without a teacher, tend to start out by picking in one direction only, that being downstrokes. Later in their musical growth they will learn about alternate picking, where one alternates each stroke of the pick in opposite directions, a downstroke followed by an upstroke followed by a downstroke and so on. Both techniques have their merits and their own places in playing and are essential to know.
But there’s another picking technique that you definitely want to learn (assuming you don’t already know it) if you want to become a better guitarist. It’s called “convenience picking” although some people also call it “economic picking” or even “directional picking.”
Personally, I think of it as “swim meet picking.” When someone participates in a swim meet, he or she heads off in one direction until he or she is just about to run into the wall on the other side of the pool. Does the swimmer stop and then turn around and head back? Of course not! Instead, before hitting the wall, the swimmer ducks under and reverses direction in order to smoothly be heading back where he or she came from.
It’s the same thing with picking, only the “wall,” if you will, is not necessarily in a fixed place. The essence to convenience picking is to be constantly picking in the direction of the next string you want to strike. Let’s take a look at just the G chord segment (the first two measures) of the first line of “Good Riddance” to see both how this is done and why its such a valuable technique to learn:
In this example I have not included any directional notation. But do yourself a favor and try it out first playing every note with a downstroke and see how it goes. Even if you’re used to playing nothing but downstrokes, you’re likely to have some difficulties playing this passage smoothly with any kind of speed.
Things get a little more jumbled with alternate picking. Here is the last example but notated with picking symbols. If you’re not familiar with the symbols for downstrokes and upstrokes (downstrokes look like croquet wickets or staples while upstokes look like upper case “V”s) I’ve also marked each note with either a “D” for “Down” and a “U” for “Up,” just to be helpful!
One can certainly pick this in the way that it’s notated but, truth be told, it is more than a bit awkward, only because of the second note of the open D string and the third note, being the D at the third fret of the B string. It would be a lot smarter to make that second note a downstroke, which would keep your pick heading in the direction of the B string where the third note will be played. Likewise, it would make perfect sense to play the third note as an upstroke since the fourth note is going to be the open G string. The directional strokes for the last three notes are perfect as is. So let’s try that:
Most players find this method to feel the most comfortable when playing and, again, it’s simply because you’re picking with the flow, so to speak – keeping the pick moving in the direction of the next string it will strike.
As a technique, convenience picking is usually a player can, pardon the pun, pick up very quickly with a little practice. If you’re already used to playing fingerstyle, the logic of convenience picking makes a lot of sense. The downstrokes would be played with the thumb while the fingers would provide the upstrokes. In this case you’d probably want to use your middle finger to pick the D note at the third fret of the B string and the index finger to pluck the open G string.
Just one more note before we more onward – because the notes played here are just G and D, a lot of transcribers will assign a “G5″ chord to this instead of a full G chord, which consists of the notes G, B and D. Either will work as the overall harmony implies a G major chord if for no other reason than the missing B note is sung as the first two notes of the melody.
Likewise, you’ll also see transcriptions saying “Csus2″ and “D5″ where I’m going to use “Cadd9″ and “D.” Again, if you listen to all the other parts of the song besides just the guitar part, this will make sense.
So let’s move on to the entire first line, which is two measure of G, plus one of Cadd9 and one of D, like this:
And now we come to the “good news / bad news” segment of our lesson! The good news should be obvious – the picking pattern you’ve learned is going to essentially be the same throughout the entire song. You’ll pick the chord’s root note and then either the D string or G string (depending on the chord), both on a downstroke, and then the D note (third fret of the B string) and the G string on an upstroke, the D string on a downstroke and end with an upstroke of the G string. Again, with a bit of practice this will become habit very quickly.
The bad news may not be evident yet so let me give it to you now – you’re going to have your ring finger on that D note at the third fret of the G string the entire song! If you haven’t done this before, you’re in for a workout, but it is a great way for the ring finger to build stamina. Using the pinky all the way through works, too.
When playing this, you might find it wise to fret the B note (second fret of the A string) when playing the G chord. In other words, have your ring finger on the third fret of the B string, your index finger on the second fret of the A string and your middle finger on the third fret of the low E (sixth) string. Why? Two basic reasons – first, you’re likely to welcome the familiarity of the G chord and then when you change from G to Cadd9 in the third measure it’s just a matter of keeping the ring finger in place on the third fret of the B string while shifting your first two fingers one string closer to the floor. Your index finger will end up on the second fret of the D string and your middle finger will be on the third fret of the A string. That’s a very easy change.
The other reason is that you may accidentally hit the A string while you’re working out the picking and having your finger on the B note at the second fret, which is part of the G chord, won’t sound nearly as badly as hitting the open A string, which is not.
To change from the Cadd9 to the D you lift your middle finger off the strings (but not too far!) and shift your first finger to the second fret of the G string.
Again, with a little bit of concentrated practice, you should find yourself picking this up fairly quickly and easily. Take your time and work on being accurate instead of worrying about being speedy. Speed will come with repetition but if you’re repeatedly missing the notes who’s going to care how fast you play it?
Once you’ve got this first line down, you’ve got more than a third of the song in hand. Let’s more on to the next set of lines, which go from Em to D to C to G. Since we’re keeping a finger on the D note at the third fret of the B string we’re technically playing Em7. And here I’m deliberately playing something different from the original recording. We’ll go into the why in a moment. First let’s look at the line in question:
In the original recording, Billie Joy Armstrong starts out the measure of Em (or Em7 if you will) with a strike of the open low E (sixth) string. We’re using the E an octave higher – at the second fret of the D string. There are two reasons for this – first to create a nice descending bass line for this section of the song, going from the E note at the second fret of the D string to the note of the open D string (for the D chord) to the C note at the third fret of the A string (for the Cadd9 chord) before hitting the G on the third fret of the low E. Doing so gives these two lines a different feel from the rest of the arrangement (which is a welcome treat to the ears!) while still maintaining the same picking pattern. The second reason is that when we get to the next section we’ll be using that open low E string a lot:
Here, and again keeping to the same picking pattern you’ve used throughout the song, you’ll play Em, G, Em and G again and finally Em to D before going right back into the chord progression of the first two lines. Aside from getting used to the two different versions of Em (in and of itself a great reason to use this arrangement – one can always use the practice in switching from one set of strings to another. That’s how we get better after all!), you will find yourself breezing through both these sections with just a little bit of effort.
And now you’re ready to put the whole thing together:
As mentioned, I’m hoping to put together a Guitar Noise Podcast or two demonstrating more ways of playing around with this song. In order to make the most of those, it’s best to have a good feeling for the basics that you learned in this lesson’s arrangement.
And I hope that you’ve enjoyed this version of “Time of Your Life (Good Riddance).” It’s a great way to get started on some basic convenience picking and that will be incredibly helpful to you as you continue to grow and progress as both a guiitarist and a musician.
As always, feel free to post any and all questions, comments and suggestions either right here or on our Forum Pages (we’ve got one dedicated specifically to Guitar Noise Song Lessons, by the bye!) or email me directly at email@example.com
And, again as always, until our next lesson,