Besides being the home away from home of Paul Hackett (executive producer of Guitar Noise), Canada also brought us Neil Young. Now, you may not know it, but Neil Young is a true hero to the fledgling guitarist. His songs, I think, were written with the intent to be shared and played. They are relatively easy enough to learn quickly and still complicated enough to give you things to work on in order to hone your guitar skills. And, as bonuses, they appeal to both the electric and acoustic guitarist. They also tend to bring you attention.
My original intent was to present a group of his songs, a “pocketful of Neil” as it were, but in retrospect, I believe it’s still a good idea for this particular lesson page to maintain its focus of one song per lesson. But with today’s song, we might argue that we’re getting two for the price of one. And there are plenty of things to go over with just this one (or two) song (s). Not to worry, though — we’ll be getting a healthy dose of Neil over the course of the next year.
At this point in our Easy Songs For Beginners studies, we should have a fairly good grasp of most of the basic first position chords, a comfortable sense of strumming and rhythm and a little bit of fingerpicking and chord voicing expertise under our belts. Plus, today we’ll learn a bit about playing partial chords. Mr. Young’s job will be to help us put all this knowledge together.
When you play a Neil Young song, almost everyone knows it — even when you play it badly! His songs incorporate signature riffs or chord voicing, often both. Hey Hey starts right out with a simple riff that repeats throughout the song.
Before we go any further, let’s look at the chords we’ll need to know.
Actually, there will be one more, an Fmaj7, but we’re going to discuss this at length in the next section!
Also, before moving on, let me get some history out of the way. This song comes from Neil’s album Rust Never Sleeps. Side one of Rust is all acoustic music, while electric guitars thunder through the second side. My My Hey Hey, played on a single acoustic guitar, starts side one and Hey Hey My My brings the album to a close. As far as chord progression and song structure are concerned, these two songs are the same. Minor lyric changes (most of them simply a swapping of a word or phrase), along with drastic changes in instrumentation provide the differences between the two.
Each song consists of an opening riff and four verses (each of four lines) between which the riff is repeated. I am using the second song, Hey Hey My My, as our lesson. But essentially you are getting both songs. And I am warning you now that I may not have all the lyrics correct! So please don’t go out of your way to point out that I put a line of My My Hey Hey in Hey Hey My My or vice versa. It’s enough to give one a headache, eh?
Okay – now it’s time to have some fun. First we’ll play the signature riff:
You’ll see that I’ve marked which fingers to use on which notes. In the first
measure, play the C (3rd fret, A string) note with your ring finger (designated “r”) and the B note (2nd fret, A string) with your middle finger (“m”). I suggest here that in measure two you play the G (3rd fret, E string) note with your ring finger and the B note (2nd fret, A string) with your middle finger. But this is solely based on how you play a normal first position G chord. The fingers you use should be those you use on the fifth and sixth strings when playing the G. If you play the G as I do, namely with the middle finger on the E string and the index finger on the A string, then you will want to use those fingers.
I also took the liberty of counting out the timing for you in terms of eighth notes or half-beats. This is very important. Mr. Young, in the tradition of rockers everywhere, ends his riff on the second half of the fourth beat, creating what we call an “anticipation.” We’ve run into this before in some of our lessons (and some of the bass lessons as well). As we learned in all our previous lessons, always take your time to get the timing down correctly.
And I also wrote out a suggestion as far as which types of strokes to use. In Hey Hey, you will find smoother going if you use a bit of alternate picking from time to time. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, alternate picking is pretty much what you’d think it might be – you alternate downstrokes (“D”) and upstrokes (“U”) one after the other. The great thing about alternate picking is that it pretty much forces you to stay close to a single string instead of letting your hand wander off to who-knows-where.
I designed this lesson as I do most of our beginners’ songs – to be performed by a single guitar. This means that you are going to have to fill in some gaps, playing both chords and the riff. But don’t worry — it’s nowhere near as difficult as you might think! The riff starts with the bass note of the chord played on the first beat. We will let this ring and proceed to strum the rest of the chord (the first four strings only) with a downstroke on the second beat, like so:
When you play just some of the strings of a chord it’s called a partial chord. Lord knows why and let’s leave it at that because I rant enough about things as it is. Remember that the guitar has a lot of resonance; you don’t have to constantly bang away at it to get your notes. A little finesse can go a long way. We’ll be using this in other parts of this song.
The main thing to watch out for here is the timing between the riff and the strumming of the chord. The chord will always come on the second beat, and remember that you have a group of downstrokes in a row!
Notice that, after making a big to-do about the Am being played as a partial chord, I wrote out a G chord that’s fully strummed across all six strings. My reason for doing this is to get all my fingers into place for the riff. Feel free to play it as a partial chord should you so desire.
This riff, played with the chords, is essentially the hook of the song. But
in order to keep it from getting too boring, Neil occasionally uses a variation on this riff. He will keep the Am section the same but change the notes he uses during the second measure. This is one of the many ways he plays that:
In today’s transcription of the song, I alternate these riffs in the intro
and during the first two lines of the verses. Again, feel free to play whatever your heart desires. And I also want to point out once more that in this variation of the riff, the fingering during the second measure should be based on however you form your G chord.
Now, the riff actually ends up with an A note on the open A string followed by:
The “F” Chord
I absolutely detested F chords when I started playing guitar. I found them hard to play and muddy sounding and they hurt my fingers a lot! But, oddly enough, the F chord also led me to the use of partial chords and, more importantly, chord substitutions.
Normally, when you see the F on a chord chart it looks like either of these:
The first F is a total barre chord. The best way to make it is to first play an E chord, but do so while leaving your index finger free – put your middle finger on the 1st fret of the G string, pinky (“p”) on the 2nd fret of the D and the ring finger on the 2nd fret of the A.
Now, slide the entire chord up on fret and lay your index finger across all the strings on the first fret. When you do this with your finger, it is called a barre. That’s where the term “barre chord” comes from. When you lay your fingers across some of the strings, it is called a partial or half barre, depending on how many strings you are covering.
The second method is the way most beginners are taught and, truth be told, it’s not much easier. To me, the best way to play this is to first set up your ring and middle fingers and then lay the tip of your index finger across the first two strings.
It takes time and practice to make this chord. And you should, if you want to play well, make every effort to put in that time. But while you’re doing that, let me also introduce you to some alternatives that can sound just as well.
First off, let’s review a little theory (you didn’t think I could get through a lesson without trying to teach you something, did you?). We know from reading past columns like The Power of Three that an F major chord consists of the notes F, A and C. Let’s look again at the full F barre chord and isolate that triad, shall we?
Can you see that the three notes we need are conveniently together in the middle of the guitar? We can find them grouped on either the 2nd, 3rd and 4th strings (as indicated in the “Necessary Notes” part) or the 3rd, 4th and 5th would suit our purpose as well. What does that mean to us?
Well, for starters, it means that if we play only some of the strings of the “full” F chord, we still get a full F chord, in that it will have all three of the necessary notes. This is why the term “partial chord” and I don’t get along, by the way!
Now let me reintroduce you to the Fmaj7 chord, which we first encountered in the lesson House Of The Rising Sun. In a lot of songs, especially those in the key of A minor, Fmaj7 is a perfectly acceptable substitution for an F chord. Not only that, but take a look at these fingerings:
The first version is very easy to play (especially when going from a C chord). The second version you get by starting out the same way as you did to get the full barre F. Make an E chord (without using your index finger) and slide it up a fret. Now, grasp the first fret with both your thumb (“T”) on the low E (6th) string and your index finger on the B string. Many people find when they “grab” the chord this way they end up getting all the strings they would by barring. But the point of the matter is that when you use this form, virtually any way you strike the guitar will result in getting a full F chord. If you concentrate on striking the lower (3rd through 6th) strings, you will find that there is not all that much difference in the sound between this and a full barre F.
Finally, I’ve also thrown in an alternate voicing for the Fmaj7- simply an A-shaped chord played on the tenth fret (if you will, play a “normal” first position A on the second fret and slide all your fingers up to the tenth fret). I like to use this when I play this song on the electric guitar because it gives more of a punch to the treble notes.
The only thing to cover now is the strumming. Because the riff occupies so much of the song, you really only have to watch out for the two measures of Fmaj7 ( F, if you prefer) at the end of each riff and the four measures that comprise the third line of each verse. I’ve chosen a very simple pattern that will fit both. Here’s how it works on the riff portions:
It’s done with downstrokes on the first three beats and an upstroke on the last half of the fourth beat. Remember though, that sometimes the first beat is actually a carryover from the anticipation. As I did with the riff, I let the bass note ring out while playing partial chords on the top four strings. The thing that looks like a spastic checkmark, by the way, is an eighth note rest. It means to not play for a half a beat.
The third line of the verses follows this pattern rhythmically, but uses two single notes of the chord for each of the first two beats. This breaks up the sound of the rhythm pattern without us actually losing it:
To make things even more interesting, I’ve included an “alternate” way to play the last two measures. Here, we simply remove our Am chord from the guitar and strike the open B, G and D strings. This gives us a G chord, creating a dramatic stepping down from Am to G to F. But it also does something more important – it gives us a chance to totally free our fretting hand to set up the F or Fmaj7 chord! Pretty sneaky, huh?
So, are you ready for the completed transcription? Here you are:
I hope you’ve enjoyed this lesson and also that you all had (and continue to have) a great summer. 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 Forums or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you want to learn more about timing and how to read music, the long awaited “part 2” of A Guide To Reading Musical Notation should be online in a few weeks.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a virtual ton of emails that await replies!
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.