There are, literally, millions if not hundreds of millions of people who at one point in time are beginners at musical instruments, say, like the guitar. And each one learns to play in his or her own particular way. Some beginners need to be shown everything. Others will take a single basic principle and then come up with all sorts of insights on their own. In other words, what distinguishes one beginner from another is often a matter of personality rather than of the label of “beginner.”
And if you have read any of our “Easy Songs for Beginners” lessons here at Guitar Noise, you have hopefully learned (or at least strongly suspected) that we would like you to learn things besides the songs being taught in these lessons. The songs are usually, in fact, delivery vehicles for the use of music theory or various guitar techniques that you are encouraged to use in all your playing.
Liner Notes: Plain White T’s
Plain White T’s are a power pop band from Chicago. Their infectious punk-pop roots formed while the band was still playing cover songs in suburban basements. Since then they’ve played on the Warped Tour three times. They are best known for “Hey There Delilah”, an acoustic song performed by singer Tom Higgenson originally released in 2005 and later hit #1 in the US in 2007.
If you enjoyed this lesson you will also like learning some of the other songs from our Easy Songs for Beginners Lessons.
I guess the upshot of all this, big surprise, is that some things a beginner goes through are going to be harder than others. Some people pick up on some techniques and ideas faster than others; it stands to reason that some “Beginners” lessons will be harder for some people than others. And some that may seem beyond one’s grasp may come fairly quickly with a little bit of (gasp!) practice and work. There’s a cool flip side to this – when you start playing what some of you may consider to be “Intermediates” songs, they may prove to be nowhere near as difficult as you may have thought them to be. This is one reason why I always encourage students to reach out and try songs and techniques that might be currently beyond their levels. As long as one doesn’t get frustrated in the attempt, it almost always yields positive results, although those results may be a bit down the road.
And that bring us to this Guitar Noise song lesson, Hey There Delilah by the Plain White T’s. As a song lesson, this tune gives us a chance to develop some picking techniques that will be very helpful to beginners whether they use fingers or picks. Plus there are a few tricky chord changes that, once you’ve gotten them into your fingers, can give you a lot of confidence for trickier ones that you’ll undoubtedly come across at some point in your guitar lives.
This might be a good time to mention that another reason this song is a good exercise is that the rhythm is constant throughout. Every measure, with one or two exceptions, will be filled with eight eighth notes that alternate between a bass note and a partial chord using just the G and B strings. That means it’s also a good way to work on your string-picking accuracy.
Hey There Delilah starts out with a short introduction and then has a fairly standard song structure of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, final verse and chorus. It’s in 4/4 timing and it’s played in the key of D major. The verses themselves are easily broken down into two sections of chord progressions. The first section, which is a measure of D and then one of F#m, is also used as the introduction:
And, as you can hear in the first MP3 file, it sounds fine whether you use your fingers or a pick. Some people may like using both thumb and fingers on the partial chords, some may like the “one finger sweep,” that is, using one finger and striking both the B and G strings on the upstroke. In the following MP3 sound files I’ll be using the “two fingers” approach for the rest of this lesson, simply because I prefer the way it sounds.
Another thing to mention here is that, technically, we’re playing a D5 chord instead of a full D, so you don’t have to finger the entire open D chord and can leave the first (high E) string open.
Speaking of fingering, this simple progression might prove to be one of the more challenging parts of this song for some of you. And if you don’t mind a suggestion, try laying your index finger flat in a “mini-barre,” covering the first three strings at the second fret. This way you won’t have to move very much to make the change between these two chords. I usually use my ring finger to get the D note (third fret of the B string) on the D5 chord and then my pinky to get the F# note (fourth fret, D string) on the F#m. Those of you with larger hands may prefer to employ your middle and ring fingers, respectively, for those tasks, but since this progression lasts a while, I find it helps to have my middle finger help support the index finger in the barre by lying on top of it!
I really want to stress that even though this progression may seem hard at first, you will get it with practice, persistence and patience. And there’s every reason to get good at this as you’ll find this particular fingering shape used a lot, both in chording and lead guitar work, not to mention many chord melody arrangements. So please keep at it!
But if you want immediate gratification, then you can use the “alternate F#m choice” shown in Example 1A. Wrapping your thumb around to get the F# bass note at the second fret of the low E (sixth) string is probably the easiest way for most folks to get this.
The second section of the verse is four measures long and moves from Bm to G to A, and then back to Bm and A again. The good news here, because of this particular picking pattern, is that we don’t have to deal with any type of barring in regard to the Bm chord. Oh! There’s also a slight descending walking bass line at the end of the first measure, which most guitarists prefer to think of as Bm/A;
And it’s really interesting to wonder why we’d call it a Bm/A at all since we’re only playing the A note in the bass instead of playing both the bass note and then the rest of the chord! Of course, you’ll hear me make the mistake of playing the rest of the chord anyway on one of the MP3 files. That’s why it’s always a good idea to have your chord shapes in place even if you’re not planning on hitting those strings.
The trickiest part here is the final A5. Since you’re all into reading music and / or you know your fretboards fairly well, then you already have figured out that the E note on the fifth fret of the B string is the same E note as your open high E (first) string. So you can certainly just hit that note if you’d rather. But going with that mini-barre on the second fret will allow you to both get the fifth fret of the B string with your pinky and still be in great shape for when you get back to the D5 that starts the second half of the verse.
And speaking of the second half of the verse, why don’t we put an entire verse together so that you can see how they work:
So far, so good! The chorus consists of a two chord progression of D5 to Bm and tosses in some bass movement to make things a little more interesting:
Using just the open A note in the bass for the D5/A is as convenient a gift for your fingering that you could ever hope for! Plus, it gives you a nice quiet moment in order to get your fingers set for the two upcoming Bm chords.
Here, I’d like to suggest not using the mini-barre on the D5. Fret the D note (third fret of the B string) with your middle finger and play the A (second fret of the G string) with your index. When you hit the open A string, reposition your index finger to play the B note in the bass (second fret of the A string) and also get your pinky set to play the B note on the fourth fret of the G string. This will free up your ring finger to get the C# note in the Bm/C# that’s coming along. There are certainly other ways to try this, but I think most of you will find this to be the easiest.
This two-measure chord progression is played four times in the chorus. The first time through the chorus ends with one last measure of D5 (along with the D5/A) before going back to the verse chords.
The second time through the chorus there is a slight change at the end of it, using Bm/A instead of Bm/C#. This leads us from B down to G, which happens to be the chord that starts out the bridge:
The bridge of Hey There Delilah is an excellent example of the sort of simple bass lines you add to almost any song in the key of D major or B minor. Those of you who’ve read our articles on walking bass lines here at Guitar Noise (which you can find on our “Hot Lessons” page) probably recognize this as what I like to call “connecting the dots,” simply moving from one root note to the next. Be careful, though! Notice that while the first shift from D5 to Bm involves the same D5/A used in the chorus, the second time D5/C# comes into play. This might be another good time to use your mini-barre, which should give your pinky ample room to get that C# note in the bass.
I’m beginning to wonder if I should have made the mini-barre itself the focal point of the lesson! Especially since you’ll probably want to use it again at the end of the third verse. As mentioned earlier, the last verse is slightly different in structure than the others. It’s nothing you can’t handle, though, as long as you read it carefully:
Here we go through pretty much the first half of the verse only to get caught in a Bm to Bm/A to G to A loop for a little bit. Finally, though, we get out to the Bm, A and A5 progression that ends the verse. Be sure to notice that both the last A and A5 get a full four beats each instead the two they had in the previous verses.
The final chorus is also longer. It starts out the same but continues on for an additional five times while the vocal is singing a lot of “ohs” and “whoas” and whatnot. In addition, occasionally the guitarist throws in a bit of a string mute on the last half of the fourth beat of the first measure, where the D5/A is played:
Not every one of the last five times, but a few of them. You truly don’t have to play them at all, but it’s also a cool little technique that you should get into practicing sooner rather than later. And the whole thing ends on your regular garden variety open position D chord.
I hope you’ve had fun with this lesson. There is a bit to digest here and some of it is going to require some work and patience, not to mention practice! But these are the sort of techniques and little touches that you’re going to run into time and time again in your adventures with the guitar, so having a cheerful little pop song to work them out with isn’t all that bad of a thing, is it?
As always, please feel free to post your questions and suggestions on the Guitar Noise Forum’s “Guitar Noise Lessons” page or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until our next lesson…