One of my favorite songs is Landslide, which was written by Stevie Nicks when she was with Fleetwood Mac. When I first got the Guild, I bought a Fleetwood Mac songbook and attempted to learn the song. I was discouraged by the chords that were written out, and was unsuccessful at deciphering the box code. The first few lines looked like this:
At that point in my life I was more a pianist than a guitarist and when I saw Eb, Bb, Cm in the notation, I thought, “Forget this!” So I tucked the song in the back of my head, and when I began to take lessons, I begged my teacher to help me with the song. It turns out that this is a very simply song…if you use a capo! For those of you who don’t know what a capo is, it is a wonderful device that let’s you change the key without changing the chords (see The Underappreciated Art Of Using A Capo). The chords are really quite simple; they are C, G/B, Am, G/B, with that pattern repeating over and over again throughout the “verses.” Then there is this little bridge where she sings, “Well, I’ve been afraid of changing”. Luckily, it’s a very little bridge and the chords are mostly simple, thanks to our friend Mr. Capo. G, D/F#, Em and then you plunge right back into the C, G/B, Am, G/B pattern. So here it is:
In addition to learning the chords for Landslide, I was challenged to learn a picking pattern for my right hand. Over time, I’ve found that I have modified the pattern I was taught (which mimics the album). I was pleased to discover that the song still is true, even with a slightly different pattern. It’s evolved into something easy to play, and great to sing with.
To play along with the recording, you want to put your capo on the third fret, but I use the capo on the 4th fret (making the song in E instead of Eb) to fit my vocal range. The pattern that my guitar teacher wrote out for me is as follows:
I ended up changing the pattern to something that my brain and fingers could actually replicate comfortably and allowed me to sing as I played. I also tend not to repeat the lower notes, as my singing voice is on the low side. What I actually play is:
On the “bridge” section of the song, when I play the pattern for the Em chord, I tend to play the B (second string, second fret) instead of the double octave (lowest Em) because it sounds good to me. Part of making a song your own is sorting out the different melodies and harmonies in your head and playing what feels right to you, in the space you have for the note. There is no wrong way to play the pattern, within the chord. The joy of learning Landslide is that there are many different finger style patterns that fit the basic feel of the song. Experimenting with what feels and sounds good to you is part of the fun of playing. I’ve noticed that how I play the song has changed over time, and that occasionally hitting the high E (1st ) string brings some higher note harmonies into the picking pattern. Although I try to be consistent, I do occasionally change the picking pattern to suit my vocals.
I’ve been playing Landslide solo for years. One of the reasons I took up the guitar is so I’d have another instrument besides the piano to accompany my vocals. The song is amazing, as I never get tired of playing or singing it. One day I had occasion to be in David Hodge’s house, with guitars in both of our hands. He lives 1000 miles away, so this doesn’t happen as often as I would like. I started to play Landslide, which David knows is a standard for me, and he surprised me by playing the most beautiful counterpoint to my now standard picking pattern. I was thrilled at how wonderful the song sounded with the second guitar.
My own guitar playing has been a matter of two philosophies – keep things simple and try to bring a different voice to the proceedings. Since Landslide is a fairly uncomplicated song, I wanted to add to Laura’s pattern without detracting from either it or her vocals. This was best accomplished by mimicking her pattern but overlaying it with higher voicings. Since her pattern never ventured to the first (high E) string, I put the “melody” of pattern there and let it rise as the vocal melody fell.
You can hear how my part emphasizes different notes than Laura’s pattern but holds the same rhythm. In essence, it sounds like someone is playing an impossible-to-finger chord pattern on one guitar. Here I use my thumb and middle finger to pluck the opening notes while my index finger plays the B string on the offbeat and my thumb plays the G string on the second and fourth beats.
Since Laura played her bass note only on the first beat, I also threw in an additional one (again with the thumb while the middle finger plays the high note) on the third beat. On the first G chord I use the open D string as the bass note on first beat (while Laura played the B note on the A string) and then the G note on the low E for the third beat. The Am chord becomes a half-barre chord on the fifth fret (I usually use my ring finger for this). I also used an alternating bass line on this measure, playing the open low E on the third beat.
Since, for the most part, there were no vocals during the last measure I threw in a little fill to add some movement to the music. It’s not very fancy, just a descending scale from B to F, which leads to the open high E that starts the pattern. The open G string serves as a pedal point to keep the illusion of the single guitar going. From time to time, depending solely on my mood, I would vary this last measure slightly by breaking up the rhythm of the descending notes like this:
On this last measure, the initial stretch might be a little much, but since it is high up on the neck (with the capo on the fourth fret, this is actually played on the seventh and eleventh frets) it is not as difficult as you might think.
Back to you, Laura…
Thanks to one of our faithful readers for suggesting this song as a topic. I hope you enjoy this song as David and I have, both individually and as a duet. Have fun with it!
n.b. This column continues in a series dedicated to the female musician. As always, I would love suggestions on topics you would like to see covered. If you would like to suggest another song for a lesson, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or David Hodge at email@example.com.
By Laura Lasley and David Hodge
“Landslide” was one of Stevie Nicks’ first writing contributions to Fleetwood Mac, first appearing on their 1975 self-titled album. Nicks said she wrote the song in Aspen, Colorado while trying decide whether or not to go back to school or continue working as part of Fleetwood Mac. The lyrics use a metaphor of the physical world to powerfully describe the author’s feelings of things crashing down in her personal life.
While most listeners are familiar with the popular Dixie Chicks cover version from 2002 – “Landslide” was also recorded by The Smashing Pumpkins as the B-side of their big hit “Disarm” in 1994.