Usually the biggest challenge for any beginner is to be able to play “at speed.” This does not mean to play something fast; it means to play something in a steady prescribed tempo. Fingering and playing a chord may come quite easily to some, but the chances are that sense of ease disappears pretty quickly when faced with more and more chord changes within a song.
This is one of the reasons that first few of Guitar Noise’s easy songs for beginners lessons use songs that involve just two or three chord changes, and relatively easy chord changes at that. It’s also why that songs have been of a moderate tempo, as well. The most fundamental thing you can learn when you start to play is how to make smooth, confident and correct switches between chords, and then to make sure you can perform those chord changes in rhytym while playing the song in question.
In this lesson, we’re going to up the ante a bit but not in a scary way. In fact, what we’re going to do is essentially let the guitar transform a two chord song into a three chord song for us! I know this sounds a bit weird, but I think you’ll catch on fairly quickly.
The song is Three Marlenas, written by Jakob Dylan. You can find it one the Wallflowers’ 1996 (man, was it that long ago?) CD, Bringing Down The Horse.
On the disc, the song is in the key of Eb Major and, before we go any further, let’s talk about that! If I happen to say a song is in, say Eb Major, for instance, this means that this is how I have worked it out on my guitar (standardly tuned) playing along with my CD player. I have seen this (and many other songs) tabbed out in various keys using various voicings of various chords. Please understand that I am showing you how I understand the song to be played and I am not in any way saying (in my best James Earl Jones’ voice), “THIS IS HOW IT IS DONE.” Those of you who have read my columns for any length of time know that (no pun intended) this is not my style. Not at all. If you have another interpretation of this or any song we go over that you like better than the one I demonstrate, then by all means, please use it. None of our lessons here at Guitar Noise is meant to be THE authorized of anything. These are just arrangements, ways to play the song as you would if you were performing by yourself or playing it with another person singing.
So, moving onward, by playing along with the CD, I’ve found Three Marlenas to be in the key of Eb major and also that the two prominent chords are Eb and Ab. Just reading that gives me the heebie jeebies! So, without a second thought about it, I decide to use my capo and find a better key in which to play this song, rather than to subject myself to these particular chords. If you’re not familiar with what a capo is and what it can be used for, I suggest you take a moment and read the column I wrote about a year ago (the one with the incredibly long title(The Underappreciated Art of Using a Capo)) on this subject. It also would be worth your while to check out our article on transposing, Turning Notes into Stone.
When I see the signature of Eb major, my usual choice is to think about playing in the key of D major instead. The key of D is simply a half-step lower in than Eb, so if I put my capo on the first fret of my guitar and strum a D major chord, I am actually playing an Eb major chord. Using the same logic, I realize that a G major chord, played with the capo on the first fret, is now an Ab chord. Our crisis, brought on by the prospect of playing Eb and Ab chords throughout the song, has been averted.
And for the sake of simplicity, we will now discuss this song in terms of the key of D Major. I know that this may be a bit confusing to some of you, especially those just starting out, and I apologize for that. Please feel free to write me and I’ll be happy to go over it in greater detail.
I’m sure that most of you know how to play both the D and the G chords, but I’m going to throw you off a bit here by introducing a different voicing for the G chord that some of you might not be familiar with:
My suggestions as to which fingers to use where on these chords are as follows:
Okay, now let’s take a quick moment and look at this “new” G chord.
As you can see, the only difference between the “standard” G and this particular voicing is the use of the D note (third fret on the B string) instead of the open B string itself. Since we know that the G chord is made up of the G (the root), B (the third) and D (the fifth) notes, you can see that all we’re really doing is changing the number of D notes we’re using in our chord. Some people like to call this a “G5” or a “G add 5” but neither of these names makes sense. “G5” usually means playing what guitarists think of as a G “power chord,” namely, just using the G (root) and D (the fifth. or “5” if you will) and “add 5” makes even less sense since the normal G chord already has the D note in it. This new chord voicing is still just a G chord, pure and simple.
But why play this voicing of G in the first place? Well, if any of you have read the column I cowrote with Abel Petneki concerning sustained tones, you might already have a good idea. But I also have something a little more fun and practical in mind.
If you listen to the song on the CD, you could with me that it sounds like there are more than two chords in this song. And you would be right to do so. There is indeed another chord. You can hear it in between the D and G chords, both from D to G and then from G back to D again. It’s a rather peculiar chord at that, isn’t it? It sounds very vague.
What is going on here is we are letting the guitar do some of the chord changing work for us. If you look at the fingering of our D and G chords, you see that, because of this new voicing of the G chord, we don’t have to change the position of our ring finger when we change chords. It stays in one place. So, we’re going to start out with our D chord and then simply remove our index and middle fingers from the strings (all the while keeping the ring finger firmly in place) in preparation of placing them on their new positions on the G chord. And if we strum the strings while doing this, we end up with the following chord:
Do you hear and see what we’re doing? The D note, here being played on the third fret of the B string, is our sustained tone. It links all three of these chords together, serving as an anchor amidst all the changes. And this third chord, the “A7 sus4” is nothing more than us strumming the guitar in the middle of a chord change! And the cool thing is that it works both ways – from D to G and from G to D. Because the notes involved not only form a chord, but a chord that perfectly fits in as part of the song, it carries us along these changes while creating a transition chord at the same time.
Now, I could call this chord by other names as well, but I am going with “A7 sus4” because naming it so gives me, in essence, a variation of a I – V – IV chord progression. This is a fairly common progression and it easy to explain to someone playing along with me on an instrument other than a guitar. Now, having explained that, I’ll change my mind (and simply for a selfish reason!) From here on out, and simply to keep me from writing out “A7 sus4” all the time, we’ll just call it A. But we all know it’s not really an A chord, okay? Here, then, are all the chords we are going to use:
When you play this progression back and forth, D to A to G to A to D, etc., you should note two things. First, it sounds very smooth and flowing. Second, the reason it sounds so smooth and flowing is not only because of the chord voicing (owing to the fingering), but also because you should be able to play it that way. By releasing your fingers (but not the ring finger!) to get the A chord, you are sort of giving you guitar and yourself some breathing space between the two main chords. And you should also find, even with a minimum of practice, that your changes will come very naturally. You should be able to play this along with the CD (or “at speed,” if you prefer) in no time at all!
Another thing I especially like about this song, from a beginner’s standpoint, anyway, is that it gives you a chance to work on the “range” of your strumming. Each chord has its bass note on a different string: the open D for the D, the open A for the “A” and the G note on the third fret of the low E string for the G chord. As you’re strumming the chords, it’s a good idea to work on concentrating on just how many strings you’re playing with each successive chord.
As for a strumming pattern, this is a fairly easy one to get you started. I also took the liberty of tossing in a percussive stroke (designated by the ” * ” ):
A very important thing to notice here is that, after the initial first beat, we’re jumping the gun a bit – changing the next measure’s chord on the half beat before the one. This is called an “anticipation.” You can read all about those in the “Music Guide Mini-Lesson” that will be up online in the next few weeks or, if you’d like a head start on the subject, might I suggest reading Dan Lasley’s bass guitar lesson, Playing Along.
Remember that if this particular strumming pattern seems difficult at first, slow everything down and count it out as deliberately as possible. This song, like the others we’ve done up to this point is of a medium tempo. It really won’t take you long at all to get up to speed.
Oh, that strumming pattern and that chord progression is the entire song, music-wise. Here’s the lyrics:
As always, please feel free to write in with any questions, comments, concerns, or even a song, riff or lead you’d like to see covered in a future “Songs For Beginners” article. You can either drop off a note at the Guitar Forums or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time…