I never know how to answer when someone asks me if a particular song is “easy” or “intermediate” or “hard.” To my mind it’s all a matter of arrangements. You can make a “hard” song easier. And you can easily take any “easy” song and make it harder
For that matter, I’m not really sure how to answer when someone says, “I can’t play a song.” What does that mean? Maybe I’m incredibly old-fashioned or maybe I’m merely simple, but it seems to me that you want to play a song, any song, you go and get the chords and you just start playing. I never thought of it as being more complicated than that. You really shouldn’t, either. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of not playing when you should be playing.
You take out your guitar and you say to yourself, “I’m going to play a song.” What, exactly, does that mean? Well, obviously you’re going to play some music. Are you going to play it exactly as it is on a recording? Even if you’re an accomplished musician, chances are not likely that you’re carrying a band around in your pocket, let alone a band that knows all the bass and drum parts and anything else that may pop up in the musical score. Even if you’re just going to play “the guitar part,” you often have several guitar parts from which to choose. Rhythm? Lead? The one guitar riff that’s played only during the last chorus?
If that last paragraph sounds a tad on of the absurd side of life, then you may consider yourself fortunate. But judging by the frequent sightings of this question (or one of its myriad variations) on the Guitar Noise Forums, it seems to be high on many people’s list of concerns.
So let’s cut right to the quick of it – when you say you’re going to play a song, it means you’re going to play a version of that song. An arrangement, if you will. Even if you’re just strumming chords in the simplest of ways, as long as someone can sing the melody along with your strumming (or another instrument can play an identifiable melody), you’re playing a song. It is that simple.
This comes as no surprise to those of you who’ve been reading my lessons for any length of time. Almost all the Easy Songs for Beginners lessons, as well as those here on the Songs for Intermediates page, have been written as arrangements for one person on one guitar. The arrangements can be as simple as the strumming pattern in the Eleanor Rigby lesson or as complicated as the finger style playing in Julia. And there’s room for any number of levels of ease (or difficulty) in between. You’ve often read in my lessons that it’s my hope that you take what you’ve learned in one lesson and apply it to another. Or to any song that you know, for that matter! How does one go about that?
Time After Time, written by Cyndi Lauper and Robert Andrew Hyman,has been covered by many folks. Arrangements of this song for the single guitar can be very sparse to very complicated. With your indulgence, I’d like to show you how one goes from an arrangement that would easily be considered one of our “Easy Songs For Beginners” lessons and then develop into something incorporating more and more of the things you’ve (hopefully) learned in these lessons. By our third turn at it, we’ll find ourselves with an arrangement closer in style to a chord melody.
So let’s be getting on with things, then:
For the record (no pun intended), we’re going to be using two versions of Time After Time as our “template.” Cyndi Lauper’s original recording is in the key of C and is played at a moderate tempo. The “guitar part” of that recording is more what I’d call “ambient guitar” – some lead, some fills and some sparse (and palm muted) rhythm playing all combining to make a wonderful mood and texture for the song. Eva Cassidy’s cover version, the title track of her album of the same name, is more in the vein of the traditional “singer/songwriter” style of play. It’s slower than the original. Also, Eva plays in the key of C, but uses a capo on the second fret to raise the key of the song to D major, at least that’s what’s going on in the recording I have.
For our lesson, we’ll stick with the key of C and forgo the capo. All the MP3s will be in C, but if you want to play along with Eva rather than me, then slap that capo on second fret.
Okay, I’ve grabbed some chords off the Internet, now let’s first at what, structurally speaking, we’re dealing with. You can basically break this song down into three distinct parts: Sections “A” and “B” in the verse and “Section C,” which is the chorus. The chords from Section B of the verse are also the basis of the “interlude” between the first chorus and the third verse. Shall we take a peek and all get on the same page?
Please notice that there is a slight variation between the “Part B” in the first verse and the “Part B” of the second verse. This is because the first verse turns around and repeats the whole verse again while we move on to the chorus at the end of the second verse.
Arrangement 1 – The Basics
For the sake of moving along, bear with me for a moment concerning the chord selection. We’ll be looking at various options throughout this lesson, but you’ve got to start somewhere. You can, as we have in other lessons, use Fmaj7 instead of F if you’d like.
But I’d like to suggest using F6, as shown below:
Why? Mostly because the melody note begins on D and I like to hear it when I strum as it gives my voice a target. As you know from previous lessons, the melody of any song is an ideal place to find some ideas and help when it comes to sprucing up a song a bit. The first melody note of the song, D, is played over the F chord. This gives us the notes F, A, C and D, which can be called (among other things) F6 or Dm7. I want to target the strings of my strum to highlight the melody notes, much as we did in The Little Drummer Boy, among other lessons:
Let’s be clear: You don’t have to play F6, it’s simply my suggestion. F and Fmaj7, or even Dm or Dm7 are acceptable substitutes. I suggest you try out these different chords and see how you like the switch between any of them and C, since that is the main chord progression throughout Section A of the verses.
Once I have my chords, I need a basic strumming pattern. Since I want to keep it very simple, almost light and open, I’m going to go with what I call “generic pop song strum #4.” All right, I made that up! But I am going to use a typical easy pattern, which many of you might recognize from Easy Songs’ lesson on Nowhere Man. I’ll show you the rhythm and also play Section A in the following example:
You can hear that just this one embellishment, using F6 instead of F or Fmaj7, has immediately given our arrangement more of a personal touch. It sounds less like someone strumming chords and more like someone playing a song, no?
If you like it, take a little time to practice switching between the F6 and C chord. Since you’re familiar with C, why not start there? When you perform a change from C to Fmaj7, you simply move your ring finger from the third fret of the A string to the third fret of the D string while shifting your middle finger from the second fret of the D string to the second fret of the A string. There’s no need to move the index finger at all from its position at the first fret of the B string. Here, changing from C to F6, it’s virtually the same thing. Only add your pinky to get the D note at the third fret of the B string. Again, keep the index finger in place. It’s not doing any harm sitting there and you’re going to need it there when you switch back in just a moment.
An important thing to note at this stage is that Time After Time uses a lot of anticipation in its timing of the chord changes. The C in the very first measure, as we noted earlier, falls on the second half of the second beat and not on the third beat. This is actually one reason that you might like using Fmaj7 instead of F6. It’s definitely easier. We’ve talked about anticipations before in many lessons, Three Marlenas being an excellent example. Be sure to get comfortable with the changes because the song will sound very different if you played all the changes on the beat instead of the offbeat.
Section B of the verse is basically more of the same. Because the Em chord lasts for four beats, a while longer than the other chords, I change it to Em7 after a beat and a half. This makes it a little more interesting to the ears. On the MP3s (and in the notation) I use Fmaj7, but regular F works fine here as well. And the strumming pattern stays the same. This example would go at the end of the first verse, as it cycles back to Section A of the second verse and not on to the chorus (Section C):
Now let’s tack on the chorus, what we’re calling “Section C.” I decide to do a very easy arpeggio during the second half of the measures of Am, simply to bring a little more variety to the sound. Not only does this sound cool, it also gives us a sneaky chance to get our fingers back in place for the upcoming F maj7 chord. You can, if you like, stick with the basic strumming pattern throughout the entire chorus, but do give this a try. You should find it pretty easy to do:
This is, obviously, only one line of the chorus. You need to repeat these four measures, playing them a total of four times to get a complete Section C.
Now you may be wondering why, out of all the possible places in the chorus, I picked this particular one to toss in a fill. Don’t laugh, but it’s the one place in the chorus where you have a break from singing! It pays to think ahead about these things. One good rule of thumb when it comes to single guitar arrangements is that you should always have something going on. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I’m not the world’s most mesmerizing vocalist. I need all the help I can get. So filling in on the guitar gives my voice (and the audience) a break.
And voila! We have a very basic arrangement of Time After Time.
A tad monotonous perhaps, but certainly something a beginner can get a hold of with a little practice. And this arrangement has some big plusses. Being sparse, it’s easy to play at quicker tempos, like the original Cyndi Lauper pace. It’s also a good one to use if you’re worried about being able to sing along with yourself. And should you find yourself playing in a group situation, this version provides a solid foundation that will allow the other players plenty of room to play fills and leads and other musical touches.
Arrangement 2 – A la Eva
We’re off to a good start. Now let’s make our arrangement sound more complicated without making it more complicated for us to play. That may sound like a huge contradiction, but the truth is that where the guitar is concerned, it’s pretty easy to make things seem more work than they actually are. Arpeggios are a great example of this. We’re going to switch tracks for a moment and pattern a new arrangement more along the lines of Eva Cassidy’s version of Time After Time.
While you can play a lot of this version with a pick, you’re going to need to play the chorus in fingerstyle, so you might as well drop the pick at the start. Here we’re going to employ a steady stream of eighth note arpeggios throughout the song. Let’s start with “Part A” of the verse:
Now you may be wondering, “Wait a minute! Where did the F chord go?” If you listen carefully to Eva’s arrangement, you’ll hear her use a Csus4 (C, F and G) instead of the F (or Fmaj7 or F6) that we’ve been playing up ’til now. If this sort of thing worries you, just remember that Csus4 uses the same notes as Fsus2, so feel free to think of this chord in those terms.
In our arrangement, I finger the Csus2 as the last chord in the measure and this is more a matter of convenience since it lets me stay in the same chord shape throughout the pattern. The reality is that I’m only playing the open D and G string for the last pair of notes, so you could call this a G chord instead. I simply find it easier to not move my fingers every chord change and I’ve labeled it as “Csus2” in order to make you focus on the fingering. Rather, to not have to concentrate on the fingering but instead to be free to play and sing at the same time.
And ease of play is key here. If you’re going to be singing over your arrangement, then it helps to have something that requires little attention. Once you’ve practiced this, even for a short while, you’ll have it on “automatic pilot,” enabling you to sing and/or interact with your audience and band mates. It’s hard to enjoy performing if you’re spending all your time looking at your fingers! Notice, too, that playing with this arpeggio style takes a lot of the worry out of the anticipations in the chord changes.
After you’ve got Section A of the verse down, move on to Section B:
This is probably the trickiest thing we’ve attempted so far. In Eva’s version, she uses Gadd9 instead of a regular G and this creates a very ear-catching arpeggio. The best way to tackle this is to not worry about fingering the full chords, but rather to concentrate on the shifting of the needed fingers. When you finger the F chord, you’re only interested in the notes on the low E, D and G strings. Fret the third fret of the D string with your ring finger and second fret of the G string with your middle finger, as you normally would with an F (or Fmaj7) chord. It will be up to you whether to use your thumb or your index finger for the F note on the first fret of the low E (sixth) string. After playing the first three notes, keep your middle finger in place on the second fret of the D string while shifting your ring finger to get the G note on the third fret of the low E string. This may take some practice to get used to the finger shift, but you’ll be surprised at how your fingers take to the challenge.
This Gadd9 gets used again as a substitute for G in the first part of each line in Section C (the chorus):
Here we start with some simple arpeggios, first the Gadd9 and then two beats of Am, before using a simple descending walking bass to get from A to G to the F note that starts the F (or Fmaj7) arpeggio that begins the third measure. Then we go into two beats of the F arpeggio followed by two beats of a “normal” open G arpeggio and then end with a C arpeggio, complete with a little flourish.
This flourish sounds a lot trickier than it is. Get yourself set by fingering a C chord and strum the A, D and G strings (your middle finger will be on the second fret of the D and your ring finger on the third fret of the A). Then, keeping your middle finger in place on the D, pinch the D string and B string (where your index finger sits on the second fret) simultaneously and immediately hammer your pinky onto the third fret of the D string. Hold these notes for a full beat and then pinch off the remaining three pairs of notes.
This simple, unsophisticated embellishment can be heard on many, many songs and is a great trick to add to your repertoire. We’ll even use it in our final arrangement, so take some time now to get it into your fingers.
And this, when you connect Sections A, B and C, completes our second arrangement. It’s very stark and is great for showing off a singer’s voice, all the while providing an accompaniment that in both interesting and intricate.
Arrangement 3 – Moving Toward Chord Melody
As I mentioned on no end of occasions, I tend to arrange songs close to chord melody style in order to give my voice an assist or two. But there’s also another reason. When something is close to chord melody, you don’t even need to have a singer. You can play a song, like our arrangement of After The Gold Rush, and people will know what it is. This can be a big plus if you’re playing something like a dinner party and the host wants “quiet” music.
When I was fashioning this lesson, it struck me how much this song reminded me of Paul Simon’s Bookends, of all things. And that’s where I started out in Section A, using pairs of notes much like in the Simon song:
Here again, even though this sounds complicated, it’s truly not. We’re using the F6 fingering from our first arrangement and finger picking in a Blackbird-style manner, starting with a pinch of the B and D stings and alternating that with a pick of the G string. As long as we keep our fingers on the chord shapes in questions, we can’t go wrong.
Another thing I especially like about this particular arrangement is that it lays off the two lowest strings. You don’t hear any “bass” at all until Section B, and when that first F note rings out in the lower registers, it’s like the rest of the band has joined in the song. How’s that for instant dynamics?
Section B not only gets even more into the chord melody style, combing it with the arpeggios of the Eva Cassidy version, it also makes a good place for what I think is an important chord substitution. – the Am for F (or Fmaj7) that comes immediately after the Em chord:
It’s important to point out that I could have come up with any number of chord arpeggio patterns at this point. In fact, I don’t think I ever did the same pattern twice for the fourth measure, the one of the Em (or Em7). All I was concerned with was getting the melody notes in the right places. This particular arrangement of this particular section might be the easiest one we’ve done yet.
And because that’s so simple, I decide to go for broke in the chorus. For starters, I’m going to use what I call a “country G” chord, namely a G chord with the D note added at the third fret of the B string for added measure. And, since the first three lines of our Section C are the same, let’s try them out first:
To me, this is where working in chord melody style can add a lot of interest. We start out really emphasizing the G and D notes on the third frets of the top two strings and then we slide them both up to the fifth frets at the start of the second measure to get to our Am chord in the accompaniment. This will take a little concentrated effort, and it’s well worth it. Once we’re back to our normal open position Am, we can do a semi-fancy hammer-on / pull-off combo on the B string before going back to a measure of chord-melody-and-arpeggio and then tack on Eva’s C chord flourish for good luck. I don’t think we missed anything…
…Except for the very last line of the chorus. Here we’ll start off with the same approach as the first three lines, but we’ll substitute Am7 for Am, shifting to a two-thirds-barre at the fifth fret, which will enable our pinky to get the melody note at the eighth fret of the high E (first) string:
This little phrase demonstrates that knowing where various chord shapes are located up and down the neck can be a good thing. And they say that music theory is worthless…
And speaking of “worthless” theory, what about that little instrumental part that sounds so cool in the Cyndi Lauper version but doesn’t even lift its head in Eva’s? So glad you asked!
As mentioned earlier, this “interlude” uses the chords of the first four measures of Section B as its foundation. In essence, it’s basically chord arpeggios, but it’s almost impossible for most people to get a low F (root of the first chord) while finding the C note at the eighth fret of the high (first) E string that is the apex of the melody. What’s a person to do?
Well, we can remember that D minor is the relative minor of F major and act accordingly:
We start out by getting our fingers in place: index finger gets the fifth fret of the G string, while the middle finger sits on the sixth fret of the B. Our pinky will play the aforementioned C note on the eighth fret of the E string and then slide down and play the B note at the seventh fret. And that completes the first phrase.
We need to make our only full barre chord of the day to play the second phrase. Barre the third fret and add your middle finger to the fourth fret of the G string. The pinky again gets to play the highest note of the phrase, this one being the A note at the fifth fret of the high E (first) string.
Now, keeping the middle finger in place at the fourth fret of the G, reposition the index finger to the third fret of the B string. Once more the pinky gets the fifth fret of the high E. Hang onto the note for a beat and then slide the little finger down to the third fret. Or use your middle and index fingers to get the last two notes of this third phrase.
Finally, form an open position Am chord, but add your pinky to the third fret of the B string. Strum the whole chord from the A string down, making certain to not hit the first (high E) string until you’ve gotten that D note cleanly.
Let’s put all these various parts together, shall we?
And there you have it! I hope you had fun with this lesson and that you enjoy playing around with Time After Time and, pardon the pun, spend some time coming up with your own arrangement of this song. Try different strumming patterns, maybe a combination of strumming and single note picking or even a totally different rhythm or perhaps some chord substitutions of your own. There is no end to the musical ideas one can come up with, and that’s simply part of the learning process.
Most important of all, the next time you want to learn a song, maybe you’ll feel confident enough to try it out on your own and not rely on someone else to do the work for you. It’s all part of this wonderful musical journey we’re on and you owe it to yourself to do a little of the driving!
And, 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.
Until our 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.