Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat. Those of you who actually read these lessons instead of skipping ahead to the notation/TAB charts and MP3s are already gearing up for a lecture. “Here he goes again!” you’re probably muttering under your breath (as if I was there to notice!).
Yes, this is an old point, but when better to bring it up (yet) again than here in our twenty-fifth “Easy Songs for Beginners” lesson. And particularly when it concerns today’s song, Wish You Were Here, from the Pink Floyd album of the same name.
You see, I have to tell you that as much as I love this song (and play it a lot!) I’ve got a lot of reservations about using it as a lesson. Why? Because to many people, this falls into what I call “sacred” music. Don’t laugh! I know you know what I’m talking about. For each of you that eagerly learns this there will be someone who will right and say, “David, you’re totally wrong about the strumming on the second beat in measure eighteen” or “I know for a fact that David Gilmour hits the G and B strings on this chord where your TAB indicates strumming all six strings.”
So let’s all get on the same page here and remember that this applies to all of the lessons on this page – we call them “lessons” because they are lessons. These are not meant to be taken as note for note transcriptions and if you’re thinking that way then you’re missing the whole point of why I’ve written this. While we will be using Wish You Were Here as our focal point today, the fact is that you will find material in this lesson that will help you play any song.
And lest you think that this is just one of my typical rants, let’s move on so you can see that sometimes I’m even cleverer than I pretend to be!
Structurally, Wish You Were Here can be broken down into two parts: the intro and the verse. The song starts with a single guitar strumming the intro. This is then repeated while a second guitar joins in playing that now famous little lead (which is easier than you think! – but more on that at the end of the lesson…). The vocals signal the start of the first verse, which is immediately followed by the second verse. We then have an instrumental (dobro and scat vocal) played over the intro. The final verse comes next and then the whole thing fades out over repeated playing of the intro.
There are no hard chords in the song; in fact, you’ve run into all of them at one point in these beginners lessons. What throws people on this song is the strumming. Why? Because people want a single discernable pattern that they can copy throughout the song. But the fact of the matter is that this is not what strumming is about. As I’ve mentioned in many lessons (and in a lot of columns), music is a living, breathing thing. What makes playing organic is allowing yourself to not get so locked into any one pattern that your strumming becomes machine-like. So how do we go about doing that?
What we’re going to do is to start with a basic strumming pattern. Let’s take a moment and get it into our heads.
This rhythmic pattern will, should you so choose, work absolutely fine throughout the whole song – both the intro part and the verses. But what I’d like to do right now is to take a quick moment which will (hopefully) change your whole concept of strumming.
Let’s go back to the G chord we just used to learn the basic strumming pattern. Chances are when you look at a TAB or at a combination of notation and TAB, this is what you’re going to see:
Most people’s first inclination is to make absolutely certain that they get every stroke of each string correct. But I’d like to tell you that this shouldn’t be your biggest concern. Here’s why:
- What this notation/TAB shows you is that the guitarist is doing partial chord strumming. A “partial chord,” as you might recall from some of our Neil Young lessons (among others) is just two or three notes of the chord instead of the whole thing. Look at the notes (or numbers on the TAB staff) and you will see in our example that this particular pattern uses the G chord. There’s no reason to change your finger position while you play this.
- Whether you want to believe this or not, strumming patterns like this are often both individual and arbitrary. David Gilmour did not, I guarantee you, stop and say, “Damn! I meant to hit only the B string that time and not the G and B together!” You can play this a hundred times and half of the time you will play it differently.
- Because the strumming pattern consists of partial chords, it’s not going to make all that huge of a difference which strings you hit. The important thing is to keep the rhythm going. No one is going to point at you and screech like a pod person. Okay, someone might, but only someone who is obviously much in need of a real life!
Think about this. When you’re strumming a chord, your guitar strings are constantly ringing (unless you’re muting them, but that’s another story!). So if you hit, say, only the B string instead of the G and B together, the chances are that the G string is still ringing from the last time you struck it. As you strum a pattern, you’re not introducing a foreign note to your chord; you are simply stressing various notes within the chord. Strumming should become less a matter of what is “correct” and more of a matter of what is both appropriate and pleasing.
Think about this. Your arm, when strumming, is constantly going up and down. Even though we want to be as consistent as possible, rhythmically speaking, the fact is that we are not machines and sometimes “miss” a beat by the merest fraction of a second. Occasionally you may brush the strings lightly, almost without meaning to. You may strike the odd individual note. Don’t think this is a bad thing! In reality this makes your strumming sound more human. Organic, if you will. Or less like a machine or something that’s been sampled.
Think about this. Everyone has different strumming strokes. It may be very unnatural for you, presently, to hit certain strings in a particular order or combination. As you learn more and more about the guitar and strumming, you will develop more and more control over just what strings you want to hit. You may not believe me know, but there will come a day when it is almost totally automatic. That is what is called playing naturally. And how can you play naturally if you are trying to copy someone else’s natural stroke note by note? It’s not going to happen.
So let’s use this lesson as a way to get comfortable with playing our own style. I’m more than happy to help! Through out the lesson, you’ll find that I will give you specific notes that you’ll need (primarily for the introduction), but I’m going to let each of you, no pun intended, pick and choose which strings to strum. So, instead of seeing something like I wrote up for “Example 2A,” you’ll see something like this:
The little slash notation means to use a partial chord stroke. You’ll also note I’ve been kind enough in these examples to indicate both down and up strokes. Anything to be of assistance!
Are you ready to move on to the introduction now? We use these three chords in the intro:
If you’ve recently read our lesson on Hurt, you’ll undoubtedly recognize what’s going on here is the use of sustained tones, that is, notes shared in these particular voicings of these particular chords. Before we even get into playing the actual intro, take a moment to get comfortable with these fingerings. Switch from G to Em7 and back again. Do the same with the Em7 and the A7sus4. And then finally switch between the A7sus4 and the G. You may think it silly to do this, but taking a moment to get your fingering clear in your head (and in your hands!) is important and will make the work we’re about to do go much easier.
Once you’re comfortable with these chord changes, form the G chord and follow along:
You should hear right from the start that this is definitely not the original recording. But it is, strangely enough, still instantly recognizable as Wish You Were Here. Amazing, isn’t it? Those of you who want to sit here and debate which is “better,” by all means, please do so. In the meantime, I’ll discuss with the others what exactly we’re doing.
Essentially, we’re concerned about two things here – keeping the rhythm going and still managing to get those little fills into the mix. The best way to do both of these tasks is to keep the chord shape intact as long as possible. This is why I start with the G note of the G chord even though the original recording starts on the A note. With my fingers in position, the notes of the fill are, again pardon the pun, all right within my grasp.
For the little G to Em7 fill, I strike the G note, and then, removing my finger from the second fret of the A string, pick the open A and immediately hammer my finger back on to the fret it just vacated.
It’s important to note here that you want to perform this hammer-on with whichever finger you plan to use to play this note on the Em7 chord (this is why I had you practice your switching!). As you saw in the chord chart, I use my index finger for the same string and fret on both the G and Em7. Now I’m ready to finish this fill off by striking the open D string and then hammering my middle finger onto the second fret. I’m now ready to do some partial chord strumming of the Em7 to fill up the rest of the measure. I like to pluck the low E string for an added emphasis, but that’s just me. No, that’s not on the original recording either. Sigh…
When I go from the Em7 to the G, I do a simple two-note fill (which is on the recording!) – picking the E note (second fret, D string) and then the open D string. Now, after hitting the low G note on the third fret of the sixth string, I’m ready to do some partial chord strumming on the G chord. And that, believe it or not, is half of the work of the introduction. Take some time and play this over and over and over until you’re totally comfortable (comfortably numb?) with it or until someone comes by and pays you to learn the next part of the song.
And the next part of the song is moving from the Em7 to the A7sus4. And again, because we’ve taken the time to work on our fingering, you should find this very easy going:
Here we go from strumming the Em7 to playing a run of four notes which will end on A, the root of our A7sus4. I think that it’s important to play these (like the E to D when going from Em7 back to G) as individually struck notes as opposed to pick-offs. You want to hear each one clearly and cleanly played. Now I should point out here that I like to switch from A7sus4 (x02233) to A7 (x02223). Why? Because I like the motion it gives the overall sound. I also have this habit of giving the low E string a little tweak on the third fret before going back to the Em7. Again, this is simply a stylistic quirk which adds a little more dynamics to the proceedings.
Again, take time to practice this section of the introduction. Go from Em7 to A7sus4, back to Em7, back to A7sus4 and then finish with a bit of a flourish on the G. Now try putting the two parts of the intro together. It will (hopefully) sound something like this:
Now we can move on to the verse. And the verse is just simple chord strumming! Each chord is held for one measure (four beats) and follows this pattern, which I’m going to do for you in this example using the basic strum:
Nothing to it, right? You’re all getting too good! One thing to remember from some of our past lessons is that you can use the upstroke immediately preceding the chord change as a place to change your chord. Since you’ve all gotten good at partial chord strumming, you’ll find that even if you don’t have any fingers on the fretboard at all, it’s going to sound fine.
And for those of you who’d like a bit more of a challenge, then I offer you this:
Here we have a simple walking bass line to use when changing from C to Am in the verses. You can perform it, as you see, in many ways – straight notes, notes and chord combo or as an arpeggio. The choice is always, and as it should be, yours to make.
So let’s leave you with a final transcription and a final MP3 containing a verse strummed more “freely” than in the last example (which should give you even more understanding as to why I took the whole first part of this lesson to stress this point!), followed by the intro section. If you listen closely to this MP3, you’ll hear that I use my “basic” strum as a template. I’m never far from it but I’m not always spot on. And I think you’ll agree that it sounds even better than the first version of the verse I played.
I hope you had fun with this lesson and have fun playing this song. More importantly (and I know I’ve used these exact words before), I hope that you begin to get a feel that, ultimately, strumming patterns are up to you. You can use full chords, partial chords, single notes and arpeggios – singly or in any combination you desire. Play around with songs you already know. Come up with different ways of playing them. As we move on with more and more songs, you’re going to want to be able to shift from one style to another. So take the time now to gain some confidence in your abilities.
It’s often very important to not be totally locked into any particular strumming pattern. More often than not, you will want your music to breathe and move naturally. So, yes, I’ve given you yet another paradox – you have to hold the rhythm steady and at the same time give the rhythm space to be free. This isn’t an easy concept to explain, let alone put into practice! But I think that, since most of you are very familiar with this song, you should have a good grasp of what we’ve been discussing.
Hopefully you will also find that none of this was hard once you put your mind and fingers to it! If that’s so, then I do want to invite you to take a look at the next upcoming “Songs for Intermediates” lesson, which will be, no lie, Wish You Were Here! What’s up with that? Well, that lesson will deal with playing the second guitar part of the introduction, as well as expand on various fills and things that you can use during the verse. We’ll also take a quick look at playing the whole introduction with only one guitar.
Hope to see you there.
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…
As well as supplying the heartfelt vocals on “Wish You Were Here”, David Gilmour also plays an acoustic guitar, twelve-string acoustic and pedal steel guitar. The twelve string intro is made to sound like it is playing on a car radio while some one jams along the solo. Pink Floyd released their entire catalog on Spotify in 2013, only after fans streamed “Wish You Were Here” one million times, which only took four days.