Like a Hurricane – Neil Young

Neil Young Weld

Okay, we’ve spent the last few lessons, both here and in the “Easy Songs for Beginners” section covering bass lines. But, as I’m sure you’re aware (or at least suspect), bass lines are simply one dimension of a song arrangement. Today let’s look at melodies and how one might incorporate them into one’s playing. We’ll also continue to work on some arpeggio and partial-chord strumming styles and I might even throw in a simple bass line to keep you on your toes.

Today we’ll expand a bit on our Neil Young catalogue by working on Like A Hurricane. As I mentioned, the purpose of this lesson will be to incorporate a song’s melody into the arrangement and I think you’ll find this more than fits the bill.

Even though I intend to play this song with a pick, I’d like to flash back to something I wrote for the finger style lesson on Silent Night because I think it gives us a good place to start:

There are three essential things to playing in solo finger style – melody, bass and “accompaniment.” You want the melody of the song to ring out, if for no other reason than letting people know what the song is! The bass and accompaniment, usually chord arpeggios, should enhance your presentation – adding color and texture.

The melody of Like A Hurricane conveniently resides along the top three strings. Actually, only one note is on the G string and the rest are on the first two:

Takedown Notice

What we’re going to do is to work up ways of showcasing the melody in our strumming. This is good for two reasons: First, it allows you to play a melodic solo on the single guitar without sacrificing dynamics. Playing the melody along with the chords always sounds fuller than playing single notes. Second, if you’re like me and need to give your voice all the support it can get, hearing the melody is always a helpful thing!

Now that we have the melody, how about some lyrics and chord changes? As always, my apologies for the odd wrong word…

After the second chorus, the chords of the verse are repeated, playing under a guitar solo. Then there is a third verse, which is essentially a repeat of the second one. One more chorus and then repeat and fade with the verse chords again. Really not much to it, is there?

So let’s make something of it. First off, I’d like to suggest a small chord substitution. You may have already noticed, particularly if you’ve seen this song before on the internet, that I use Fmaj7 and Em7 where many charts list these chords as F and Em, respectively. But if you look at our melody, this mystery should immediately solve itself. Since the melody note in the fourth measure starts on E (open first string), I’ve added that note to the F chord and gotten Fmaj7. The D that is the final note of the melody is added to Em to get Em7. Nice how that works out, no?

But my concern is the G chord. The melody note at the start of the third measure is a D, which while part of the G chord, is not usually played with a standard open G chord (320003). So what I’d like to do is use this as a substitute:

Technically, it’s a G6 chord, but since, as you’ll soon see, we won’t be strumming the high E string on this chord. So let’s just call it a G for the sake of simplicity, okay? We’re friends; we can do that.

All right, then. We’ve got our melody and our chords so let’s play around with the verses. First I want to strum out the melody while starting each chord change with a fully strummed chord:

If there’s any trick to playing in this style, it’s in getting the chord to ring out the entire duration of the melodic phrase (meaning “until you change the chord!”). Keeping the chord intact as long as possible is essential, so you might have to do a bit of thinking about your fingering.

In the first two measures, you can hold the lower part of the Am chord (the E note on the D string and the A note on the G string) with ease. Strum from the fifth string down (the sixth string is okay, too, if you’d like – personally I prefer the root in the bass) and then pick the individual notes on the B string. I recommend keeping your index finger on the first fret of the B string, even when you use your pinky to play the D note (third fret). Only remove it when you play the open B. This shouldn’t take any of you too long to perfect.

When we go to the G chord (in reality our G6), you’ll see the importance of thinking out your finger placement. Usually I will play a G chord this way:

E open (or don’t play)
B 3rd fret ring finger
G open
D open
A 2nd fret index finger
E 3rd fret middle finger

But since I want to be able to play that C note on the first fret of the B string with my index finger, I’m going to play the G like this:

E open (or don’t play)
B 3rd fret pinky
G open
D open
A 2nd fret middle finger
E 3rd fret ring finger

That makes things a lot easier for me as it allows me to keep a finger on the B note (second fret on the A string) during this entire melodic phrase.

The third melodic phrase (measures four and five) is, note for note, exactly the same as the one in the first two measures. The only thing that has changed is the chord underneath. So simply keeping the Fmaj7 intact as long as possible should work fine. I will have to open up the B string at one point, but again, just as with the Am, it should work out fine.

After all this moving around, the Em7 is going to be a breeze. But do yourself a favor and note that we want to also play a chord when we change to the G, so try to use whatever finger you’ve got on the third fret of the B string for both chords. Me, I’m comfortable with either the ring finger or pinky.

We’ve just done half a verse, two lines if you will. Repeat the whole sequence again and you’ve a complete verse. Not too bad.

This is, I feel, the simplest way to incorporate the melody. But I know that a lot of people like to use this method:

Here we’re essentially strumming a chord for each note of the melody. What we’re trying to do is to be careful about our strums, so that the melody note is always the last note we hit. It rings out, and usually the listener hears it very clearly. This is what’s known as “chord melody” in jazz teaching. Granted, what we’re doing here is an incredibly simplistic version of it.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy. This is a great exercise for learning to strum accurately. For the record, I’m doing this all as downstrokes on the MP3. On the first note, we’ll strike all of the first five strings but throughout the rest of the measure, I want to make certain I don’t strum the high E (first) string again. Likewise, on the first note of the second measure, the A note (second fret, G string) is the one I want to sound last, so hitting the B string is strictly taboo. Take your time getting this right. You’ll be surprised how doing something like this will make all your strumming better in the long run.

The phrase in the two measures of G should prove easier than those with the Am or Fmaj7, since the G melody is all on the same string (the B), while the Am and Fmaj7 melody phrases use notes on the first three strings. And, again, the Em7 should provide you with a welcome resting spot.

So now we have two different ways of strumming with the melody. Which one shall we use? To those of you who said “Both” or “Neither,” well, maybe you know me too well…

While both of these methods have their charm, they both are fairly, I don’t know, rigid, for lack of a better word. They don’t flow. Music should flow. I don’t think that this is a problem with the style as much as with the song itself. Both of these methods have their place and we will certainly be seeing them again in the course of our lessons.

What I’d like to do is combine these along with some of the partial chord arpeggio-style strumming we used in America. Something like this:

Now we’re getting somewhere! First, a word that you’ve heard from me enough to be able to repeat it verbatim: THIS IS JUST A SUGGESTION!!! Please feel free to come up with as many different strumming ideas as you can.

What we’re doing here is starting out each chord change with a downstroke in order to get the first melody note. After that I use downstrokes for the “accompaniment,” mostly single bass notes or partial chords, and upstrokes for the melody. Often I’ll add a few harmony notes to the melody, striking two or three strings at once, but because that’s on the upstroke, the melody note should ring out the longest. Funny how these things work out.

At measure four, where there’d normally be a whole note (four beats) of D in the melody, I switch to doing more of a straight arpeggio. To simply stop for a whole note would bring everything to a crashing halt (try it and hear for yourself). Arpeggios, even simple ones, fill the space in a manner more consistent with the first three measures and keep the song flowing.

I cannot stress enough the importance of taking all of this one step at a time. Use the concentration you developed on the second strumming method (example #3) to strike the strings you want, but remember that because you’ve got your fingers in the right place to begin with (thanks to example #2!), even if you “miss” it’s going to sound okay. Any notes you hit will be part of the chord so it won’t sound bad. What you want to do is to try to focus on bringing out the melody, getting it heard above all the business in the background.

I also want to give you a second version of the last measure of the verse:

I tend to use the first version I showed you as a way to go into the chorus, as you can use the rhythm (and your own volume) to build some dramatic tension. This “optional” last measure is good for going back into the verse progression.

And I’ve got good news! After all this work, the chorus is going to be a walk in the park! Most of it consists of this strumming pattern:

Now that’s a piece of cake compared to what we’ve been through, right? Take a moment or two to get it down and then let’s tackle the whole chorus:

You’ll note I break the rhythm pattern in the second measure, using an eighth note and quarter note for both the F and G chords to punctuate the words “like a hurricane.” This technique of matching your rhythm playing to the vocals is another way to add to the dynamics of a song. And if you’re one of those people who have trouble singing and keeping rhythm, then you’ve got a built in place to do a quick spot-check and get everything back in line.

In measure four of the chorus, we match our strumming to the vocals again (…”in your eyes…”) and then, because I promised, throw in a brief walking bass line, going from G up to the C that starts the next measure.

Beginning with measure seven, though, we run into something that we’ve not dealt with before. Starting with the line “…to somewhere safer…” we’ve essentially got four measures of F. Since this is one of the dramatic points of the song, I’ve changed the rhythm to give things a little more breathing room:

I’ve also switched from F to Fmaj7 again in order to do a simple trick: on the last beat of measure eight, I’m going to slide my Fmaj7 up two frets where it (magically!) becomes a G6 and then slide it back down to start measure nine with the Fmaj7 again. Why? Just to do something different. It’s a small touch, but it makes a long stretch of the same chord a little more interesting.

At the very end of the chorus, I switch to our “chord melody” strumming because I want to get set to return to the verse progression again. Since the melody here is C (“blown” and D (“a” from “a-way”), this is easy enough to do since we’ve become good at it from all of our earlier practice.

And so we set forth onto the next verse or simple end the song by playing half a verse and then ending on Am.

I hope you had fun with this lesson and have fun with this song. While this may not have seemed as involved as some of our intermediate lessons, what you have (no pun intended) picked up here will be something that you can use in almost all the songs you play.

I hope that you continue to experiment with strumming patterns – using full chords, partial chords, single notes and arpeggios. Work in the melody lines or add a bass line. This is how you learn to develop your own arrangements and this is why people will listen to you with interest.

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 [email protected]

Until next lesson…


Where Did The Guitar Tab Go?
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.