Time to dip into the “email bag” once again! Today’s question concerns two of the song arrangements from The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar:
I want to tell you that Iâ€™m enjoying your book, a lot, and making some headway in the difficult but fun voyage of learning to play.Â It sat on my bookshelf for a few months.Â My first impression was that these songs would not be near as much fun as your Guitar Noise songs and, to be frank, “Tom Dooley” and “Banana Boat” reinforced that impression.
Luckily, I picked up your book and CD again, skipped around on the CD and heard many songs I liked. Â I have worked my way through half of the book, skipping a few things I already knew or already could do, trying some things I cannot yet do and planning to keep going back and trying (like barre chords). Â Your arrangement of songs like “Oh! Susannah,” “Wayfaring Stranger” and “The Cruel War” enable a beginner guitarist to sound good.
Â Iâ€™m struggling with playing both “The Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” at anywhere near correct tempo. Â Iâ€™m wondering if this is typical, at my stage of development.Â Iâ€™ve been working hard at learning the guitar for about eighteen months.Â I find fingerpicking style easier (I can do your earlier Guitar Noise version of “Scarborough Fair”) but I do like the sound of the pick, too.Â Perhaps, I should concentrate on learning just the fingerpicking style because I do not have the luxury of limitless time.Â Any thoughts, David?Â
Thank you for writing and thank you as well for your kind words concerning The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar. Thank you, too, for giving it a chance! I know that “Tom Dooley” and “The Banana Boat” song are reasonably easy, but it’s hard to come up with something that a total beginning can play easily and still sound like a cool song. I did try to get my publishers on the “Horse with No Name” bandwagon, but they were totally set on using only Public Domain material (or my own songs, which is how I snuck in “Julia and John” at the very end).
With “Gallows Pole” and “Midnight Special” you’ve chosen two of the hardest pieces. Not because of the speed but because of the thought behind it. When I recorded both of these songs for the book, my intent was to do something very spontaneous, just as one would when playing a song on the fly.Â Then came the wonderful task of transcribing it all afterwards!
Of the two, “Gallows Pole” is a little easier because pretty much everything is a variation of the pattern given at the top of page 111. And that’s really the key to playing it at speed -Â work on just the first two measures at as slow a tempo you need to get the rhythm and the feel comfortably inÂ your fingers. The first measureÂ is totally based on the Am chord, so try to keep that in place – keeping your index and ring fingers very close to the strings after performing the pull-offs. Your middle finger should be at the second fret of the D string even though you don’t play it during the first measure.
Once you’ve played the first measure, then use your ring finger to get the third fret of the A string. Because you’ve not moved your middle finger, you should see that you’ve got two-thirds of a C chord. Pick the A, D and GÂ strings and then slide your fingers up two frets to get the last three notes.
First try doing this without worry at all about the timing. Your object is to getÂ your fingers to perform their assigned task. Once your good with that, then start very slowly and gradually increase your speed. You should find that, with surprisingly less repetition than you’d think, you’re getting faster than you’d imagine.
The strategy with “Midnight Special” is pretty much the same, only you want to work one phrase at a time.Â For what it’s worth, I’m going to be doing a Guitar Noise step-by-step piece on this arrangement of”Midnight Special,” much in the same manner as the “Oh! Susannah” lesson,Â sometime this spring. Hopefully that will be of help, too.
I should mention, too, that you can play either of these with just your fingers. I do it all the time. The percussive hits don’t sound quite the same but it still works. If you were to put twenty minutes a day into it I think you’d probably get it all fairly quickly.
I hope this helps and I look forward to chatting with you again.