Chord Chart Updates18 Aug 2013 07:17 pm

yael Photo credit:

I just posted a chart for "New Soul," a sweet little tune by Franco-Israli singer-songwriter Yael Naim. "New Soul" ascended to No. 7 in the Billboard Hot 100 in early 2008 when it was featured in a MacBook Air commercial. I imagine Naim was singing that catchy "La-la-la" hook all the way to the bank.

As is true of many of my charts, the strumming pattern I've recommended isn't the one used by the guitarist in the song. The reason for this is that most people using charts online are playing solo, or perhaps with another guitarist, and if that's the case, recreating what the guitarist in the recording is doing is going to sound too sparse. For much of the tune, the guitar, along with the piano, is simply accenting the 2nd and 4th beats (AKA the backbeat). It's the bass and drums that are primarily responsible for establishing the song's groove. So unless you've got a rhythm section backing you up, you're going to need a busier strumming pattern, one that captures the overall groove.

I hope you like my choice.

Chord Chart Updates15 Aug 2013 03:16 pm


In my defense, I said I'd post 30 charts in 30 days--not that I wouldn't do any skipping-and-cramming. I skipped a few days to launch the Summer Cover Competition, and this is the cram.

Here are charts for two pop songs--John Mayer's "Half of My Heart" and Sean Kingston's doo-wop inspired "Dumb Love"--and one classic 1944 jazz duet, Frank Loesser's "Baby, It's Cold Outside".

I charted "Baby, It's Cold Outside" for my wife for Christmas last year, so that we could sing it together. Some people find the song creepy, going as far as to call it a date-rape set to jazz. Others see the female character in the song wanting to stay, but putting up token protest. I'm obviously in the latter category.

I don't teach jazz, and can't play much, but the strum pattern I've recommended works for most jazz tunes. Damp the strings with your fretting hand after each down-strum by releasing pressure just enough to stop the strings from ringing, which will get you that percussive Freddie Green sound. And remember to swing!

Have fun.

Chord Chart Updates15 Aug 2013 02:00 pm

Cowgate The Cowgate Arch of George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, 1860
Source: National Galleries of Scotland Commons

Here's a special treat for traditional music buffs: A chart for a gorgeous, epic tour of the history of Edinburgh written by the obscure Scottish songwriter Nick Keir.

"Fires of Edinburgh" by Nick Keir (the first of the two songs)

Transcribing this song was a big task, but immensely rewarding. Almost always there are lyrics available for the songs I chart, but because this is an obscure tune, the lyric-deciphering was up to me. And because I knew nothing about Edinburgh before the project, getting the many place names right required that I dig deep into Wikipedia. I had become a musical archeologist for a day.

What I unearthed brought the song to life: The "trail of gunpowder," for example, refers to the murder of Mary, Queen of Scots' second husband, whose house, located near the catacomb-riddled Cowgate neighborhood pictured above, was destroyed by a gunpowder explosion but who appeared to have been strangled, his body unmarked by the explosion. Discovering these details was a thrilling treasure hunt.

The musicianship and songwriting is top-notch. Keir (who, according to YouTube comments, tragically died recently) was a skilled flatpicker, playing fast, clean arpeggios at the beginning and ending of the song. The melody in this song is lovely, and his voice is clear and honest.

I don't expect I'll ever teach this song again, and I'd be surprised if more than a handful of people will ever use the chart I've posted. But those who do are in for a great adventure.

Journal Entries14 Aug 2013 09:07 am

Summer_Cover_400I’m organizing a fun competition this week that will give you a chance to share your music with the thousands of people who visit my site every day, and give you a shot at winning either a $100 gift certificate to Musician’s Friend, or a free lesson with me (on Skype unless you’re in Seattle). You choose.

This competition is for all skill levels. Don’t be shy, beginners!

To enter, film yourself (or your band) performing one of the songs featured on my site–I’m sure you’ve found a few that you love to play–and post it on YouTube. I’ll embed all the videos on my site and visitors will vote for their favorites.

Submission deadline is Tuesday, August 20. That’s exactly one week from today, so time to hit the woodshed.

Details here.

Really looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

Chord Chart Updates11 Aug 2013 09:30 pm


30 Charts in 30 Days continues!

Up next we have a paradox packaged in a bubblegum wrapper: Mr. John is yearning for those golden days of his youth, when he and Susie used to rock to…the song he just wrote.

Careful, Elton–just because no one’s created a black hole while writing a song doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

Here’s the chord chart.

Chord Chart Updates10 Aug 2013 07:34 pm


Here's a chart for Bob Dylan's mythical ode to John Lennon, "Roll On, John".

The song's structure--a long (7:25) series of alternating verse and chorus--is typical of his songwriting in the last decade. It has a similar feel to several of Joni Mitchell's songs on Hejira, namely "Song of Sharon," which is 8:40 of verses, one after the other. Their slow unfolding makes these kinds of songs great road-trip music.


Chord Chart Updates09 Aug 2013 08:16 pm


Here's a chart of "June Hymn" by The Decemberists.

What a gorgeous song. Lovely bass-strum technique on the guitar, the accordion and Wurlitzer interweave elegantly, and the lyrics are lush poetry. Plus, if you're a high school student with your eyes on a competitive college, this song, and really any Decemberists tune, makes for great SAT prep. English major rock stars represent!

Here's the song's vocabulary list. How would you score if you took the test today?

  • heralding
  • bleating
  • reverie
  • arbor
  • garland
  • panoply
  • barony
  • ambling

If you need a study break, check out this video of my student Rahul and his kids performing "June Hymn" with me at a recent Coffee Shop Jam. The beginning of the song's cut off, the footage is shaky, sound is bad--and it's still one of my favorite jam videos.

This is what the Jam is all about: Different generations getting together to share the joy of music.

Chord Chart Updates08 Aug 2013 04:29 pm

Here's a chord chart for "I Got Stripes," originally written out for my student Wesley, the biggest Cash fan I know. Check out his great strumming in his Coffee Shop Jam performance. Part of what makes that groove sound so good is that he's accenting the 2nd and 4th beats of the measure, called the "backbeat." These are the beats the drummer normally plays on the snare drum. When you're lacking a drummer, and you really want your strumming to chug with momentum, accent the backbeat.

This is a tough strumming skill for beginners to learn. Wesley's ability to do it while strumming at lightspeed is pretty incredible.

Chord Chart Updates07 Aug 2013 05:05 pm

Photo Credit:

I've just posted a chart for the Beatles tune "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away".

Many Beatles songs are deceptively difficult. They may sound simple, but then halfway through the tune, BAM! Key change to C#! Or WHAM! Weird diminished chord invented by Thelonious Monk. Beatles fans who just know cowboy chords have a rougher row to hoe than, say, Bob Dylan fans (though he has some challenging tunes too).


Thankfully, there are a few popular Beatles tunes that everyone can enjoy, and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" is one. "But Rob," you might say, "It's got an F chord in it. I've been going to my F chord support group every Tuesday for five months and it hasn't helped."

Well, you can kiss your support group goodbye. The Fmaj7/A, while not perfect, is a perfectly serviceable substitution for the F chord. Sure, it sounds a little jazzy/dissonant. I wouldn't recommend changing all your songs to the key of F just to use it. But especially if the song just lights briefly on the F before gliding on to other, friendlier chords, the Fmaj7/A will hardly be noticed as anything unusual.

Enjoy the song!

Chord Chart Updates06 Aug 2013 03:47 pm

rubber-soulHere's a chart for the beloved Beatles tune, "In My Life," often found in the lists of top songs of the last century.

Fun Fact: The baroque harpsichord-sounding solo was composed and performed on piano by the Beatles' producer George Martin. He was unable to play it at full speed, so he recorded it at half-speed and then sped the tape up, so that the result sounds one octave higher. Love those studio shenanigans.

Beginners beware: This song features a Cm, a barre chord. Several common barre chords can be substituted with easier counterparts, but I know of no good substitution for Cm barred at the 3rd fret.


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