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I. Finding a Good Key

Robert Johnson originally recorded Dust My Broom in the key of E, but I changed the key of the song to the key of A for this course, so that the chords were a little easier, and so that the guys could more easily sing the high notes. Let’s check out where the low and high notes are in the song to see if you can hit them comfortably.

The lowest note is an “A2”, which is found on the open 5th string of the guitar. You sing it on the word “broom” in the line, “I believe I’ll dust my broom.” Women, most of you are not going to be able to hit this, I’m afraid. But try singing it with me.

The highest note is a “D4”, found on the 2nd string, 3rd fret. You sing it on the word “up” in the line, “I’m gonna call up China.” Guys, you’re going to need to put some oomph into it to hit this one. Try it with me.

Singing Higher, Option 1: Go Up an Octave

Pretty much everyone should be able to hit that high note, but women, a lot of you are not going to be able to hit the A2. But do not fear! The quickest and easiest way to fix this is to jump up a whole octave. This will get you singing the song a little higher than the Robert Johnson version. It sounds like this--bear with me, this is right at the top of my range:

This would put your low note at A3, which is on the 3rd string, 2nd fret. And your high note is now a D5 on the 1st string, 10th fret--This takes us guys to the stratosphere with AC/DC and Rush and Aerosmith, but a lot of women are comfortable hitting that note.

Singing Higher, Option 2: Capo Up

So what if you’ve got a Goldilocks voice--the A2 is too low, but the D5 is too high. In that case, slap the capo on. Now this will mean that you can’t play along with my backing tracks--it’ll sound awful--so you may want to muddle through in the original key until you don’t need the backing tracks any longer. But once you’re ready, you should really find a good key for your voice.

Here’s how you use the capo to do that. Start at Capo 1, and try playing those original low and high notes, but now relative to the capo instead of the nut. So play the open 5th string and try singing that, and 2nd string, 3rd fret (which is actually the 4th fret now, but it’s 3 frets up from the capo). Keep doing this, moving up fret by fret, until you find notes you can hit comfortably.

II. Learn the Vocal Part Well

Your next step is to learn the vocal part well by listening to the Jam Track several times, and once you’ve got it in your ear, try singing along. You’ll be surprised by how tricky it is to know when to come in, but the best way to learn these things is just to listen to the song a ton. And by a ton, I mean, if you’d never heard the song before taking this course, listen to it at least five times? Maybe ten? Play it in your car driving to school or work, or on your headphones when you’re waiting for the bus. I know, listening to me sing that much--pure torture, but it’ll be worth it, if it doesn’t kill you. 8o

III. One Strum Per Measure, Slowly

OK, now we’ll practice strumming just on Beat 1, called the Downbeat, while we sing. The downbeat is like landmark or milemarker that helps you navigate the rhythm of the singing. If you don’t know where that beat falls in relation to the singing, you’re lost. So we’re going to practice finding them, while eliminating pretty much everything else--We’re going to play slowly, and no busy strumming--just a single downstrum on the downbeat.

You’ll see I’ve put red arrows on the chord chart where the downbeats fall. When there’s a chord change, the chord is actually located right over the lyrics where the downbeat falls, so instead of putting an arrow right over the chord name, I kept things more legible by angling them in from the side. There’s a link to the chart below, so print it out if you like.

I’m going to play through the whole song. Follow along with me.

Did you notice that all the vocal lines started before the chord change, and most of them ended right before a downbeat too? This is one of the big challenges of learning to strum and sing--vocal lines tend to be squirrely. They avoid the downbeat. It’d be so much easier if it went: “I believe, I believe I’ll go back home.” But if Robert Johnson had sung it like that, people probably would have told him, “Yeah, you should go home.”

So feel free to rewind and sing along with me some more. Up next, we’ll strum once per beat instead of once per measure.

[Pause Screen]

IV. One Strum Per Beat, Slowly

Now we’re going to add some difficulty--you’re going to be strumming downstrums once per beat instead of once per measure. This is gonna clarify the rhythm of the vocal line at a finer resolution--you’re going to see where every beat falls in relation to the singing. But we’ll keep a slow tempo, which will hopefully make those chord changes more manageable. Here we go.

V. Full strum pattern, Slowly

Now let’s bring in the full strum pattern. Remember this thing?

> >
D U D U D U D U w/Swing Feel
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +

Now accenting the backbeat might be a little much right now. If that’s the case, don’t sweat it, you can bring it in later. But I’ll accent, so that we don’t sound like March of the German Robots. ARE YOU READY?!

VI. Full strum pattern to tempo

Keep working on that until you’re ready to play at full tempo. When you are, you can just use one of the jam tracks provided. There are several jam track options, depending on whether you want to play and sing along with me, which is easier, or do it yourself, which is harder but probably more fun once you’re up for it. Have fun!

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