So mysterious, so impossibly beautiful…one of my favorite songs from a songwriter like no other.
Sometimes I forget how important music is during times of stress.
This past weekend, I was feeling beat. Being in the U.S.’s epicenter of the virus outbreak has been exhausting. The days spent scrambling to switch my private students to online lessons, reading the increasingly dismal news, and worrying about my friends and family had taken their toll.
Even my boys’ excitement about making Leprechaun traps in anticipation for St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t lifting my spirits.
But on Sunday afternoon, we built a fire in the backyard and my wife suggested I pull out the guitar. “Let’s hear some quarantunes!”
As we ran through our family’s favorite singalong songs, my spirits lifted. And then someone suggested “Wagon Wheel,” and one of my 5-year-olds ran inside to grab his toy pan flute.
“I’m gonna count to four,” I told him, “and then I want you to play a big solo, OK?” We hadn’t really ever done this before, so I had no idea what to expect.
I counted us in, and man, he ripped into the most wild, weird, mind-blowingly wonderful flute (?!) solo. I was so delighted and amazed I could barely sing from the laughter.
Ever since, the world has felt a little more manageable.
Don’t forget how much we all need music right now.
My 700+ chord charts
My Totally Awesome Campfire Singalong Songbook (just look for the ad)
If you haven’t already, Join Heartwood Guitar for in-depth premium song lessons–a new one for “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley released this Friday!
Hang in there!
This past week I shot my next premium song lesson, Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” It was a real coming-full-circle experience for me, having learned it when I was 14, and played it countless times with friends and strangers and girls-I-liked-who-just-wanted-to-be-friends over the years, and now teaching it to members of Heartwood Guitar.
It got me thinking about why this song continues to be so popular–with young and old alike. And why some songs work so well on solo guitar and other just don’t. And why learning to play songs solo is SO IMPORTANT.
Some Songs Just Don’t Work
Stairway to Heaven, for example, is notoriously hard to play solo. No one plays Stairway unless they’re on stage with a band, or showing off at Guitar Center. Even if you know how to play every guitar part, pulling off Robert Plant’s banshee wailing is beyond almost all of us, men and women included.
AND that’s a lot of words to remember.
AND those chord shapes are a real test of endurance on an acoustic guitar.
AND you’ll have to skip the guitar solo if you’ve got no one to play rhythm.
And that’s a crying shame.
The Perfect Solo Song
“Wish You Were Here,” on the other hand, is one of those songs made for solo performance.
It’s easy to sing–both for most men in the original key, or for most women by simply slapping on a capo.
It’s played using easy open chords.
And here’s the kicker: The instrumental part–that classic riff that starts the song–is one of those rare gifts from the guitar gods that can be played by mere mortals on solo guitar.
Performing “Wish You Were Here” with my student Wesley at Seattle’s Royal Room in 2018
Why the World Needs You to Have a Repertoire of Solo Songs
Whenever I teach someone a song–in person or online–I always try to anticipate how they’ll play when I’m not around. If they play in a rock band, I’ll teach them guitar parts that will sound good with the band backing them up.
But most of us don’t play in bands, and unfortunately, we live in communities where remote controls and game controllers have replaced musical instruments. Most people in the United States don’t even SING anymore.
We as a species are increasingly cut off from one of our main sources of community-building and spiritual sustenance.
You, my friend, are part of the solution–but you need to be able to hold your own. When you play music, you can’t count on other people joining in. So if you want to take your music out of your bedroom and share it with friends and family–because it’s fun, and because our culture is in dire need of it–you need a repertoire of popular songs that you can play start to finish.
Even if everyone else is just mumbling the chorus.
I’ve just completed an overhaul of Heartwood Guitar’s backend (the stuff under the hood you don’t see), which has enabled me to update the site quickly and easily. To celebrate, I’ve added a bunch of new chord charts.
Adams, Bryan – Summer of ’69 S
Beastie Boys, The – No Sleep till Brooklyn
Beastie Boys, The – Sabotage
Eurythmics – Sweet Dreams S
Foo Fighters – Cheer Up Boys Your Make Up Is Running
Foo Fighters – My Hero
Guy, Buddy – Let Me Love You Baby S
Hendrix, Jimi – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Kristofferson, Kris – Me and Bobby McGee S
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Free Bird
McPherson, JD – North Side Gal S
Metallica – Master of Puppets
New Pornographers, The – Twin Cinema
Petty, Tom – You Wreck Me
Thompson, Richard – Dimming of the Day
Who, The – I Can’t Explain
Big thanks to my good friend Joe Walker of Deft Digits for charting “Free Bird” and “Master of Puppets”–those were beasts!
The 2018 Christmas Carol Songbook was a huge success, bringing in $942, which I split between two worthy causes:
The RAICES Families Together Fund, which works to prevent the cruel separation of children and their parents at the U.S. southern border, and
Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Uncompensated Care Fund, which helps cover the care of sick kids here in Seattle.
Huge thanks to everyone who donated: Laura, Tony, Chris, Dave, William, Blake, Philip, Chase, Meghan, Frederik, Letty, Cynthia, James, Steven, Lonny, Elizabeth, Andrew, David, John, Derek, William, Todd, Stuart, Mark, Clint, Jim, Michael, Paul, Barry, John, Kenneth, Craig, Ryan, Jon, George, Sable, Maggie, Bohdan, Anthony, Jack, Donna, Michael, and John.
Seattle Children’s Hospital
Here's my latest free song lesson video: A beginner lesson on Leonard Cohen's amazing "Hallelujah." My arrangement is inspired by the gorgeous Jeff Buckley cover.
If you enjoy it, please subscribe to my new YouTube channel.
It's been so fun releasing these free song lesson videos over the past couple weeks. I remember the excitement my blog generated almost 10 years ago--at that time, there wasn't a whole lot of support for guitarists on the internet, especially if you were just starting out. I'm sensing that same excitement again. I'm loving producing the lessons, and people are loving learning from them.
Thanks for all the great feedback!
Here's my first-ever free song lesson video: "Let Her Go" by Passenger, for beginning and intermediate guitarists who want to learn how to both sing and play the song. This gorgeous tune is already hugely popular, and now that it's the soundtrack to Budweiser's cute Super Bowl puppy-and-horse-are-buddies commercial, the hugeness will only expand.
For the past year and a half, I've been shooting footage for a video-based beginning guitar course I'm calling "Rob's Totally Awesome Guitar Crash Course." The course won't be done until this fall, and in the meantime, I'm hungry for feedback.
So I've decided to shoot some free song lessons on the side: Stuff I can release, and get feedback on, now. Any feedback y'all give me on what's working and what's not would be tremendously helpful. Should I make more of these?
Words of encouragement motivate me to make more free lessons like this one. Share with your musical friends, and thanks for checking this out.
Well, religious except that I was freeloading. The ticket was a gift from a student, I took advantage of the open bar, and I didn't give a dime.
We're on a tight budget this year, so I'm not kicking myself. All the same, the generosity I saw at the concert made me want to do something to give back this year.
Here's the result: Rob's Totally Awesome Christmas Caroling Songbook. It's free, it's professional-quality, and it'll get you singing with your family and friends quicker than you can say "Wenceslas".
And if you dig the book and can spare a few bucks, please consider donating to Seattle Children's Hospital. You can read more about their Uncompensated Care Fund on the download page.
Thanks, and have a magical Christmas.
Musicians and teachers, I need your help.
Have you used a system for tracking guitar practice that really motivated you or your students to stick with it? I’m hoping to integrate a proven tracking system into the online guitar course I’m creating. Plus, it’d be awesome to use something like this with my private students.
I know how to teach students to practice mindfully and develop good muscle memory. And I understand the motivational power of providing performance opportunities for students. What I’m looking for is some kind of checklist, or point system, or game that will help students measure their progress and amplify their sense of accomplishment.
Bonus points if you can point me toward websites that have used a system like this.
Can’t wait to hear your ideas.
Congratulations to Wesley for winning the 2013 Summer Cover Competition. Wesley won a $100 gift certificate to Musician’s Friend.
Here’s his incendiary performance of Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone” that earned him first place.
You can see the full results and the other competitors (who were also excellent) on the Summer Cover Competition page.