New Chart: “Fires of Edinburgh” by Nick Keir

Cowgate Arch
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.

New Chart: “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John

Elton John

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.

New Chart: “June Hymn” by The Decemberists


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.

New Chart: “I Got Stripes” by Johnny Cash

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.

New Chart: “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” by The Beatles

John Lennon
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!

New Chart: “In My Life” by The Beatles

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.


New Chart: “Space Oddity” by David Bowie

David Bowie

Photo credit: Getty Images

This strange, gorgeous, moving piece about an AWOL astronaut features fifteen chords and a challenging strum pattern I've never heard elsewhere.

Here's the chart.

Playing "Space Oddity" like the recording requires solid barre chord and rhythm skills, but a little creativity can make it more accessible. For example, the Folk Strum (search my site if you don't know what that is) played twice per measure is a decent substitution for the main strum pattern. What I call the "Rock Riff," awesome as it may be, can be axed if it's out of your league. You can play a non-barred Fmaj7 in place of F and Fm. And the Bbmaj7 can be avoided if you play it and the three following chords as power chords.

Incidentally, this song was performed reverently by Commander Chris Hadfield in the first music video to be shot in space, on the International Space Station, this past May. Major props to "Major" Chris for capturing the hearts of so many of us (and for this fun explanation of the joys and challenges of playing guitar in space). But please, be careful of that little Larrivee Parlour guitar! Watching it tumble through the capsule of the I.S.S was like watching my son pitch out of his high-chair in slow-mo.

New Chart: “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line” by Waylon Jennings


People who've followed my blog over the years know that my student Wesley is a big Johnny Cash fan. He was when he gave his amazing performance of Folsom Prison Blues back in 2009, and he's learned and performed several more since then.

His love of Johnny Cash, and in particular his The Best of The Johnny Cash TV Show album, has led him to other great country singers like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash's one-time roommate. Last fall, I taught him "Only Daddy That'll Walk the Line."

Here's the chart.

The song just has three chords, but you'll need to stay on your toes to nail the timing of the end of the chorus. Just watch this live performance to see the trouble Jennings and his bass player (singing backup vocals) had with this funky 10-beat break. First time through, Jennings doesn't hold the first note quite long enough, and you can see him smiling at the mistake afterwards. Second time he nails it, though you can tell he was working hard.

Third time through, he loses his nerve, or maybe he just decided to mess with his bass player. I wouldn't put it past him. Whatever the reason, he sing's "You've got the--" and then stops singing. The bass player hits his note for a split second, but immediately realizes his voice alone and naked--and he collapses into laughter. One of my all-time favorite live music bloopers.