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All right, let's learn a real song. I want to teach you "Leaving on a Jet Plane" by John Denver. I chose the song because I love this song. I hope you love it too. It's also just got three chords in it, and I have taken some liberties with the song, so they're not exactly the same chord voicings that John Denver played. It is the same key, so it's quite similar to the original, but I just changed the chords a little bit. You'll see what I mean in a second....to make them a little bit more beginner friendly. And also, I think they actually....I think this arrangement sounds good on its own, even if you're not singing. I hope you agree that it sounds good.
Let me just play it for you a little bit, so you get a little taste of what you're going to learn. Oh, my bags are packed, ready to go. I'm standing here outside your door. I hate to wake you up to say goodbye. But the dawn is breaking, it's early morn. Taxi's waitin, he's blowin his horn. Already, I'm so lonesome, I could die.
Before we start, you may want to click on the link to the chord chart that I have for you. Bring it up on your screen or print it out so you can follow along as I teach you. Don't worry if, like those picking diagrams don't make any sense to you yet. They'll make more sense after you go through this lesson with me.
First, let's go over the chords of the song. The first chord is a G chord, and we're going to be using the fingering that I usually use for a G chord. It's a little non-standard. Normally, in my song lessons, I tell people, you know, use whatever G fingering you want. But with this particular song, this is the fingering you're going to want to use. And you'll see why in a second. It's third finger on the sixth string, third fret, and you're going to damp the fifth string with the underside of your finger. It's kind of hard not to. And then your pinky is going to go on the first string, third, fret. And so it sounds like this.
And then the next chord is a C with a G in the bass, and this is why you're going to be using this G fingering because you're going to need to free up your first and second fingers for this next voicing. This is what it sounds like. And what you do is you just keep these other two fingers where they are and then you put your first finger where you would normally for a C chord, so second string, first fret and your second finger where you would normally put it for a C chord. So fourth string, second fret. That's what it sounds like.
And technically, you don't need to fret the first string for these chords, you're not going to be picking the first string, at least not intentionally in this arrangement of the song. You never hit the first string in this song. And so if this fingering gives you trouble, if you have like, a really small hand or short fingers or whatever, you could just ignore the first string and like, play your G chord like this, just on the sixth string. And then your C with G in the bass. Also, not fretting the first string and your hand might naturally like come up against the first string and damp it, which would be nice. You know, it's nice to have this safety net when you're playing finger style, even if you don't intend to hit a string. Sometimes you decide to improvise a.k.a. hit it on accident, and it'd be nice to be hitting a chord tone if you hit that string. So I always like to grab like the full chord when it's easy to do so, when I'm playing finger style just to have that safety net. But yeah, technically you don't need to fret that first string.
OK, so that's C with G in the bass. It's written is like C/G. And then we're also going to be fretting a normal C chord. So that's with our third finger on the fifth string, third fret. And the reason, or one of the reasons why we go to this normal C chord instead of just sticking with the C with G in the bass is that for the D chord, we're going to be playing a special D. I love this chord for finger style. It can be pretty dissonant if you strum it, but played finger style, it really sounds nice. And what it is just it's called a Dadd4 and it's just a C chord scooted up two frets. And if you strum the whole thing, including the open first string, it sounds even more dissonant, but again, remember, we're not hitting the first string, and so it's really going to be, just those four strings. So that's our Dadd4.
All right now, let's practice playing our picking pattern over these chords. We'll start with the G chord and we're going to be using that same six, two, four, three pattern that we learned in the last lesson. And so let's start by planting before we play to set ourselves up for success. Thumb on the sixth string, pointer finger on the third string, middle finger on the second string because those are the notes we're going to be hitting first.
Why don't we just review that six, two, four, three. I'm going to count us in and we'll pick it together: One and two and three and four and six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three, and remember, our thumb is hitting both the sixth string and the fourth string.
Now let's try the C with G in the bass. Same picking pattern. Three and four and.....six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three.
Now let's try switching back and forth between each chord. One measure each. Now this six, two, four, three pattern only lasts for two beats. So if you want to play a full measure of that pattern, you need to play the pattern twice. It's like one and two and three and four and. In most of the song "Leaving on a Jet Plane", you play each chord for one measure.
So let's practice doing that right now. We'll play G for one measure, which means two patterns of six, two, four, three and then we'll do C with G in the bass for a whole measure. Again, two patterns of six, two, four, three. All right, here we go. Plant before you play. And get ready to play on that G chord 3 and 4 and. Six, two, four, three, six, two, four, three. Switch to C with G in the bass. Two, four three, six, two, four, three. Back to G. C with G in the bass. One more time. One and two and three and four and. One and two and three and four and. Good.
Now let's practice playing the C chord--the straight up C chord--and then the Dadd4, OK? Both of these chords have what's called a fifth string root instead of a sixth string root. And when we're Travis picking, and we move between these different kinds of chords, we need to change our picking pattern so that we start on the root. Our thumb almost always starts on the root of a chord, and the C with G in the bass, by the way, is a little bit of a freak of nature in this song. It's got an unusual bass note in it, so it actually doesn't follow that rule. But in general, you want to start on the root of your chord.
And so, for this C chord here, instead of six, two, four, three, we're going to be playing five, two, four, three. It's going to sound like this: five, two, four, three, like that. So grab your C chord and then plant before you play again. And now your thumb is going to be resting on the fifth string instead of the sixth string. First and second fingers on your picking hand are still assigned to their usual strings. OK, here we go. Three and four and. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three.
Now, let's try our Dadd4. Just slide up two frets. Same exact picking pattern. Three and four and. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three.
OK, now let's do the same thing we did before, where we switch back and forth between these two chords. We're going to be going between the C and the Dadd4, just scooting our hand up and down. And again, we'll be playing them for one measure each. In the actual song, you usually hang out on that Dadd4 for more than one measure, but this is just an exercise, OK? It's just warming you up for the song.
So plant before you play. And you know, I would be remiss if I didn't nag you about your other guidelines for good picking techniques. So let's take a moment to check in with holding a lemon, tilting your wrist, making a cross. Look down at your picking hand. Make sure you're making that cross. And make sure you're picking with your thumb at the lowest joint.
OK, plant before you play, and I'm going to count us in, one measure each again....so two picking patterns per chord. Three and four and. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Scoot up. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Scoot down. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. Five, two, four, three. One and two and three and four and. One and two and three and four and. One more time. One and two and three and four and. One and two and three and four and.
OK, now let's look at how the song is put together. Look at the chord chart and you'll see that the song starts with an intro. If you're not familiar with the way I write out chord charts in this way, that intro, since it doesn't have any lyrics in it, I do what's called dashing out the song, and those slash marks represent bar lines or measure lines, so it shows the beginning and end of a measure. And within each of those measures, you'll see four things written, like at first you see a G written and then three hyphens or dashes. And what that means is that G that's written there, it means play G for one beat. And then those three dashes are kind of like ditto marks. It means play G for another beat and another beat and another beat. And that all adds up to G for four beats, which is one measure of G.
Then in the next measure, you see C/G. That slash in there, by the way, is not a measure line. It's part of the chord name. And so that C/G means play that chord for one beat and then three more hyphens means play it for three more beats, for a total of four beats of C/G. Then we do the same thing again. Another measure of G, another measure of C/G. So in other words, the intro is like measure G, measure C/G, measure G, measure C/G.
And incidentally, this intro is not the same intro as John Denver plays in the recording. He plays this really pretty, kind of complicated pattern that's basically over a D chord, and I just thought this would be an easier way for a beginner to kind of warm up playing the song. You're basically playing the first part of the chord progression, but you don't have to sing yet. So if you're singing, this gives you a chance to kind of get some momentum going in the song before you start singing.
Let's skip the intro for now and just launch into the main progression of the song, which is one measure of G, one measure of C/G, another measure of G, another measure of C/G. And then on third line, I'm looking at the first verse here. The third line of the verse, you go from G to C and then Dadd4, and you see that two in parentheses? That two in parentheses means you play that Dadd4 for two measures instead of one. In my chord charts, the default for a chord written in my chord charts is one measure for that chord. So if you don't see anything in parentheses after a chord, you can assume that it lasts for one measure.
And so that Dadd4 with two in parentheses means, OK, we've got an unusual duration here. It's two measures instead of one. So two measures of Dadd4 means we're going to be doing this five, two, four, three pattern four times now, right? And so it sounds like this one and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and. And that's how long we play that Dadd4.
So let's go through this progression once together, really slow. And incidentally, this is the same progression you use for basically the whole song with some minor changes. So once you learn this guitar part, you've basically learned the whole song. OK, so I'm going to count us in and we're going to start on that first. Gee, that comes in like over the word bags. Ok? 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and. Time to switch to it, see? He had for two members. Let's do that one more time. Gee see teen. Feisty she. See? Yes.
OK, now let's talk about times where the song deviates from that progression that I just taught you, ok? First of all, at the end of the choruses, you play that dad for measures instead of two, which especially if you're playing it at a slow tempo, he's going to feel like a very long time. And I think it sounds quite lovely, but it can be kind of hard to keep track of where you are, especially if you're beginning Travis picker. So it would sound like this one and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and 1 and 2 and 3 and. And 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and then back into the next verse,
it's a long time right now, look at the bottom of your chart where it says outro chorus. This is its own thing, so you start with basically playing a normal course. And that's that whole like those six lines of music that makes up the bulk of the outro course. And there's a line break after them. But if you look at that last chord at the end of those six lines that dyad four, you'll notice that it's only two measures. So he, John Denver, kind of keeps things going at a good clip here at the end of his outro course. He just does two measures because then he comes back and repeats those last three lines. Again, this is called a tag at the end of a song. When you repeat a portion of a chorus at the end, it's very common in country music. So he only plays that dad for two measures, and then he comes back in for the tag, and the tag has a different last line to it. So you go, I'm leaving. On a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again. Oh, baby, see last for two measures. I hate to go and now dad for six measures. There's three. There's four. There's five. 6 and. G so that's how John Denver plays it in his version of the song.
Now, since you're beginning Travis picker, you may want to simplify parts of the song to meet your own needs. You may not even be interested in playing the whole song. You might just want to get really good at that main progression and call it good and move on to the next song. That's fine. But now at least you are equipped to be able to Travis pick the whole song, sticking to the structure of the song that John Denver composed.
OK, I know some of you are going to want to sing this song. Great! And I want to help you choose a good key for your voice. So this song maybe a little high for some men and may be low for, I would say, most women. And so first of all, if you do want to try to sing it in the same key as I was singing it in, and as John Denver sings it in, here are the high and low notes. So you can just kind of gauge whether this is a good key for your voice. The song starts on a G like, "oh, my bags are packed", but the lowest note is down here on the open fourth string.......so he sings it like "all my bags are packed, I'm ready to go".
So that low note is a D on the open fourth string and then the highest note in the song is in the chorus where he goes, "I'm leavin on a jet plane". That "on" is up on the open first string. That's an E. So the lowest note is the open fourth string, the highest note is the open first string.
So you can just test your voice. Try singing this low note. And this high note. Most guys will need to support. Firm up your belly and really give it some oomph to get up to that note. If that feels too high for you guys, you could capo up around.......I don't know, maybe the fifth fret and now you can start...... you'll actually be even though you're moving the key up higher......you can actually pop down a whole octave than where you would be singing normally up five frets. So it's like up five frets, but then down a whole octave and you're starting note would be now on the sixth string, third fret relative to the capo. So it's actually like the eighth fret if you didn't have a capo on.
And so now you'd be singing like, "oh, my bags are packed". The lowest note in the song is going to be the like sixth string, third fret. You can't play it if you're in capo five, so I just moved my capo, so you could hear that note. "I'm ready to go", which is about the bottom end for most guys' voices. So if you have kind of a low voice that may be totally comfortable to you. Sorry "oh, my bags are packed. I'm ready to go. I'm standing here outside your door". Not terribly low. And then your high note is "I'm leaving on a jet plane". That's the fourth string, second fret relative to the capo. That would be your high note.
And then women: you actually may like capo five also, but you'd be singing one octave higher than that demonstration that I just gave. You'd be again, just as like John Denver and I: our starting note was the open third string..... your starting note would be the open third string. But now, since we're capo five, that note is going to be higher. That's a C note technically. So you'd be like, "oh, my bags are packed, I'm" and that's the lowest note in the song-open fourth string. "I'm ready to go. I'm standing here outside your door". So that should be comfortable, at least for women who can sing relatively low. Keep in mind that the lowest notes in the song tend to be not as important to hit as the highest notes in the song, so if you have a fairly narrow vocal range, usually doesn't sound that bad to just kind of mumble the low notes, but you want to be able to hit the high notes.
So ladies, if you can't hit that low note, you know, I'm speaking to women and also young people who have higher voices. It's not the end of the world. You do, however, want to be able to hit your high note, which is the open first string. But I can't really hit that note, but anyway, "on a jet plane", that would be your highest note in this new key. All right. So hopefully that gives you an idea of where you might play the song to tailor the song to your vocals. The picking pattern, the chord fretting is all going to be the same if you use a capo. Up here at the fifth fret it's just going to sound like this. My guitar is slightly out of tune, because usually have to tune again if you put a capo on. But guitars tend to sound really good capoed up played finger style. They have this wonderful warmth to them that really sounds lovely. So another benefit of capoing up the neck.
OK, so I'd like you to practice jet plane enough to be able to play that main progression at at least a slow tempo. You don't need to play it as fast as I played it when I did my song demonstration. You don't need to be able to sing over it either, so just be able to pick it like this. At that tempo. And be able to play through the whole main progression of the song, if you're able to do that, then you can graduate to the next lesson.
Heads up! The next two videos in the course are practice tracks. There's a slow practice track where I play just through the first verse of the song at a slow tempo. And then there's also a performance track of me performing the whole song at more of a medium tempo. It's probably not quite as fast as I would play it, if I were performing it, but it sets a tempo that sounds decent. And so if you want to add this song to your repertoire, if you want to really learn the song well enough to be able to perform it, if you're shooting for being able to play along with that performance track, I think would be a good goal.
How's it going?
Are you loving the lesson? Confused? Have a suggestion? I'd love to hear from you.