Guitar - Learning To Play Songs Written By Others

If You Are Going To Play In A Key Every Day, Shouldn't You Learn That Way?Uncle Tim's Building Blocks

Yes, you should!

Music is key based. You are always in one key or another. Always!

Yet playing a guitar is not taught that way! Why?

Once you understand keys and the chords and scales that come from keys, the whole world of music opens up before your eyes!

Suddenly everything is MUCH easier. And it totally makes sense when you get into it.

For $15, you can put this all to rest right now. Pick up a copy today.

Buy The Book Now

Buy An eBook Copy Now

eBooks are delivered instantly!

After I became a competent guitar player, I soon decided to learn some new songs. I played a classic guitar, however, I wanted to play some pop songs. These songs were usually played on an acoustic guitar with steel strings. I tried to learn some songs off the radio but the differences in the guitar types made it sound funny when played on a classic guitar without a pick.

So, I decided I would just make up some songs of my own. Keep in mind, I was still very new at this hobby and I did not previously play many songs. I had my favorite keys, which were the only ones I knew at the time. They were C major, G major and D major. The first three keys on the Circle of Fifths.

I wrote about ten songs right away. I am not going to go into the lyrics, instead I am more interested in the progressions of chords. Most of my songs were about girls. They were on my mind quite a bit back then. Now I am able to think about a few other things in addition to them.

My songs were very simple. Too simple. Sometimes they were dressed up a bit by fancy finger picking, but they all had this theme of simplicity running through them. For the most part I agree with simple concepts, but when it comes to songs, it really can help to spice them up a bit and add interest. Back then, I had no idea how to do that. I really did not know how intricate songs that I liked were. The reason I did not know this is because I did not study the songs of others. This was a big mistake. I thought I was pretty clever but in fact I was just simple. Eventually this started to bore me and impress upon myself that these songs were too plain. The result? I quit playing them.

The first acoustic performer I tried to mimic was Dan Fogelberg. I always liked his acoustic music and his range of songs. My hard rock friends would constantly make fun of this. So I went in the closet for a couple of years. I still liked his work, but I kept it to myself. Learning his songs was easy for me, it paid very big benefits too. Fogelberg's songs are pretty easy, but they were light years ahead of what I was writing. I would find a couple of simple progressions I liked, and just played them over and over. He would find a couple of different places to play them and switch back and fourth and change them as he went. This immediately added interest to the piece and gave your ear more things to listen to.

He would also change some of the progressions by adding a chords or two or accent notes under certain conditions or even played one line against another. His picking habits were also much more sophisticated than mine. They were more elaborate and harder to figure out. When I noticed this, I could easily see how the added complexity masked the progressions and added some interest within the picking passage. He also would play some of the chords as barres when he was after a harder edge or if he was interested in creating a moving bass line out of the lower notes in the chords. So I learned to walk a bass line too.

It took about another year and a half to really learn what he was doing and apply this additional layer of complexity to my own music. I was embarrassed when I though back to how simple my first efforts were. I was astounded as to how much time and effort an original song could take to improve to the point that I would become proud of it. I really liked that my songs were evolving to become more complicated and I loved the fact that I could take that newly acquired skill and apply it to the next song.

He also did something that I thought added to his song endings. He often times plays strictly within one key for the whole song and when he ended the song he would end it on a major or minor seventh chord. This would create a lonely feeling and add a sad quality to the song. It would insert an additional emotional tug to the piece and often times I wanted to achieve tonic to introduce some rest. After a while I really looked for this signature ending in anticipation of how he would just let the ending hang there without resolving it. This made the music match the lyrics of these sad songs. My brain was being conditioned to like it, which I still do. It was a masterful way to take advantage of keys, extensions and phrasing to really apply the concepts to achieve a certain feeling. This was and is true artistry.

After a while I moved on to different artists, and even compared their styles against Fogelberg's to see how the different styles created differences in songs. Then when making up my own songs I would pull from all these influences and create something unique. I always made sure my songs were quite a bit different than anyone else's because I wanted them to be mine and reflect myself and my abilities. I know some people that would actually just change a few chords and claim the song was original. This is very difficult to respect and it usually fools nobody. So I wanted integrity in my playing which forced me to go deeper into the study to find out what was working, learn the concept and then apply it to my own situation. I became better because I was willing to do the work. This work always pays off if you think about it and apply it in a unique way. But it does take work. Sometimes the process is frustrating because it does not yield results quickly. There was much detective work that had to be done to understand the mechanisms present.

My hard rock friends never liked quiet acoustic music, so when I was with them, I tried to pick up on what they knew and learn about groups like Led Zeppelin, Yes and E.L.P.. Since this is fast moving, hard driving music that changes shape quickly, I had to start with pieces of it and learn what I could before it went over my head. Eventually I expanded my envelope of what I could handle, and learned some pieces all the way through. Quite often I had help from better guitarists.

I wrote this because I have talked to beginner and intermediate guitar players that try to write their own songs before they ever study other people's work. It really helps to study the work of songwriters that you admire. It will make you a better songwriter.

The good songs are usually not as simple as they seems. Some are, but often times they are more intricate than you might expect. There have been some extraordinary songwriters that have come before us that we can learn from. Once you study their technique and learn how they did it, it makes it easier to do it yourself. And if you have been working on your scales, chordings and technique, the original ideas will come to you much easier.