Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Only Guitar Chord Book You’ll Ever Need: The Beatles

           Originally I was going to put a disclaimer that the title of this piece wasn’t really true, just an eye-catching headline, but upon further consideration I believe it is accurate. While there might be other guitar chord books you want this is a book you must and should own: The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook.

Let me be specific: there are literally hundreds of Beatles books out there (guitar an others of course) and books with similar titles but the one you must have is, “The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook. Obviously I have attached various links to where you can purchase this book but I want to be 100% clear, The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook. Okay now that you know the title, why must you own this book?

You might think my first answer will be, “Because The Beatles are great and they wrote fabulous songs,” and while that answer will be on my list it is not the number one reason. Even if you are not a Beatles fan, don’t like there songs or have some other inexplicable reason for not enjoying their music, there are several other reasons this book is essential. Here we go.

1. The book contains the chord progressions, chord diagrams (so you know what the chords look like) and capo locations to every song The Beatles wrote and recorded. What that means is you get hundreds of different chords and chord shapes in the context of real and fabulous songs. And I can tell you from experience the book is 98% accurate (almost all music books have some mistakes, the 2% in this book are minor and, for the most part, inconsequential). Note: The book does not contain the cover songs they recorded.
Many chord books simply give chord shapes, in different keys, with various fingerings but without any context. I feel it is absolutely pointless to learn four different shapes of a C#min(Maj7) but have no context in which to utilize it…but on page 14, “All My Loving”, of The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook you will find a fantastic use of C#min(Maj7) (note: in the book, in particular on page 14, they call the C#min(Maj7) a Caug chord, this is correct: C#min(Maj7) and Caug are the same chord. A quick theory note: When a chord contains four or more different pitches the chord can be known by at least six different names, depending on the context.)

2. The book is easy to use as it is small and most songs are written out completely on two pages. There are rare occasion when songs require a page turn: “I Am the Walrus” is three pages long. This makes it great for portability and sing-alongs.
One minor concern is the binding on the book. The book is bound in the traditional way (what I believe is called “perfect” binding). I would prefer a spiral binding for this book, as that makes it easier to keep the book open to the page you’re on (you know what I’m talking about), so I had this done at the local office supply store. They cut the old binding off and replaced it with a heavy spiral coil. This was quick and inexpensive to do, about $5. Make sure they know what they are doing before you hand your book over.

3. The book contains many more challenging chords then you might expect. You’ll often hear that The Beatles’ songs are easy to play but this is completely untrue. This article is not the forum to discuss the philosophy of easy vs. difficult, good vs. bad, etc. but let me just say The Beatles’ songs, as a whole, are as challenging as anything else you might learn. You try playing the harpsichord solo on “In My Life”!
As I mentioned above the book contains the enigmatic C#min(Maj7) and many other variations on this wonderful harmonic device. Other unusual but very useful and interesting chord shapes include: E7(b9) (“I Want to Tell You”, “I Me Mine”, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy), Emaug, also known as Em(#5) or Em(b6) (“Julie”, “Eleanor Rigby”) and more diminished chords then you might have expected.

4. The songs are great! Yes this is the obvious answer. If you are not a fan you might think you have a legitimate reason. Play through this book and, though it might not convert you (but it should), it will certainly leave you with a new appreciation for The Beatles’ music in general.

The Book’s Shortcomings

These are not complaints. I love this book and I do believe every guitar player should own it. But there are a few things that the book does not contain that some players might take issue with. What the book lacks is made up for by the list above but I thought it only fair to tell you a few things you won’t find in this book.

1. There are no strum patterns. The book assumes you know how the songs go. While the lack of strum patterns can seem challenging for many beginner players I also know that strum patterns themselves are difficult for many beginners to comprehend anyway. In this case, less is more.

2. There is no tablature for the hooks and riffs. Yes, this is unfortunate: hooks and riffs can be essential. Playing “Day Tripper” or “Lady Madonna” with just the chords is rather underwhelming. Adding tab to this book would, as with the strum patterns, only cluttered the layout. There are several other books and on-line guitar sites that provide all the tab you need.

3. There are no vocal melodies. Once again the book assumes you know the songs. If you don’t there is always Youtube where you can hear every Beatles’ song you don’t know (as well as many historical outtakes).

One final disclaimer: While I do have a book published by Hal Leonard (the same company that publishes The Beatles Complete Chord Songbook) I have no other personal or business association with this book. I was using this book long before my relationship with Hal Leo began. In fact it was fellow guitarist and teacher Matt Smith who told me about this book during our time teaching together at The National Guitar Workshop in Nashville, TN.

The End.

See you next week. For more on Shawn Persinger is Prester John please visit: 

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Compositionally Inspired by Shawn Persinger

This week's blog is another old article (unpublished) that covers a wide range of material: from Led Zeppelin to West Side Story, James Brown to Boud Deun (my old band). As with some of the previous pieces in this blog I had not quite found my rhythm as a writer, as the material goes from easy to complex very quickly (something I would not do now). That said it is full of useful and fun information. Good for beginners, advanced guitarist and professional composers. Enjoy. 

PS: All of the musical examples of other artists herein fall within the requirements of "fair use". 

Compositionally Inspired by Shawn Persinger

There is a well-known statement attributed to Stravinsky that bears repeating, “Good composers borrow, great composers steal.” But how can you steal and still avoid copyright infringement? The answer is quite simple: find a musical example you like, learn it, then twist it. On the guitar that creative turn can be approached from many different angles. Here are a few musical goods I steal regularly.

  1. Shapes: The guitar is full of common shapes: chords, arpeggios, scales, etc. These shapes are ripe for manipulations to make them your own.

Example 1 shows that moving a basic triad across the fretboard, gives us three radically different arpeggios.

Example 2 demonstrates how you can get new chords out of old shapes by simply changing the tuning of the strings. In open G tuning (DGDGBD) a basic C chord fingering becomes a more harmonically complex, but no less pleasing, C9/Bb.

Example 3b puts both of the previous ideas together, ripping-off probably the most famous guitar counterpoint in history, Example 3a, (if you can’t figure what song it is you need to play more classic rock). I manipulated these shapes in two ways, moving them over two strings and changing the tuning from standard to Open G minor. I used this idea in my song, The Thanksgiving Visitor.

  1. Rhythms: Rhythms are probably my favorite targets when thieving. When dealing with western music we are limited to only 12 different notes but rhythmically the possibilities are endless. That information might lead one to ask, “If they are endless why would you need to steal them?” A very clever retort, but lets face it, some rhythms are better than others. For my money rhythms don’t get better than James Brown’s. He left us with a rhythmic legacy that is somehow extremely complex yet completely danceable, a trick not easily achieved.

Example 4 shows Guitar 1, Guitar 2 and the Bass of measure one of James’ Talking Loud & Saying Nothing.

Example 5 shows my version of all three parts at once, arranged for solo guitar. I’ve kept James’ rhythms but supplied my own notes. This example is from my song, Blue, Blue, Blue.

  1. Note choice: This one is tricky. You have to avoid being too obvious when you steal notes. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is probably going to sound like Twinkle, Twinkle no matter how you play it. But try something I little less familiar, change the rhythm and you can find yourself with something fairly original.

Example 6 shows a line from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story in the opening seconds of the Scherzo. I absolutely fell in love with this delicate two-measure figure. Imagine my surprise when I learned it, moved it down an octave, modified the rhythm and found it to be a powerful rock guitar riff, Example 7.

I used this riff in my own tune, Ten Pence, from my band Boud Deun’s CD, The Stolen Bicycle. The song belongs to a much larger piece entitled, Churches, which takes up most the album. Truth be told most of the Churches compositions are based on ideas I lifted from The Symphonic Dances of West Side Story. It remains my favorite piece of music ever and it still has uncounted musical lines to pilfer.

These are just a few of the ways I go beyond being inspired by a piece of music and literally dismantling and reassembling it into something I can call my own. Try it yourself with your own favorite song or experiment with a simple two-measure riff. There is a goldmine of musical loot out there and you don’t have to dig too deep to find treasure. Just do some plundering of your own, melt it down, reshape it, and then claim it as your own.

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The End.
See you next week. 
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