Here are two more interesting emails I have got lately.
I hope you find the emails and my thoughts useful…
Today we are talking about the magic of theory and developing your ability to jam!
You asked about “greatest guitar hurdle” recently.
I’ve purchased a few of your books and you are my ‘go to’ for finding new finger-style patterns, strumming and guitar playing advice.
I host a couple of folk clubs with a friend and sing and play several songs in harmony together. We encourage chorus songs amongst the members, so people join in with a variety of instruments: melodeons, concertinas, guitars, bowed psaltery – yes I did say bowed psaltery etc. and sung harmonies. It’s brilliant, especially as the average age is around seventy and I’m convinced that the music gives people energy and sense of purpose.
One thing that I haven’t managed to get my head round is when there is a jam and when someone says: if you want to join in it’s in D or G or whatever.
I then have to work out what chords are in that key and then work out which chords are appropriate!
Sometimes, they don’t even say which key it’s in and there are guitarists there who just join in. I do know about 1st,4th and 5th chords and 7ths, and can work out which chord it would be in any given key, but don’t have time. When you’ve got minor keys too…
I realise that I’ve just written an essay and you might not have time to read this. It does really bug me that I can’t do it.”
This is a great question and a great skill to develop.
When musicians know exactly what to play at the drop of a hat, it can seem like magic.
…But really, when you go behind the magic curtain, you start to realise this skill is simply a potion made up of theory and experience.
A lot of music is played in the keys of C A G E D and their relative minor keys.
Whenever I get asked this sort of thing, I tell students to get comfortable learning the I-IV-V and I-V-vi-IV chord progressions in the above keys.
Of course, take your time with that.
If you have my theory book, I cover a lot more about this there.
The above should help though and will cover a lot of bases.
“My biggest issue is making it sound interesting. I have a buddy that I practice with. We’re getting a good repertoire that people can and do sing along with and we now also seem to be able to pick up new songs easily. We’re also trying lots of different styles (pick strum and fingerpicking in combination with strumming or playing the melody) and rhythm changes during songs. But when I play by myself it feels a bit flat/predictable.
I’m trying to introduce walking bass runs and dynamics to vary it up. Hopefully these will make it more interesting. Do you have any other suggestions?”
Sounds like Vikki is having lots of fun, which is great.
For solo playing, there is a lot you can do, but pick one thing at a time.
Here are some suggestions I enjoy…
Percussive strumming on beat 2 or beats 2 and 4 (this adds a nice groove when you’re playing on your own).
Pick strumming (this is where you take one strumming pattern and pick notes from within the pattern while keeping the rhythm the same).
Fingerpicking and strumming (strumming the chorus and picking the verse can add some lovely contrast).
You can also play “triad” versions of chords for an intro, add some palm-muted strumming, experiment with “choppy” staccato sounds, mix and match a couple of strumming patterns, create a fingerpicking melody interlude in a song, and more.
The list could go on and on, but for now…
Pick one technique and one song to start with.
It can be very exciting.
If you want to see a little more about how I spice my songs up, you might like to check out my Tom Dooley course.
Inside this course, I took a song that most people strum but turned it into a fun and exciting Travis-picking arrangement.
I still love to play this arrangement to this day.
You can check it out below…
P.S. This post was originally taken from Dan Thorpe’s private email list. To get blog posts like this sent to you which are full of great tips to make fingerpicking, strumming, and learning guitar more enjoyable (especially if you are over 40) join Dan’s list. It’s 100% free, HERE.