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"Imagine" for guitar strummers
April 16, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

John Lennon's "Imagine" - a guitar lesson for strummers of all levels. Includes an F chord grip (Fmaj7 actually) far easier than the dreaded barre.
posted by Ardiril (113 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lesson one, don't wear a hat that makes you look like an Australian Chevy Chase.
posted by howfar at 10:43 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's like Chevy Chase and Norm McDonald had a baby... in Australia.
posted by Huck500 at 10:48 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Any instructional video by Justin Sandercoe is going to be top-notch.

The best way to not dread barre chords is to practice them...soon, they become like any other chord.
posted by TinWhistle at 10:51 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Christ, Huck500, you're right. This is what we're meant to be discussing, yes?
posted by howfar at 10:52 AM on April 16, 2012


"practice them" - true, but F major barre on an acoustic takes finger strength that can take a couple years for a beginner to fully develop. This is a good song for reaching that next level.
posted by Ardiril at 10:54 AM on April 16, 2012


I almost never play a full barre F on an acoustic guitar. I'll play F#s all day long, but I always play the F/C that he frets there.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2012


Bizarre...I was just checking out Justin's lessons this weekend. They're pretty good and easy to follow. 'Imagine' is one of his easier ones...there are songs for all skill levels in his playlist. I'm working on his 'Babe I'm Gonna Leave You' currently.
posted by rocket88 at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2012


I had no idea barre chords were dreaded. They always felt a little like cheating to me.
posted by cmoj at 10:55 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I never had trouble with the F barre. The A7 barre, however, was a fingerbreaker.

He's Tasmanian, by the way.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:56 AM on April 16, 2012


Also, a good song for pros to have in their playbook for auditioning vocalists.
posted by Ardiril at 10:57 AM on April 16, 2012


They always felt a little like cheating to me.

Really? Capos always felt like cheating to me.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Was Cee Lo Green sued by Yoko Ono for his desecration of this song on New Year's Eve?
posted by notmtwain at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2012


I'm impressed with his teaching style, his pacing, attention to little details that a lot of teachers forget exist, and that his personal playing style lends itself to the viewer being able to see what his hands are doing. I don't really care about the song or what he's teaching, but it's a good example of how to show someone how to play a song on guitar.
posted by The World Famous at 10:58 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was Cee Lo Green sued by Yoko Ono for his desecration of this song on New Year's Eve?

In order to be desecrated, the thing must first be sacred. Imagine does not qualify.
posted by The World Famous at 10:59 AM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


'Imagine' really is just an Oasis track.

It's the bare remnants of Lennon's musical imagination lumbering up for one last potboiler while not bothering to include any of his previous wit, charm, anger, rhythmic originality, or intelligence.

Guitarists might be interested to note that Lennon did appear to like the dreaded F barre chord himself at all, and would more likely always have played the shape based on the open D major chord, at the fifth fret, for pretty much all his F chords ('All my loving').

He also tried out other open chord shapes (perhaps to avoid the F barre) which then lent certain colourings to his songs: 'A Hard Day's Night' is an F-shape with a G on the high E string (heard on the word working at "I've been WORKING like a dog"). Again that chord is a key part of the texture of 'You've got to hide your love away'.

He did enjoy the chunky bass sound of the low E string fretted at the first, however, and you can hear that on 'Hold me Tight', but not as the full barre but as a Chuck Berry-style shuffle pattern.

Lennon would also never have played E7 as an open chord because it sounds so more brassy and aggressive played at the fifth fret (e.g. it's the chord that drives 'I saw her standing there.'

Lennon also played a 7/8 size guitar for most of his rhythm playing (Rickenbacker 325 Capri) which would make the F barre easier but deliver less of its bass power.

'Imagine' was clearly not written on guitar but on piano, but for more about Lennon's fantastic rhythm guitar playing (which dominated all Beatles early albums), this instructional video is by far the best on Youtube:

How to play guitar like John Lennon.

posted by colie at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2012 [36 favorites]


Was Cee Lo Green sued by Yoko Ono for his desecration of this song on New Year's Eve?
posted by notmtwain at 10:58 AM on April 16 [+] [!]
In order to be desecrated, the thing must first be sacred. Imagine does not qualify.
posted by The World Famous at 10:59 AM on April 16 [+] [!]


Sorry, but all sacreligion's true.
posted by notmtwain at 11:03 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, this "dreaded barre chord" thing is not helpful. Only beginners dread barre chords. It really shouldn't take long until they become fluid and natural, and if they don't you are not practising enough or in the correct way. They extend the guitarist's musical palette so much that it's a self-hobbling madness not to get them under your belt early.

This says nothing about the advisability, necessity or otherwise of playing F as a full barre, but I really do get quite impatient with this idea that the barre chord is something especially difficult or fearsome. It's a hurdle, but not nearly as daunting a one as people are encouraged to think.
posted by Decani at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but all sacreligion's true.

Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. I wasn't referring to the fact that Imagine is an anti-religion song, but to the fact that it's awful.
posted by The World Famous at 11:06 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of my favorite political science professors believed that "Imagine" was going to inevitably lead to the fall of Western civilization because it promoted godlessness and world peace (yes, really). She was great otherwise, but I could never quite get over that particular view.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 11:11 AM on April 16, 2012


I hate bar chords and avoid them whenever possible, and I have great admiration for people who are bar chord wizards. Somehow I was never able to develop the finger strength to do them consistently, despite having played for 15 years. It's partly because of the type of music I like to play; when you do lots of pluckery, it serves you well to have more mobility with all the fingers on your left hand (assuming you're a rightie) rather than having that poor index finger be constrained to barring.

The most important part, however, is the left thumb, sneaking up over the fretboard to fret that low E string. My old guitar teacher, a self-admitted folk snob, used to tell me that classical musicians are doofuses for ignoring this, the greatest trick of the left hand. I don't necessarily agree, but my playing style relies so heavily on that left thumb that I never took to classical music.
posted by ORthey at 11:12 AM on April 16, 2012


Imagine no John Lennon.

It's easy if you try.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:12 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


'I Don't Want to Be a Soldier, Mama, I Don't Want to Die' is the superior song on Imagine.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:13 AM on April 16, 2012


Really? Capos always felt like cheating to me.

I mean, I don't really consider anything to be cheating, but I think it's easy to lean on barre chords and neglect other chord shapes.
posted by cmoj at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really? Capos always felt like cheating to me.

That's how I felt about capos early on too. Barre chords felt like a clever hack, I loved them immediately.

I got over the capo thing eventually; it (like a barre chord) is just a tool, and if you can use it to make better music than you can make without it, you're using it correctly. I think my bad attitude originally had more to do with the idea that people would use capos instead of learning chords, and I wanted to reject that because, budding guitarist that I was, I wanted to learn ALL OF THE CHORDS! and a capo seemed like training wheels.

You watch Leo Kottke put on a capo, you start rethinking some things. You figure out eventually that what a capo gives you primarily is the ability to control the chord voicings you use independent of the key the guitar itself is tuned to. It's the same reason alternate tunings (another "oh that's cheating" thing in my young-and-stupid manual of How It Was) are such a great tool if you're really using them: you can get away with specific combinations of guitar tones and timbres that wouldn't be feasible with standard tuning. Possibilities!

But, so, yeah, F barre on an acoustic with real string tension is a deceptively hard thing to manage until you train your clamping muscles up. Because getting barre chord form down in the first place is a bit of work, but not all barres are created equal because the force required to depress strings sufficiently changes over the space of the fretboard.

There's actually two things going on there, working against each other:

1. The farther up the neck you move toward the soundhole/pickups, the higher the action is at each fret. Which means you have to push down farther to voice a barre. So lower chords should be easier to barre, right? Except:

2. The closer you are to the nut (the slotted bit where the strings come through to the fretboard from the headstock and tuners), the steeper the angle is of the strings from the fretted bar to the nut. That means more clamping strength required to get the strings down firmly and the chord voicing nicely.

So depending on how your action is set up (how high off the fretboard the strings are at the nut, how high they are at the bridge down beyond the soundhole) and where on the fretboard you're barring, chords will get easier and then harder again because of those two different factors. Sweet spot is probably somewhere around a barred G or G#, where you're a few frets away from the nut and so the angle of the fretted string on that side has gotten a lot shallower but you're still far enough down the neck that you haven't picked up a lot more vertical distance from the bridge action.

But knowing that doesn't make an F any easier to barre. What does do that is putting on thinner gauge strings (which require less tension and so less effort to depress) and having your action lowered at the nut. Both will effect the sound of the guitar somewhat (thin strings have less sustain and can sound a bit tinnier, lowered action can lead to more fret buzz) but if you're more frustrated with your ability to voice chords cleanly than with the sonic aesthetics of your guitar, both are seriously worth trying.
posted by cortex at 11:14 AM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Decani: “Only beginners dread barre chords.”

Nonsense. Some of the best guitar players that ever lived never used barre chords or at the very least avoided them as much as they could. In most instances barre chords represent a waste of a finger or two. Like this guy, who is no slouch and certainly no "beginner."
posted by koeselitz at 11:21 AM on April 16, 2012


The most important part, however, is the left thumb, sneaking up over the fretboard to fret that low E string.


I don't think Lennon ever did this...?

Also on Lennon's original Rickenbacker, he changed the bridge over to a Bigsby unit in the earliest 60s. But doing it on the counter of a Liverpool music store, in 5 minutes, meant that he actually had an offset to the bridge, caused by the scratchplate no longer fitting properly. His Rickenbacker's low E was actually *off the fretboard* beyond the 12th fret and therefore unplayable. This may also have led to some of his barre chord preferences, as he used that guitar constantly until 1964 (when Rickenbacker gave him a new one).

There is much debate among those of us who have 'Lennonized' their Rickenbacker 325s as to how many millimetres the low E string offset should be, for total accuracy.

If we're going to do 'Great Songs with Capos', I'll say 'Midnight Rambler' is my top choice.
posted by colie at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


what a capo gives you primarily is the ability to control the chord voicings you use independent of the key the guitar itself is tuned to

I really like playing in E with a capo on 4. (I also like using a capo for doubling tracks when I record.)
posted by uncleozzy at 11:22 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not by any means an accomplished guitar player, but I never play a guitar without a capo on the third fret – because I want the C-form to be an E-flat so I can be in tune with horns, etc.
posted by koeselitz at 11:25 AM on April 16, 2012


I really like playing in E with a capo on 4. (I also like using a capo for doubling tracks when I record.)

This is a great little trick that it took me years to figure out.
posted by cortex at 11:27 AM on April 16, 2012


I learned the guitar to play ska, and because all shitty high school ska songs are in F and Bb (because those are the only keys shitty high school horn sections can play in), like 75% of my guitar playing was a barre chord on the 1st fret. To me, open chords are hard.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:28 AM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't mind the E-form barre chords so much, but I'm still struggling with the A-form. I can fake it, but just can't get the high E to sound.
Also, the 'Hotel California' intro only sounds right with a capo on 7.
posted by rocket88 at 11:30 AM on April 16, 2012


I'm currently rehearsing a new musical that is kind of rootsy/bluegrass music, in which we are all accompanying ourselves on guitars and bass on stage, and the composer just introduced me to the magic of "drop D using a capo".

I had known about drop D already, but I usually tune the low E down to get it. She showed me how you can instead capo the top five strings on 2, and leave the low E open, and it's like "drop E". Much faster and easier than retuning in the middle of a show.
posted by starvingartist at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just realised I wrote "Lennon did appear to like the dreaded F barre chord himself at all" when my whole post was about how "Lennon did NOT appear to like the dreaded F barre chord himself at all."

oh well.
posted by colie at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2012


The F barre made me stop trying to learn to play the guitar many years ago. It was like hitting a brick wall in ability.

I had no idea there were alternatives so thanks for the post.
posted by Memo at 11:32 AM on April 16, 2012


Using a capo changes the entire tonality of the guitar, due to the shortening of the string lengths and the various harmonic changes that entails. This can be used to awesome effect in multi-guitar situations, or when you want to change the timbre of a piece in a fundamental way.

I.E. pretty much the opposite of "cheating".
posted by Aquaman at 11:45 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think having Nirvana's Nevermind songbook early in my guitar playing experience made me accept barre chords as something I had to work with. That said, I find it hard to finger them in a way that lets the high E string ring out (usually just end up muting it).
posted by troubles at 11:52 AM on April 16, 2012


Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. I wasn't referring to the fact that Imagine is an anti-religion song, but to the fact that it's awful.
posted by The World Famous at 11:06 AM on April 16 [+] [!]


Musically, lyrically or philosophically? I can understand it not being your favorite Lennon or Beatle's song but I have a hard time imagining what would lead someone to describe it as "awful".
posted by notmtwain at 11:54 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'd prefer a guitar lesson from hologram John Lennon.
posted by orme at 11:57 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I almost always play the E shape barre chords with my thumb wrapped round over the top, but switch to a proper barre for anything else.

Barre chords shouldn't be daunting. They should be liberating. If someone says 'oh, the changes are G#m, G#mb5, G#m7, F#7, you better have your barres handy unless you're a jazzer.
posted by unSane at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2012


I have a hard time imagining what would lead someone to describe it as "awful".

You mean apart from the droning melody, plodding rhythm and sophomoric lyrics?
posted by unSane at 12:00 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Musically, lyrically or philosophically?

Lyrically and philosophically. And by "awful," I don't mean offensive. I mean sophomoric, trite, immature, poorly-conceived, idiotic, and just plain stupid (and not even remotely idealistic). The music's mediocre and boring, but not awful.

On preview, what unSane said.
posted by The World Famous at 12:02 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you think Danny Gatton played as he did because he found barre chords difficult, you are insane
posted by thelonius at 12:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Staking out a contrary position by disliking something that's widely beloved or admired confers instant hipness. Myself, not only do I not like John Lennon OR guitars (what a stupid instrument), I don't even like MUSIC. You guys aren't still listening to SOUNDS, are you?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:04 PM on April 16, 2012 [8 favorites]


koeselitz: "Decani: “Only beginners dread barre chords.”

Nonsense. Some of the best guitar players that ever lived never used barre chords or at the very least avoided them as much as they could. In most instances barre chords represent a waste of a finger or two. Like this guy, who is no slouch and certainly no "beginner."
"

I think you misread his comment. "Beginners" dread barre chords. I hated them, every person I've ever taught hated them and certain purists hate them. I've seen Danny Gatton use them too. What a weird pissing match though (Barre Chords .vs. No Barre Chords). It all depends on the style of music. Segovia probably won't use them as much as Steve Jones. So what. Both of their musical output rocks my world.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:10 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Imagine is a perfectly fine song, it just isn't robust enough to stand up to the kind of scrutiny that being one of the most famous pop songs of all times brings. If it was by a no-name band people would basically leave it at "oh, that's a bit nice". But this is the case for a lot of high-visibility stuff in popular music.
posted by cortex at 12:10 PM on April 16, 2012


Staking out a contrary position by disliking something that's widely beloved or admired confers instant hipness.

If you're referring to those who say use of a capo is cheating, I totally agree.

Segovia probably won't use them as much as Steve Jones.

When Segovia plays Sex Pistols songs, he always uses barre chords.
posted by The World Famous at 12:11 PM on April 16, 2012


When Segovia plays Sex Pistols songs, he always uses barre chords.

Video please?
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:13 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's hard about barre chords? I'm from the 70s London punk scene - all we knew were barre chords. All you had to learn was the A-barre and the E-barre shape and you slid them up and down.
posted by w0mbat at 12:14 PM on April 16, 2012


Capos always felt like cheating to me.

Is it cheating to tune the whole guitar down? A capo is just the opposite of that. Standard tuning is arbitrary in the first place, so I don't see how altering it is cheating.
posted by John Cohen at 12:15 PM on April 16, 2012


I watched a lot of Justin Sandercoe videos when I was making my half-assed attempt at learning guitar. I learned how to play "Hey Joe" from one of these "easy version of famous song" videos.


You guys aren't still listening to SOUNDS, are you?
posted by Sing Or Swim at 12:04 PM on April 16 [+] [!]


This made me think of this Kids In The Hall sketch that I hadn't seen in forever. Thank you.
posted by history_denier at 12:16 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


What's hard about barre chords? I'm from the 70s London punk scene

Barres are a lot easier on an electric than on acoustic—action's usually lower, strings are usually thinner. Plus if you're playing loud and ugly into a distorted amp you're not left worrying quite so much about pristine voicing on all six strings—the butt end of a barre chord is where the meat of your basic power chord comes from.
posted by cortex at 12:24 PM on April 16, 2012


Capos aren't cheating just like muting a trumpet or playing a Les Paul with a bow isn't cheating.
Pop a capo in the 8th fret and start dicking around with a D chord. Seriously. You'll love it.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:25 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use a capo on about half the songs I play. Not to make it easier, just to get the part sounding right in the key I want to sing in. For example, you really can't play most of Big Star without a capo... it just sounds weird.
posted by unSane at 12:28 PM on April 16, 2012


Really? Capos always felt like cheating to me.

I used to play bass with a small rawk group who were, shall we say, somewhat light on their theory. Once, early on, we were doing a song in C and after a couple of rehearsals the singer said it was a bit low for her range. Accordingly, they all slapped capos on the second fret, found that worked, and played the song that way forever after, mystified that I was some sort of musical prodigy who could just play E A B and F#m7 instead of D G A and Em7. When I tried to explain that these were the same chords (without the capo), there was Tufnelesque bafflement.

After a while, as more songs were added to the repertoire, they acquired various notations on the set list -- this one meant that three guitar players all put their capo at two, or three, or four. I think once the singer opined that a song was too high for her, so after a moment's consideration on where the capo should go, the song was just dropped from the set list.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:32 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


The real first chord of A Hard Day's Night.
posted by princelyfox at 12:33 PM on April 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


'Imagine' is awful precisely because it is a very ordinary, plodding song written by John Lennon - who'd spent the preceding 15 years of his life creating some of the most significant cultural artifacts in the history of the world. As he said around the time of 'Let it Be', he had nothing left: 'This is us with our trousers down, we can't do it any more, leave us alone' is what he said then, only a year before 'Imagine'.

Capos - love them, especially up at 7th fret or so ('Here comes the sun'). Adele doesn't play much guitar on stage these days but I think she was a big user when she did.
posted by colie at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2012


I mean sophomoric, trite, immature, poorly-conceived, idiotic, and just plain stupid (and not even remotely idealistic)

I won't argue taste, but "not even remotely idealistic?" Care to provide an example of another song that seeks to move beyond religion, nationalism, and materialism? I think you're just taking the piss.
posted by deanklear at 12:35 PM on April 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


Was just about to say what deanklear said. Not even remotely idealistic? Idealistic is pretty much *all* it is.
posted by rocket88 at 12:37 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think Imagine is gorgeous, musically. Who cares what it's about or if it's clever? It's a pop song, not a dissertation. And anyway, the drippiness is part of it.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 12:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Geez, I didn't mean to start a capo derail. I also use it for creating different voices. But I worked with a young woman who would use a capo simply because she didn't know how to transcribe a song, and that's what I was talking about.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:45 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Care to provide an example of another song that seeks to move beyond religion, nationalism, and materialism?

If you can explain what that means, sure.

Dear God by XTC is a far better song, and far less sophomoric, than Imagine. So is Superstition by Stevie Wonder. Do they count?
posted by The World Famous at 12:54 PM on April 16, 2012


On the subject of Lennon's Rickenbacker 325, there has been a recent schism within 325 Lennonizers over the offset caused by the replaced bridge.

I think initially there was simple disagreement over whether the offset was 3 or 4 millimetres. As the original guitar is still in existence, it should be possible to settle this issue. (It's on display in a museum run by Yoko in Japan).

But Yoko (who is understandably probably not too cool hanging around with self-confessed Beatle nuts) hasn't allowed a full inspection of the instrument (which was also heavily refinished in the 70s by a poor quality luthier in New York).

And so now we have growing speculation that the instrument on display in Japan is not the original Lennon Rickenbacker 325...

It's appropriate that Lennon leaves us an icon/relic and now people debate its authenticity.
posted by colie at 12:55 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Er, transpose, rather than transcribe. LET ME HEAD OFF THAT DERAIL BEFORE IT STARTS.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:06 PM on April 16, 2012


If you can explain what that means, sure.

Do you not know what those words mean? Give me a break.

Dear God by XTC is a far better song, and far less sophomoric, than Imagine. So is Superstition by Stevie Wonder. Do they count?

I'm not asking about taste, I'm asking for evidence of a song, preferably from the same time period, that straightforwardly addressed materialism, nationalism, and religion as Imagine does. If the claim that Imagine is "not remotely idealistic" is something you said without actually thinking about it, you should use the word sophomoric less liberally.
posted by deanklear at 1:18 PM on April 16, 2012


The World Famous: "Sorry if I wasn't clear enough. I wasn't referring to the fact that Imagine is an anti-religion song, but to the fact that it's awful."

Imagine there's no sidebar, and no snarkers too all snark is true.
posted by idiopath at 1:19 PM on April 16, 2012


I think the song itself is pretty nice, but I'll agree that the lyrics are kind of banal.

What I object to is its centrality to the completely absurd hagiography which constructs Lennon as merely some kind of dreamy teddy bear avatar of hippie love. Lennon, in fact, could be a pretty mean son of a bitch, and one of the things that is appealing about him was the extent to which he matured, grew in self-awareness, and worked to become a better man.
posted by thelonius at 1:26 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


thelonius: "the lyrics are kind of banal"

It is pleasantly surprising to hear the denial of religion described as banal.
posted by idiopath at 1:34 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Imagine is surely anti-idealistic, if anything. You could argue it is an exercise in nihilism if you chose. It's a very odd lyric for the syrupy setting, to say the least.
posted by howfar at 1:35 PM on April 16, 2012


Segovia probably won't use them as much as Steve Jones.


Hmm. I don't really know Steve Jones' music. Classical guitar music, however, uses barres quite a bit, so I'm skeptical about the truth of that.
posted by bardophile at 1:46 PM on April 16, 2012


Barre chords are cheating?
No. Barre chords are for making music.
Capos are cheating?
No. Capos are for making music.
It's not like John Lennon would play?
No. He's making music - it's a transcription, much the same way that any Bach piece played on piano is a transcription.
It's Imagination! It's a crap song!
Yeah? So is Doodlebugs, but my kids effing love that song and playing it makes music.

What's important? He's presenting accessible ways to make music.
I feel like the music industry is based around making it easy to consume music so that you won't go and make it yourself (creation being almost always harder than consumption). Fuck that. Lower the barriers for making music. The world is better for it, even if you suck (and honestly, most of us do, but so what? Play loud and proud even if it's wrong and strong.)


As an aside, I taught myself electric guitar first so I learned barre chords. Playing them on an acoustic was just a little more tiring, but on a properly set up acoustic guitar it's not bad at all (for me). Transitioning between instruments is more like, "Dammit! Where the hell did the whammy bar go?"
posted by plinth at 1:48 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Nothing wrong with a Tasmanian wearing a bush hat.

Barre chords....sometimes useful, but I hardly ever sweep all six strings anyhow. Mostly, five does the job. I use either the index finger or thumb for bass runs on the E string, depending: ragtime stuff runs like my thumb better than my index finger in the key of C. Not so much in E.

Drop D/Capo on 2: good moves for "If I was a Carpenter," "One Last Favor," and others. It's a neat trick, and works better for me than down-tuning the E string.

I'm short on theory, long in the tooth. I transposed for years. My ear told me that the different keys did not equate, but for a long time I didn't know why. Then I found out that a capo on 2 made my plywood axe a lot easier to play--Black Diamond Heavy strings are sort of like playing on fencing wire, but they lasted years. Years. I used a #2 pencil and some rubber bands for the capo. After a couple years of this, I discovered chord voicing, inversions, and lighter strings. Then (about 40 years ago) I got a guitar with a straight neck, so I no longer had to use the capo in order to play below the 5th fret. I bought several capos over the years, but I still like the pencil.

Oh well.

Imagine...wide and deep.

Just call me shallow. Lennon was brilliant. I understand moving from three-chord monkey-do-it-this-way to sophisticated compositions. I watched them do it. I never progressed to sublime in my own efforts, but I got past rote. I credit the Beatles and (laugh if you must) the Kingston Trio for pointing the way for me. Why snark over poetry and lyricism?

everybody sing: ....hang down your head tom (ah) doo-lie...etc.
posted by mule98J at 1:49 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any time someone asks about a resource to start learning guitar, I send them to www.justinguitar.com. He does a really great job of explaining the lessons and got me playing music pretty quickly and that has made it much easier to work on the boring repetitive stuff. I do some boring pick drills, work on hand strength and flexibility, or study some basic theory for a while because if I get bored or frustrated, I can always go back to strumming some basic stuff with some basic chords.
posted by VTX at 2:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


She showed me how you can instead capo the top five strings on 2, and leave the low E open, and it's like "drop E".

mind = blown
posted by cmoj at 2:31 PM on April 16, 2012


It's not actually Drop E because your chords fret just like they do in regular tuning, as opposed to how they would in Drop D.

There's actually a capo (SpiderCapo) which lets you do that string by string. I've got it, and it works perfectly, but it's not really a complete substitute for an alternative tuning because as soon as you start playing fretted chords you're back in Spanish tuning again. However it's fun to use, not least because you can change tunings on the fly.
posted by unSane at 2:41 PM on April 16, 2012


Care to provide an example of another song that seeks to move beyond religion...?

You can imagine why a song like that would upset certain parties. It's a perfectly fine song, and it isn't any less meaningful or impactful just because it wasn't his very best work. Sheesh.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:43 PM on April 16, 2012


unSane: "It's not actually Drop E because your chords fret just like they do in regular tuning, as opposed to how they would in Drop D.

There's actually a capo (SpiderCapo) which lets you do that string by string. I've got it, and it works perfectly, but it's not really a complete substitute for an alternative tuning because as soon as you start playing fretted chords you're back in Spanish tuning again. However it's fun to use, not least because you can change tunings on the fly.
"

See also: Willy Porter.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 2:59 PM on April 16, 2012


Care to provide an example of another song that seeks to move beyond religion, nationalism, and materialism?

Girls Just Want To Have Fun?

You can imagine why a song like that would upset certain parties.

Well, it'll certainly clear the floor pronto at a dance party.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:00 PM on April 16, 2012 [6 favorites]


Really? Capos always felt like cheating to me.

Also capos are a really nice way for a beginner to start leaning barre chords. The capo holds the strings down closer to the neck, making them easier to fret. And it also puts the chord up farther on the neck so you have a little more leverage and the frets are a little closer together so you hand doesn't have to stretch as much.

In fact, anytime your fingers are getting tired you can pop a capo on your guitar and get a few more minutes out of them.
posted by straight at 3:18 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


That is an interesting question, actually:

deanklear: “Care to provide an example of another song that seeks to move beyond religion, nationalism, and materialism?”

"Teenage Kicks," by the Undertones.

Anyway, I won't say anything about whether I think "Imagine" is bitter or cynical or idealistic or beautiful or sacred or whatever, but I have always felt like it was a bit more wry than people give it credit for, and because of that it has a harsh edge that I think often gets ignored. I mean, Lennon was a master of this kind of thing; because of the churchy tone of the music (which is very pretty) people tend to hear the song as very reverent, or at least as a sort of heartfelt plea for peace and love.

But lyrically it's in a far different place. And it's hard for me not to hear a slight bit of mockery and a large amount of sadness in the lyrics. They're not pleading for anything – they're just asking the listener to imagine a world where people aren't religious, a world where there is no war or possessions. (Making the subtext the assumption that these are all the same things in the end is part of the brilliance of it.) That's all – just imagine; as though those who believe in those things have never really thought about what it would mean if there were no religion or no possessions. And he starts off thinking it's pretty easy to imagine that kind of world, but later on ends up wondering if people actually can.

Heck, he doesn't even attack religion, really. It's entirely an afterthought. Imagine what the world would be like if all these things didn't exist... oh, and no religion, too. He was smart enough to know what he was doing. He didn't even want to give religion pride of place in this song; it didn't deserve that, in his mind. John Lennon was caused a lot of pain by religion and what he viewed as the many religions in life; he believed, as he put it, that "god is a concept by which we measure our pain."

Again, none of this is to say that I condemn him for this opinion or that I praise him for it. I can see, however, how many people would find this borderline offensive – whereas a lot of other people probably find Lennon's bold take on religion to be a refreshingly honest confrontation of a structure and an institution that has caused many, many people an incredible amount of pain.

Either way, yeah, I really don't think this is an idealistic song itself. I think it's much more an expression of the tension between that idealism which Lennon wanted to believe in as an activist and the fury he felt toward the thing which he believed has probably hurt more people than anything else in the history of the world.
posted by koeselitz at 3:20 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


She showed me how you can instead capo the top five strings on 2, and leave the low E open, and it's like "drop E".

It's not so much drop E as letting you use play an open D chord (actually E, or higher if you use a second capo below the partial one) with a nice fat low bass note. It makes playing in the key of D (actually E) very rich sounding. And the nice part is that unlike a drop tuning, the fingerings for all your other chords stay the same (except an Em, which is kind of tricky--and it gets hairy if you want to play the low Eb behind the capo).
posted by straight at 3:23 PM on April 16, 2012


I love the guitar. A trombone or violin requires long hours of sweat and faith from the newbie before anything resembling music emerges. A guitar is an instrument you can learn to play in one afternoon and, if you are inclined, devote a lifetime to refining your ability and technique.
posted by squalor at 3:30 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of beginners have a hard time with barre chords because they try to push straight down on the neck with the flat inside of their index finger. In that position, most people tend to get a curve on the inside of their index finger while they are trying to press down. That causes a muted, clunky sound.

If you are have problems, try this: Make your barre chord, and push down with your index finger as usual. Now, keeping the chord shape, roll your index finger slightly toward the nut. The result should be that your using a bit more of the outside of your index finger (actually your finger bone instead of your finger pads) to play the barre. It's a stronger position and it makes it easier to apply the necessary pressure. Try it; it's subtle but it makes a world of difference for most people.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:28 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, a corollary to "barre chords are easier with a capo" is "F is the hardest barre chord." Start out by playing some Am chords as a barre at the 5th fret or C as a barre at the 8th fret where you have more leverage.

It's about 1/2 developing finger strength and 1/2 teaching your hand to use the minimum force necessary to fret the chord. Relax your hand as much as possible.
posted by straight at 4:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"justinguitar is a wonderful resource for guitar lessons," I hear you say. "But, I am a bass player! Where can I find equally great bass instruction on the Internet?"

MarloweDK is your man.
posted by thelonius at 4:39 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The thing about barre chords is that they are a red herring. You never actually have to play a full barre chord as it's imagined* by the chord charts. It is, in all honesty, too many notes.

The main reason to exert so much pressure on the fretboard as to succesfully fret all six strings up the neck is so that you can whack all the strings with your right hand and not lose your hold on the instrument with your left. In other words, the full barre is essential for an agressive attack. But it is a contradiction in terms, because any musical style that calls for such an attack will not require the clear true ringing of six individual notes on the guitar. See for instance the power chord, or really any pop music that claims to use barre chords. The notes just aren't there, and they don't need to be.

Strumming all six strings on an open chord is a different matter. The open strings have a unique tonality among positions on the fretboard, and that's why open chords tend to favor as many strings as possible. But once you eliminate open strings from the voicing, the need to hear all six notes at once drops greatly. And you actually get better, more interesting voicings when your fretted chords are not closed analogs of the more rich and beautiful open chords.

*See what I did there?
posted by grog at 5:03 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Segovia probably won't use them as much as Steve Jones. So what. Both of their musical output rocks my world.

In an old issue of Guitar Player magazine, a letter writer asked if having the thumb under the neck or over the neck was better. The editor had photographs of Segovia and Keith Richards demonstrating both styles, and said: it doesn't matter, choose your poison.

Make your barre chord, and push down with your index finger as usual. Now, keeping the chord shape, roll your index finger slightly toward the nut.

Wow, imagine that? Excellent tip.

(While we're here, Robin Trower told Robert Fripp that when you bend a string in a solo, you can push two or more fingers.)

Also: Ian Anderson uses a capo, but Martin Barre doesn't. (Apologies).
posted by ovvl at 6:20 PM on April 16, 2012


Also: Ian Anderson uses a capo, but Martin Barre doesn't. (Apologies).

Martin Taylor plays neither a Martin nor a Taylor.
posted by The World Famous at 6:24 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just want to say 'thanks' to all for the clues here. I've made sporadic attempts at learning guitar over 20 yrs or so, and I'm afraid my experience does not accord with the idea that "guitar is an instrument you can learn to play in one afternoon". This thread has put a bunch stuff I've gathered into context, and given me some good direction.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 6:25 PM on April 16, 2012


Les Paul2
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 PM on April 16, 2012


You never actually have to play a full barre chord

Let's just say this is true for a substantial subset of music people play on guitar.
posted by straight at 8:16 PM on April 16, 2012


Learning which strings to play and which strings not to play is really a key part of getting better on the guitar. And figuring out that you don't just have to play the 'vanilla' chord shapes all the time.

Also put the pick down and play some shell chords!. They are supremely easy to play and will take you to quite new places if you are not a jazzer.

A few of favorite (not very) secret chords, going from low E to high E, x = mute string

C9 - x32033
G - 32033
D/F# - 200232 (hook yer thumb over)
Eb - x65040
G5 - 355033
A - x07650
Emaj7 - 079600
Dm7 - xx0565
A7 - xx5650
D - xx0775
DMaj7 - xx0675

and so on
posted by unSane at 8:32 PM on April 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Don't forget the James Bond chord:

Em9(maj7) 0 10 9 8 7 x
posted by straight at 10:16 PM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


The thing about barre chords is that they are a red herring. You never actually have to play a full barre chord as it's imagined* by the chord charts. It is, in all honesty, too many notes.

This is very true in my opinion. Barre chords, particularly down around the nut, simply do not sound very good, no matter how well you play them.

So many songs owe their harmonic colourings to the fact that guitarists strive to find chords that use the open strings or combinations of fretted notes in unusual ways, and of course the barre chord that is always the same composition anywhere on the neck is the opposite of this. At its most extreme, you end with an entire album based on an open tuning in order to get different harmonic ideas - 'Blood on the tracks' for example.

Lennon was into avoiding simple barre chords all the time and so it's been a doubly interesting thread. When he does play them, it's often with a twist - like the major/minor chord riff on 'You can't do that'. He also just played the middle 4 strings of a barre chord shape - and it sounds better like on 'all my loving'.

Another Lennonism is to avoid repeated barre shapes because it bores him musically, unless it has the Chuck Berry shuffle additions on it (like he does at the very start of 'I want to hold your hand', barre chords from 8th to 10th fret, or throughout 'I feel fine'.)

But I think his all time favourite chord has to be the E7 shape at the fifth fret (0-7-6-7-5-0). This chord can also be moved up and down, which he does in 'You can't do that', and he even puts in unexpected 7ths in 'I want to hold your hand' (the chorus D chords are played using this chord at the 3rd fret) or during the middle 8 of 'I feel fine'.
posted by colie at 11:54 PM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


a guitar lesson for strummers of all levels

Not my level, apparently.

*throws stupid guitar, sulks*
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:08 AM on April 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


My father was the kind of guitarist who owned one of those little footrests. I'm sure the first time he saw me fret with my thumb, he sighed inwardly and thought, I knew it.

But I think his all time favourite chord has to be the E7 shape at the fifth fret (0-7-6-7-5-0)

I think of that as the C7 shape, already slid up to make an E7, but then again, I think everything is a slid up open chord.
posted by fleacircus at 4:42 PM on April 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yep. It's a barre chord without the barre.
posted by The World Famous at 5:09 PM on April 17, 2012


I think of that as the C7 shape, already slid up to make an E7, but then again, I think everything is a slid up open chord.

You're right, I suppose the reason it seems so right at the fifth fret is because you have the open low E and open high E booming away in there - another example of a chord's texture being vital to the overall effect, and an argument for using fewer barre chords.

You don't the get the muddy barre chord hazard of 'too many notes' if (as in this E7) four of the strings are sounding the same note, but in different registers and giving off different harmonics and overtones, an effect enhanced by pickups and amplification and so especially suited to ROCK.
posted by colie at 12:00 AM on April 18, 2012


The main thing that makes a chord sound too muddy or busy is if you have more than one third in there (although, as with everything in music, there are delightful exceptions).
posted by straight at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2012


More than one fifth tends to get a bit overbearing too unless you have the root doubled as well for an uber power chord.
posted by unSane at 6:49 AM on April 18, 2012


A basic A7 (x02020) (2 5ths & 1 root) usually sounds OK.

But a common G chord (32003) (2 thirds) often sounds muddy, so a lot of guitar players will muffle the 5th string with the finger fretting the 6th string (3X0003) or substitute a D for the B on the 2nd string (320033). Or do both and make it a power chord (3X0033).
posted by straight at 7:35 AM on April 18, 2012


I play that power chord 355033! Brrrang!
posted by unSane at 7:50 AM on April 18, 2012


When you absolutely, positively have to put two thirds in a chord, you need the 'Purple Haze/Taxman' chord, 07678X.

That chord is so badass it contains both a major and a minor third. It should have its own website.
posted by colie at 10:35 AM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


320033

At some point, early in my guitar-playing career, I started playing a G like this, and now I'm not sure I can actually play it with an open B anymore.
posted by uncleozzy at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2012


At some point, early in my guitar-playing career, I started playing a G like this, and now I'm not sure I can actually play it with an open B anymore.

Same here. I mean, I can play it with an open B and I do so when it's called for. But in my mind, that's just a special situations sort of thing, not a "normal" G.
posted by The World Famous at 11:56 AM on April 18, 2012


I think of the open 03 version as a normal G, the 33 version as a Pink Floyd G since it was some song or another by them that got me first playing that variant. Probably some combination of tracks from The Wall and Dark Side.

But I use both, pretty interchangably, even to the point where which one I use when playing casually will probably have as much to do with the chord forms I'm transitioning from and to as it will with an active choice of voicing.
posted by cortex at 12:00 PM on April 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I went full on 320033 too years ago, but just recently I've started playing a lot of fingerstyle and 320003 is much better, if you finger it third, second, pinkie instead of the obvious second, index, pinkie because now not only have you freed up your index finger to hammer on the C on the B string (Google Steve Earle playing Goodbye -- the whole song is built around this) but also the transition to the nice C chord x32013 is ten times more fluid.

It's a bit weird to change the way you play a chord that you've played that way for two decades but it really opened up my playing. In fact you can hear me using it on that Such Great Heights cover I posted a while back... the intro acoustic is using exactly that idea.
posted by unSane at 12:00 PM on April 18, 2012


Won't Get Fooled Again makes occasional use of an A played as XO2255, very distinctive.

Back to Lennon's mega rhythm playing, and I have remembered that he did very much like one barre chord - the 7th shape that, if you're playing A7, would be 575685. That chord played at the 12th fret, then 10th, then down to the 5th, gives you the brutal rhythmic beginning to 'She's a Woman' (and the rest of the song). If you use your pinkie to bend the B string just a tiny amount on some of those chords here and there, you will be smashing it Lennon style.
posted by colie at 12:17 PM on April 18, 2012


I think the 03 G sounds better when you move to open C, but the 33 G sounds better when you're going to open D, in terms of voice leading. But since so many songs have both C and D in them, it's hard to strike a compromise.

I play that power chord 355033!

I'm trying to picture how you would finger that chord, but...
posted by grog at 5:10 PM on April 18, 2012


Rock and roll, baby. Thumb over the bottom E, ring on A, pinky on D, G open, index finger barres B and E strings. Your middle is free.

If you drop the middle finger onto the G string you get 355433, which is a standard G barre played rock and roll (thumbover) style. You can then slide this around the neck in major and minor forms and let certain strings ring for all sorts of awesome janglepop chords, eg

133011 - Fadd9
133210 - Fmaj7
244300 - F#7sus4
244200 - F#m7sus4
466400 - G#m#5
577600 - Aadd9
577605 - Aadd9
799800 - Bsus4
9-11-11-9-0-0- C#m7
10-12-12-11-10-0 - Dadd9

and so on
posted by unSane at 5:53 PM on April 18, 2012


I think the 03 G sounds better when you move to open C, but the 33 G sounds better when you're going to open D, in terms of voice leading. But since so many songs have both C and D in them, it's hard to strike a compromise.

It depends what key you're in but if you're playing G C an D most likely you're in G, in which case you can often play D7 instead of D, in which case the 03 fingering for G voice leads nicely into the D section.
posted by unSane at 5:57 PM on April 18, 2012


577600 - Aadd9

I love that chord, although I usually just play it X07600.
posted by straight at 9:12 AM on April 19, 2012


And 577500/x07500 - the spooky AmAdd9
posted by unSane at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2012


unSane: "AmAdd9"


semi-relevant lulz
posted by idiopath at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


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