Stu­art Ryan takes a look at the acous­tic stylings of a Brit Award-win­ning artist and leading light in the nu-folk scene, the supremely tal­ented Laura Mar­ling.

Guitar Techniques - - Contents -

Stu­art Ryan un­veils the acous­tic ap­proach of singer-song­writer Laura Mar­ling.

At just shy of 24 years of age, English singer­song­writer Laura Mar­ling is al­ready seen as a leading light in the still bur­geon­ing nu-folk move­ment. She re­ceives reg­u­lar air­play on in­flu­en­tial ra­dio pro­grammes like Bob Har­ris’s Satur­day night spe­cial and the Mark Rad­cliffe Folk Show, both of which air on BBC Ra­dio 2.

A Brit award win­ner, Mar­ling emerged from the same scene that gave rise to acts such as Mum­ford & Sons and Noah And The Whale. Not only has she col­lab­o­rated with these gi­ants of the genre, at one stage the for­mer were ac­tu­ally her back­ing band - and she was briefly a mem­ber of the lat­ter!

A very cred­i­ble artist in­deed, mu­sic crit­ics have even likened her song­writ­ing abil­i­ties to those of Bob Dy­lan and Joni Mitchell.

Mar­ling, who hails from Hamp­shire in the UK, comes from a mu­si­cal fam­ily and learnt the gui­tar at age six from her fa­ther - he ran a record­ing stu­dio and her mother was a mu­sic teacher.

Her early in­flu­ences in­cluded Neil Young, James Tay­lor and Bob Dy­lan. You can hear all of these in her gui­tar play­ing, from the del­i­cate, or­na­mented fin­ger­pick­ing of Tay­lor through to the heavy, per­cus­sive at­tack of Neil Young and the more straight-ahead strum­ming of Dy­lan.

How­ever, Mar­ling her­self notes that her first love was punk and as she grew older she also dis­cov­ered al­ter­na­tive coun­try artists like Ryan Adams; this too in­formed her style, which has a dis­tinct Amer­i­cana el­e­ment mixed in with the mod­ern English folk sound, and more than a hint of punk at­ti­tude.

Mar­ling re­leased her first al­bum, Alas I Can­not Swim, at the ten­der age of 18 and she now has a to­tal of four highly re­garded re­leases to her name. You can hear her per­form in a num­ber of con­texts, from solo singer-song­writer mode where the gui­tar is used to per­form the tra­di­tional role of fin­ger­picked ac­com­pa­ni­ment, to a full band fea­tur­ing cello in the line-up.

For this study I’ve fo­cused on the fin­ger­pick­ing side of her style and put to­gether a con­ven­tional chord pro­gres­sion that’s made more in­ter­est­ing via some dif­fer­ent note choices within the chords.

More and more of to­day’s young singer­songr­writ­ers are find­ing that they can write us­ing the tra­di­tional, if you like ‘well-worn’ pro­gres­sions, as long as they make their own voic­ings unique - just as play­ers like James Tay­lor did. As we’ve seen be­fore, the use of open strings is now very com­mon, and just one open string can of­ten serve as the ‘glue’ which holds an en­tire pro­gres­sion to­gether.

That’s the ap­proach I’ve taken with to­day’s piece. In this case the open sec­ond string ap­pears through­out most of our chord se­quence, ty­ing ev­ery­thing to­gether. Why not try a sim­i­lar idea on other pro­gres­sions?

Mar­ling re­leased her first al­bum, Alas I Can­not Swim, at the ten­der age of 18.

Laura Mar­ling: a leading light in the nu-folk scene

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