Stu­art Ryan checks out the so­phis­ti­cated solo fin­ger­style acous­tic tech­nique of Paul Si­mon.

Guitar Techniques - - Learning Zone -

Paul Si­mon is a prod­uct of the Amer­i­can folk style that counts Woody Guthrie and Dave Van Ronk among its found­ing fathers.

Tran­scrib­ing and record­ing his fin­ger­style ar­range­ment of Davey Gra­ham’s Anji for GT made me re­alise how adept a picker he ac­tu­ally is.

Si­mon is a prod­uct of the Amer­i­can folk style of fin­ger­pick­ing that counts such lu­mi­nar­ies as Woody Guthrie and Dave Van Ronk as its found­ing fathers. His guitar style is very much in the clas­sic arpeg­giated chord and al­ter­nat­ing bass fin­ger­pick­ing style, but his highly de­vel­oped sound also fea­tures el­e­ments of jazz, blues and gospel thanks to his ear for unique chord voic­ings and un­ex­pected pro­gres­sions.

A re­cip­i­ent of no less than 12 Grammy Awards, Si­mon met Art Gar­funkel in 1952 when they were just 11. They were writ­ing songs to­gether just over a year later and, as­ton­ish­ingly, in their mid-teens scored their first chart hit, Hey School­girl, as Tom And Jerry. It was as Si­mon & Gar­funkel that they found main­stream fame, though, and from 1964 un­til they split up in 1970, they crafted a string of hits that have be­come iconic clas­sics. Tracks like The Boxer dis­play Si­mon’s con­trolled, up­tempo ap­proach to fin­ger­style play­ing, while Mrs Robin­son show­cases his strum­ming rhythm work in ac­tion.

In­cred­i­bly though, Si­mon & Gar­funkel’s first al­bum re­lease, 1964’s Wed­nes­day Morn­ing, 3am, was not a suc­cess – with the re­sult that Si­mon moved to the UK, where he be­came a fix­ture on the folk club and cof­fee-shop cir­cuit. This not only broad­ened his mu­si­cal hori­zons, but gave him the taste for solo per­for­mance that would be­come a hall­mark of his ca­reer. Suc­cess in the US beck­oned, though, as The Sound Of Si­lence from their de­but al­bum be­gan to get ra­dio play and, re-united with Art Gar­funkel, the duo went on to gar­ner the rave re­views for which we know them now.

Si­mon’s sound has evolved over the years, from the darker ap­proach of his solo al­bums like Still Crazy Af­ter All These Years to the up­beat African-in­spired joy of Grace­land. Although he has worked with a host of well-known side­men and his al­bums al­ways fea­ture beau­ti­fully lay­ered guitar work, un­der­pin­ning it all is that bedrock of solo guitar ac­com­pa­ni­ment that de­fined his early days.

Si­mon’s style is in many ways a cleaner, more re­fined ver­sion of the folk fin­ger­pick­ers who pre­ceded him. He makes great study ma­te­rial for this rea­son, be­cause you need to per­fect your pick­ing-hand tech­nique to em­u­late him prop­erly. Much of the time his fret­ting hand lives in the open po­si­tion, but you’ll still find him us­ing plenty of un­usual and in­ter­est­ing chords down there to sus­tain your in­ter­est.

NEXT IS­SUE: Stu­art looks at the time­less play­ing of James Tay­lor

Paul Si­mon: here play­ing his Martin sig­na­ture model

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