His fingerpicking fully explained
NEXT MONTH: Stuart continues his look at the legends with a piece on Sir Paul McCartney consummate guitarist who always crafts the right part to accompany his easygoing vocal style. Finding his voice in the Californian songwriting community of the 1960s, he developed a guitar style that, while ostensibly simple, has hidden depths. Unlike many of his contemporaries who either strummed open chords or created simple fingerpicking parts, there is a greater complexity to Taylor’s playing style.
Firstly, his deft fingerpicked passages don’t always follow the predictable, basic singersongwriter patterns; and secondly, his chord work often features subtle alterations to the underlying chord sequences, so expect to see all manner of sus, 7th and diminished type chords in his playing. In addition, rather than simply arpeggiate the chord shape under his fretting hand, he will often add embellishments to the chords via an array of hammer-ons, pull-offs or picking patterns.
Taylor actually started his musical journey by learning the cello as a child, and also tinkered with his sister’s piano. In fact, he has stated that he views his approach to the guitar as something akin to piano playing, with his picking-hand thumb as the left hand of a piano player and his picking-hand fingers as the right hand. This approach is in evidence when you listen carefully to his parts and hear the interdependence between the thumb/bass notes and the fingers/chord work.
I’ve covered James Taylor several times for GT over the last decade, but I always find
Taylor’s fingerpicked passages don’t always follow the basic singer-songwriter patterns, and often feature subtle chord alterations.
something new in his playing each time. For this lesson, we’re going to focus on the three-four time signature, not so common for singer-songwriters perhaps, but something that works to great effect in a track such as Sweet Baby James. It’s important to really feel the pulse all the way through, so if you’re new to this time signature, try getting the hang of it first by counting ‘1 2 3, 1 2 3’ as you play some simple strummed chords. Part of the challenge of getting Taylor’s style under your fingers is his slightly ‘languid’ approach – ie a relaxed feel that never rushes, and sometimes, even travels slightly behind the beat. This can be even more of a challenge in three-four, as the waltz-like nature of this time signature almost commands you to move forward with robotic precision. Maintain a relaxed picking hand all the way through, keep an ear on the beat and you’ll be fine – try stretching some of the chords out just a little bit longer than feels right at first.
James Taylor and one of his James Olson guitars