His fin­ger­pick­ing fully ex­plained

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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

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