Should he leave on a jet plane or let country roads take him home, ponders Stuart Ryan as he delves into the wistful style of this late, great American singer-songwriter-guitarist?
Stuart Ryan on the acoustic style of Henry John Deutschendorf Jr, also known as John Denver!
1971’s Poems, Prayers & Promises yielded the massive hit take me home Country roads. towards the end of the 1970s denver shifted his focus from his musical career and became in involved in humanitarian and ecological work. tragically he was killed in a plane crash on october 2, 1997.
although strumming and basic fingerpicking formed the bedrock of Denver’s style, in this study we’ll see how he would often use his accompaniment part to create more intricate lines than the standard arpeggiated open chord shapes. in essence, imagine that the melody in this study is doubling up a vocal melody with the chord shapes acting as a general ‘frame’ within which it all sits – luckily for you Gt doesn’t permit me to record my vocals! although we are in the open position for much of this study we’ll see that you can get a great deal of mileage and interest by embellishing these chords with melodic ideas. Your fingers will be well used to the open chord shapes here but it’s surprising how moving notes within them can feel disorientating, so if that’s the case start as slowly as possible.
one of the key things to getting this to work properly is being able to get the ‘flow’ of a piece in place. Keeping notes sustained and ringing through the bar is essential, as is looking forward through the bar to get a sense of where everything is going. Clarity is key so make sure your fretting hand is comfortable sustaining bass notes while the other fingers fret the melody notes. similarly the picking hand wants to ensure that all the notes can be plucked at an even volume so the bass notes don’t overshadow the melody, and vice versa. in addition you want to make sure your timing is really accurate for this style – even though you are just plucking an even eighth note (quaver) pattern throughout it’s essential that your rhythm remains constant and steady. denver’s music lends itself to a gentler approach, technique wise, so if you find you generally attack the strings with the picking hand try easing back a bit here.
I’m no Henry Mancini or Michel Legrand. I just play the guitar and write songs. John Denver
John Denver: Playing one of his many Guild guitars