John Len­non

Stu­art Ryan dons his Bea­tle wig to show you the fin­ger­pick­ing style of John Len­non and his skil­ful ap­proach to melody and use of tri­ads.

Guitar Techniques - - LESSON: ACOUSTIC -

had their own ap­proach to writ­ing as far as the acous­tic guitar was con­cerned. We each have our favourites (for me it was Ge­orge) but it can’t be de­nied that each of the three brought their own unique ap­proach to acous­tic parts.

Paul pro­vided the ‘thumb and strum’ flick ap­proach inspired by the ukulele. Ge­orge added rich, pas­toral arpeg­giated parts that were full of melodic con­tent and could even stand on their own as in­stru­men­tal pieces. John’s ap­proach was per­haps more ba­sic than the other two but delve into his acous­tic tracks and you will dis­cover well-crafted, melodic parts.

Dig into The White Al­bum and you will find two Len­non fin­ger­pick­ing gems – Dear Pru­dence and Ju­lia. The de­scend­ing fin­ger­picked tri­ads of the for­mer show a song­writer­gui­tarist who was con­fi­dent to move away from the open po­si­tion pick­ing so com­mon in 60s pop and folk acous­tic parts and utilise the en­tire neck with some un­ex­pected har­mony along the way. Ju­lia re­veals a fin­ger­picker who was in com­plete con­trol of the acous­tic guitar as ac­com­pa­ni­ment tool. Len­non’s in­flu­ences are well ac­knowl­edged – for the elec­tric stuff it was Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and the mu­sic of Elvis Pres­ley but for his acous­tic style it was most likely the fin­ger­pick­ing of Bob Dy­lan and the time he spent learn­ing from Dono­van that helped shape his style. In­deed in Len­non’s fin­ger­pick­ing ap­proach you’ll find all the com­mon de­vices like al­ter­nat­ing basslines and in­de­pen­dent bass and chord pick­ing. The il­lu­sion of us­ing bass notes to sug­gest the sound of a sec­ond in­stru­ment is preva­lent in some of his most fa­mous parts. Nor­we­gian Wood, for ex­am­ple, uses a mov­ing bassline against a D chord with the dis­tinctly folk in­flu­enced rhythm of 6/8. Dear Pru­dence uses a drop D tun­ing (sixth string tuned down a tone) and utilises the com­mon re­peat­ing sixth-string, fourth-string pick­ing pat­tern against the afore­men­tioned tri­ads.

Len­non was fa­mously dis­parag­ing about his guitar play­ing but, in re­al­ity, he had a great groove and an in­ter­est­ing way of writ­ing acous­tic parts. In this study I’ve tried to cap­ture some of the key ‘Len­non­isms’ so you’ll find tri­ads mov­ing against a static, al­ter­nat­ing bassline and some ‘shape based writ­ing’ – this can be a great way of un­lock­ing some in­ter­est­ing ideas on the neck as you’re sim­ply mov­ing a fin­ger­ing up or down the fret­board while play­ing open strings against it. You won’t find too many chord em­bel­lish­ments or licks in this style so it’s more a case of get­ting the fret­ting hand clean and work­ing on the pick­ing hand’s tim­ing and ac­cu­racy.

John Len­non play­ing Ge­orge’s Gib­son J-160E as his had been stolen

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