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.
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