A paragon of the singer-song­writer’s craft, Joni Mitchell has ex­plored folk, jazz and blues in her im­pres­sive ca­reer. Stu­art Ryan doffs his cap.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Stu­art Ryan pays homage to the ‘Lady Of The Canyon’ her­self, the enig­matic Joni Mitchell.

Born in Fort Macleod, Canada, in 1943 Joni Mitchell re­lo­cated to the US in 1965 and set­tled in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Her tal­ent as a song­writer was im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous with clas­sics like Big Yel­low Tax, Chelsea Morn­ing and Both Sides Now herald­ing the ar­rival of an ex­cit­ing new voice on the Amer­i­can song­writ­ing scene. The afore­men­tioned songs were quickly cov­ered by other folk artists that served to spread her name and ap­peal even fur­ther. She re­leased her de­but al­bum Song To A Seag­ull in 1968 with Ladies Of The Canyon (1970) and Blue (1971) fol­low­ing. Dur­ing the 1970s her mu­sic took on a strong jazz in­flu­ence and she be­gan work­ing with fu­ture jazz leg­ends Pat Metheny, Jaco Pas­to­rius and Michael Brecker.

As a gui­tarist Mitchell has a unique ap­proach to the in­stru­ment as vir­tu­ally ev­ery song she has com­posed fea­tures an al­tered tun­ing. In fact, she has used over 50 al­tered tun­ings dur­ing her ca­reer! I’ve used open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) for this month’s study as that is one of her more ac­ces­si­ble tun­ings and is also used in some of her most pop­u­lar work (in­clud­ing Big Yel­low Taxi). I’ve used a capo as this bright­ens the sound up con­sid­er­ably – in the early days Joni would capo up at the 2nd fret and some­times the 3rd and 4th in or­der to ac­com­pany her voice. So in ad­di­tion to giv­ing the sound more clar­ity the capo would help her sing within her reg­is­ter more eas­ily and al­low her to choose the chord shapes that felt best un­der her fin­gers.

Joni de­vel­oped two in­ter­est­ing so­lu­tions to deal with the huge amount of al­tered tun­ings she has had to used over the years – firstly, and most prac­ti­cally, she has been us­ing a Roland VG MIDI sys­tem since 1995, which al­lows her to pro­gram in all the al­tered tun­ings with­out ac­tu­ally hav­ing to re-tune the gui­tar. Se­condly, she has a fas­ci­nat­ing sys­tem of re­mem­ber­ing the tun­ings. By way of an ex­am­ple she would no­tate this month’s tun­ing as D-7-5-5-4-5 where the first let­ter in­di­cates the tun­ing of the sixth string and the en­su­ing num­bers tell her which fret she would have to fret each string at in or­der to find the pitch to tune the next open string. Clever stuff!

An­other key fea­ture of her strum­ming style is muted strings as we find here – she will keep a steady 16th-note (semi­qua­ver) strum­ming pat­tern but adds va­ri­ety by re­leased her fret­ting hand fin­gers at points to give a per­cus­sive, muted qual­ity. This is tricky to mimic at first as you have to re­ally think where the ac­cents and per­cus­sive parts are. As usual, per­se­vere with it and you’ll find a great new di­men­sion to strum­ming parts.

Joni Mitchell, here play­ing a Martin D-45

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