We’re not Talkin’ Bout A Rev­o­lu­tion in gui­tar play­ing but Tracy Chap­man’s style is a les­son for bud­ding fin­ger­pick­ers, says Stu­art Ryan.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS - NEXT MONTH Stu­art Takes It Easy as he looks at the style of Ea­gles’ front man, Glenn Frey

Stu­art Ryan jumps talks about a rev­o­lu­tion as he jumps in a fast car with Tracy Chap­man.

Born on March 30 1964 in Cleve­land, Ohio, Tracy Chap­man started her mu­si­cal life at the age of three when her mother bought her a ukulele. Five years later she took up gui­tar and also started writ­ing her first songs. As she be­came older Chap­man be­came highly politi­cised and so­cially aware, not least thanks to the jux­ta­po­si­tions in her own life from grow­ing up in a poor neighbourhood to win­ning a schol­ar­ship to an exclusive board­ing school.

Although she is of­ten la­belled as a ‘folk’ or ‘protest’ singer Chap­man prefers to draw from the big­ger mu­si­cal picture as op­posed to fall­ing back on the in­flu­ence of the clas­sic protest singers like Bob Dy­lan and Joan Baez. Her early in­flu­ences came from the coun­try genre and in­cluded artists like Charley Pride, Dolly Par­ton, Glen Camp­bell and leg­endary coun­try gui­tarist Buck Owens. Along­side that she also grew up on soul, gospel and jazz but, in­ter­est­ingly, not folk.

As with many per­form­ers of her gen­er­a­tion she started out per­form­ing on the cof­fee house cir­cuit and busk­ing while at univer­sity. She got her big break via a fel­low stu­dent whose fa­ther worked in mu­sic pub­lish­ing. Af­ter an in­tro­duc­tion and au­di­tion he helped her bro­ker a deal with Elek­tra Records, which led to her de­but al­bum, Tracy Chap­man, be­ing re­leased in 1988. This al­bum con­tains the tracks that made her a star: Fast Car and Talkin’ ’Bout A Rev­o­lu­tion among them. The op­por­tu­nity to per­form Fast Car at the Nel­son Man­dela birth­day tribute con­cert on June 11, 1988 gave her sud­den ex­po­sure to a world­wide au­di­ence and this was fol­lowed by Fast Car reach­ing the Top 10 of the Amer­i­can Billboard 100.

Chap­man’s gui­tar style is not dif­fi­cult but she is an­other great ex­am­ple of how an acous­tic gui­tar part can fit into a track from sev­eral per­spec­tives. She uses sim­ple finger­pick­ing pat­terns from the typ­i­cal folk style to bol­ster the vo­cals – to ba­sic strum­ming pat­terns to fill out the rhythm sec­tion.

Em­bel­lish­ing com­mon chord pro­gres­sions is an­other hall­mark of her style and in this month’s study we’ll see how a ba­sic I-V-II-IV (D-A-Em-G) chord se­quence can be brought to life with a se­ries of un­com­pli­cated ham­merons and pull-offs that add colour to the chords. Fac­tor in a bro­ken or arpeg­giated pick­ing-hand pat­tern and you can see how the fin­ger­style player can breathe new life into oth­er­wise over-used chord ideas.


Tracy Chap­man: world­wide hits with Fast Car and ...Rev­o­lu­tion

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