Stuart Ryan investigates the style of Americana acoustic legend Dave Matthews.
One of America’s most original and quirky singer-songwriters, Dave Matthews is also one its biggest selling. A veritable superstar in the USA The Dave Matthews Band fills stadiums and arenas across the country. Although less known throughout the rest of the world his unique approach to writing acoustic guitar parts merits wider study and recognition, and so in this lesson we’ll examine some key features of his style.
Matthews was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1967 and spent his childhood both there and in the USA. He settled in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1987 and became a fixture on the local music scene writing songs and performing his first solo gigs. He’d been playing guitar since the age of nine, though it was only in his early 20s that writing and performing became a serious proposition. He formed The Dave Matthews Band in 1991; a fascinating mix of vocals, guitar, bass, drums and the unusual combination of saxophone and violin. The latter two instruments, alongside Matthews’s original way of songwriting, contribute to the unique (and often huge) sound of the band.
Although you will occasionally see him on stage with an electric guitar, Matthews’s primary writing and performing tool is an acoustic guitar. There are many elements of his playing that serve to make it unique – not least his influences that range from Bob Marley to avant garde pianist Keith Jarrett and many more points in between. His songs often feature strummed chords that are expanded by ringing open strings or tight, picked riffs that may be doubled by the horns or violins. It’s worth noting that Matthews has large hands and consequently a large reach, something that often comes into play when he employs wide stretched Andy Summers-esque chords and moving basslines against static chords. We are dealing with acoustic rhythm
chords with moving bass, strummed parts with open strings and deftly picked riffs all appear in this study guitar here, and while you will find him playing conventional open-chord strumming, he will often combine such ideas with the more off-the-wall riffing or chords that you may not expect.
For our study I’ve combined several approaches in much the way Matthews does – static chords with a moving bass, strummed parts with open strings and deftly-picked riffs are all features that make their way into this month’s study. Some of the alternate picking may come as a surprise but watch him play and you’ll see that he is accurate and pretty fast with this when needed!
Dave Matthews belting out riffs on a big Taylor 12-string box