Leg­endary folk singer-song­writer

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

This trou­bled ge­nius had a style all his own. Stu­art Ryan pays trib­ute to a rare min­strel who strug­gled with in­se­cu­ri­ties but cre­ated beau­ti­ful mu­sic in some of the most un­usual tun­ings.

Trou­bled folk pioneer Nick Drake was a great English singer-song­writer and his haunt­ingly beau­ti­ful mu­sic stands out for both its lyri­cal and melodic qual­ity. Drake’s gui­tar work is full of unique ideas with a melodic mo­tion that pulls you in with ev­ery twist and turn. Al­tered tun­ings formed a huge part of his style; from sim­ple tun­ings such as open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) and dou­ble dropped D (D-A-D-G-B-D) through to those where he would use unisons on the bass strings (B-B-D-G-B-E and A-A-D-E-B-E). A reper­toire based around such dis­parate tun­ings would cause prob­lems be­tween songs. A shy man who found it dif­fi­cult enough per­form­ing in front of peo­ple, the agony of the si­lence be­tween tun­ing changes was one of the rea­sons Drake didn’t en­joy play­ing live.

As a re­sult of th­ese some­times bizarre tun­ings Drake’s gui­tar work gave him ac­cess to beau­ti­ful, ethe­real chords that some­times only al­tered tun­ings can achieve. Cou­ple this with the low res­o­nance of his de­tuned sixth and fifth strings and you have a great big gui­tar sound to com­ple­ment his voice.

Acoustic gui­tarists Martin Simp­son and the late Michael Hedges also use(d) a large num­ber of al­tered tun­ings to ser­vice their gui­tar styles but the amaz­ing thing about Nick Drake was that he was us­ing th­ese tun­ings in the 70s - the use of DADGAD was only be­com­ing preva­lent from the gui­tar work of Davey Gra­ham in the 1960s so to find Drake us­ing such a range of tun­ings shows his unique ap­proach to gui­tar.

There are some fleet runs in Drake’s mu­sic so your fret­ting hand will need to be up to speed on its hammer-on and pull-off tech­niques to make sure ev­ery­thing flows. The pick­ing hand will also re­quire the abil­ity to play a strong con­sis­tent rhythm - one of the most strik­ing things about Drake’s ac­com­pa­ni­ment is how steady it is and how much it grooves, pro­pel­ling the mu­sic along.

To­day we are in the un­usual tun­ing of B-E-B-E-B-E (low to high). You’ll no­tice that all four lower strings are dropped down con­sid­er­ably com­pared to con­cert pitch. When us­ing tun­ings as low as th­ese you may find the sound rather muddy in the bass. If so, try a capo at the 2nd fret or be­yond - the tone will be brighter, less flappy and with more sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the notes.


NEXT MONTH Stu­art looks at the style of an­other trag­i­cally starred mu­si­cian, El­liott Smith

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