October 5, 2011

Songs from the Guitar Studio, Vol. 2

guitar student

Welcome to Songs from the Guitar Studio, Volume 2!

As you might remember from Volume 1, this series is dedicated to songs featured in my guitar lessons. Instead of picking a technique or concept and finding a song to match it, we’ll sometimes pick a song first and see what we can learn from it.

Listed below are some of the songs my students have worked on in the past few weeks. I’ve outlined some of the main elements and takeaway points from each one. Hopefully you’ll see something here that may inspire you.

Let’s check out some tunes!

“Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)

You just don’t get a better song for Travis picking practice! This acoustic classic uses the “outside-inside” pattern and has very few variations through the intro and verses, so there are minimal coordination issues for the right hand. The intro does have an interesting “4 against 3” aspect (it has groups of 4 chords, while the melody on string 2 is phrased in groups of 3) and that presents a bit of a mental organization challenge. A must-know song for fingerpickers!

“Who’s Crying Now” (Journey)

This Journey hit has a great, melodic pop/rock guitar solo, which is appropriate for the solid intermediate level student. My student and I were looking for a solo to learn by ear, that also had some of the scale elements we had been studying. Neal Schon’s classic solo fit the bill perfectly, as it is moderately-paced and demonstrates the use of the minor pentatonic scale with the added 2 note. Factor in the b6 note and it can also be useful in understanding aeolian mode.

“Fast Car” (Tracy Chapman)

One of the most popular songs of the 80s and the tune that put Tracy Chapman on the map. Instantly recognizable fingerstyle intro, which is appropriate for the advanced beginner (and beyond). Relatively easy to play, but only if you’ve got some comfort level with fingerpicking. Complete beginners will struggle a bit, but everyone else should have success here.

Rick Derringer

“Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo” (Rick Derringer)

Awesome, bluesy classic rock at its finest! The song has multiple sections that all have their own challenges. Power chords, blues scale riffs, double-stop riffs, octave riffs – this song has it all! Highly recommended, especially since it’s not something you hear people play every day (like “Iron Man” or “Sunshine of Your Love”). Definitely for the solid, intermediate-level player, as the speed of the riffs and the hand positions require a solid foundation.

“American Patrol” (Glenn Miller)

Classic World War II-era swing. My student is playing this tune in the school jazz band, so we broke down the chord progression, eliminating the chords that are redundant or simply unnecessary. Since my student is pretty new to playing jazz guitar, we will often simplify some parts so as not to overwhelm him. Jazz guitar has a boatload of chord vocabulary, so it’s often best to streamline your chord choices to a few basic types and go from there. As you gain more experience, you’ll be able to memorize the abundance of chord shapes with greater ease.

“How Deep Is Your Love” (Bee Gees)

I had a couple of students who needed to bump up their chord vocabulary and this 70s classic did the trick! Lots of great, sophisticated chords – including maj7, min7, dom9, dom7b9, min7b5, and min6 – and beautiful progressions that translate to all sorts of other pop songs. This tune works especially well for fingerstyle, with the thumb on the bass note and three fingers “pulling” the upper tones. It’s also one of the most covered songs of all time, so its appeal is widespread. Great choice for the student who has exhausted the basic open chord vocabulary and needs more chords.

“Blackbird” (The Beatles)

This Paul McCartney classic is a certified rock star, must-know tune for acoustic players! Sir Paul plays it in a kind of random, half-strummed, half-picked way, so long ago I made the executive decision to teach it to my students in more of a classic, Travis-picked way. This way, the student doesn’t have to navigate the random right hand moves and try to make sense of them…because there’s plenty to worry about in the left hand! (And it still sounds virtually identical to the original.)

I almost always teach this song in stages: first, the chord movements up and down the neck with just the double stop “pinch”; second, add the open G in between the double stops; third, factor in the short intro; fourth; learn the extended Travis pattern. When all that is completed, you can move onto the transitional parts, the bridge and the outro with confidence, since they utilize all the elements learned in the four initial stages. A project to be sure, but absolutely worth the effort!


“Give a Little Bit” (Supertramp)

One of my all-time favorites to play! This Supertramp classic is great for the advanced beginner or intermediate level player. It can be simplified for the less experienced player, or taken up multiple notches for more advanced guitarists, just by adding back in all the little nuances.

It’s based on a 16th-note strum pattern, contains some syncopated moves, and also features some “anticipated” chords – all elements that will challenge players around the intermediate level. Some cool, Zeppelin-style moving chord shapes are the icing on the cake. Excellent song with lots to offer!

“Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” (Jet)

A highly-syncopated and classic “tribal”-style groove that can be heard in quite a few popular songs, such as “Sympathy for the Devil” (Rolling Stones), “Barbara Ann” (Beach Boys), “You Can’t Hurry Love” (Supremes/Phil Collins), and “Touch Me” (The Doors). Just the fact that it is found in a number of songs makes it a prime candidate for learning. The syncopation (emphasis on the “ands” of the beats/upstrokes) makes it challenging, but ultimately helps to unlock the door to groovy strumming skills. Essential strumming pattern!

“Sweet Dreams” (Marilyn Manson)

The Manson version of the Eurythmics’ hit from the 80s, this was suggested by one of my students. To be honest, I was only barely familiar with it. After one listen, I realized we had something.

We really just concentrated on the main riff, which, coincidentally, starts off in exactly the same way as Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train”. It offers some nice slow phrases for working on your right hand alternate picking (lots of inside strokes), as well as the critical left hand “seesaw” technique, which I covered in the video lesson on Finger Combinations. In addition, there are two little slides that add to the fun. Good basic riff to add to your repertoire.

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Until Volume 3…


  1. […] you might remember from Volume 1 and Volume 2, this series is dedicated to songs featured in my guitar lessons. Instead of picking a technique or […]

  2. Gary Lacey says:

    Hi Jim, I’ve had a look around your website and like your philosophy on guitar teaching and your emphasis on students learning scales and chords.

    You teach a wide range of songs, and unlike some teachers who just teach the song, you actually analyse them and point out techniques.

    • jim says:

      Thanks, Gary! We make everything a “teachable moment” in my studio – after all, it’s what they pay me for!

      But I realize that sometimes it’s easier for a teacher to just say, “Put your finger here, now put your other finger there.” Unfortunately that doesn’t teach a person to fish, if you catch my meaning.

      Appreciate the comment – please keep checking back or get on my mailing list so we can stay in touch!

  3. […] you might remember from Volume 1 and Volume 2, this series is dedicated to songs featured in my guitar lessons. Instead of picking a technique or […]

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Jim Bowley is a professional guitarist, teacher and blogger. A native of Baltimore, he has over 30 years of playing experience and an advanced degree in Music Education from Towson University. Jim lives in Bel Air, MD where he maintains a thriving private lesson studio and performs with his band, Remains of Radio.

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