Auld Lang Syne in Dropped D - A fingerstyle guitar lesson
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate-Advanced
It's that time of the year again ... another year gone, anticipation for the next.
This version is in my favorite tuning: Dropped D. There are a couple of different Dropped D tunings, one where both E strings go down a tone in pitch to D, one where it's the bass string. I use the latter. I like having all those treble strings in standard tuning. My fretboard map is so ingrained after all these years that to tamper with anything but the bass string is hard on the brain. So, D - A - D - G - B - E it is. Remember that when you drop that bass string down a tone, the tension release can affect the other strings, so make sure you go a quick re-tune of the whole guitar before proceeding. Even the tiniest little fraction of a percent out will sour the sound and take away from the tune, no matter how well you play it.
You'll hear in this version that for once I just played without thinking of the fact that 'this is a lesson and I must be robotic and deliberate about each note'. I know that it's easier to follow when I do that, easier to refer it back to the tab, but it's not as pleasant to listen to. This version is full of slow-downs and speed-ups, a few little twiddly bits and lots of light and shade. When it came time to turn it into a GuitarPro file and create the tab, I realized how far from 'metronomic' my version is. Playing in strict time and tempo is great for some tunes, and it's a good discipline to learn, but in tunes like this, I find it much more effective to let the tune breathe and shift in tempo.
It's in the key of D, which is what you'd expect in this tuning, but don't think that you can only play in the key of D in Dropped D. G is good, A is fine, in fact any key if OK. But it's always nice when the lowest note in pitch is the root, so D is very satisfying in Dropped D.
I start out with a couple of pick-up notes (which, if sung, would be "May Old ..."), then play some chord tones from the partial D shape I'm holding then continue the melody with a nice little hammer-on/double pull-off motif on the treble string. It's well worth working that little detail out and practicing it up as it sounds great and is fun to do. It gives the tune that Celtic vibe, which is very appropriate. I then continue with a harmonized melody line. The harmony is in 6ths, which are inverted 3rds. They work well on guitars as the notes are always within easy reach, one string away from each other. At bar 5, when I get to the G chord, I decided to play the root on the 4th string rather than the 6th. It's easier to reach and it just sounded better to my ear that the low one. Halfway through that measure, the bass note goes up a semitone to G#, and the chord becomes E7. That G# note has now is dying to resolve up a semitone to A. It does, but before I hit a lower A on the open 5th string, so we get two As in a row, an octave apart. However, the chord is not A, it's D. To be precise, D/A, or "D over A". That's the 'second inversion' of D, and you can hear that it's unsettled, it hasn't resolved. To my way of thinking, in cases like these the second inversion is a sort of pretend V chord. D over A is almost Asus4 if you look at the notes, and Asus is a flavor of V chord. At bar 7, it does finally get to the real V chord (I add a 9 to the A7, so it's A9th in fact) -- resolution! -- and then quickly move to a brief F#7 chord which leads nicely to the G chord at bar 8.
If all of the above is just so much Greek to you, don't worry about it. I personally love this aspect of music -- the way chords relate, the way bass notes affect the sound, the way harmonies work or don't -- but you don't really need to know any of the nitty gritty theory to play. However, one thing I did find after many years of playing and being 'stuck' on a plateau: When you do know what you're playing and why it's working, your playing advances by light years.
The next part, which I guess would be called the chorus, starts at bar 10. You see/hear how the double stop that brings in bar 10, which is a momentary G, turns in a D double stop by moving the treble note down a tone. How economical! One note makes all the difference. The note on the G string (D) stays for both; the note on the E strings goes from B to A. So you get a 5-3 double stop for the G and a 1-5 double stop for the D. That detail repeats at bars 11-12. Be bold about how you play that as it's the hook, the high-point of the tune. You'll see that I slide into the lower note from a semitone below just to add some drama there. (This is the point in the tune where the drunks at the bar, in their pointy New Years hats, sing with great gusto raising their beer mugs high above their heads).
We then go back to a repeat of the earlier passage and then a couple of I to V chords ... a little harmonics triad and out on a high D double stop.
If you are finding this lesson a bit on the challenging side, a simpler version of Auld Lang Syne (in the key of G) can be found here.
Have a great holiday, Happy New Year and may this coming year bring you good fortune and good health.