Ave Maria - A fingerstyle guitar lesson
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Advanced
Ave Maria - The Lesson explained
That old Franz Shubert sure knew how to put a tune together. I must have listened to three dozen versions of this while I was figuring out how to arrange it for guitar and what a beautiful tune it is. I listened to several guitar arrangements, but most were in Dropped-D tuning and involved too many barre chords and travelling up and down the neck for my liking, so I chose the key of C for my version and tried to keep it as simple as I could for you. Having said that, it's not very simple. There are some quite tricky passages in amongst it all and keeping those arpeggios nice and steady is no mean feat.
The progression is sublimely beautiful, the way it keeps modulating and moving in and out of key. I stripped the chords back the bare essentials for the sake of simplicity but -- hopefully -- retained the essence.You will quickly hear that the melody line is embedded in the endless arpeggios, and that it stands out because  the melody notes are the highest notes being played and high notes are the ones that we hear the best, and  they are played a little harder and louder than the rest of the notes. You'll need to practice the tune and play it several hundred times to get to the point where you can start applying these dynamics to it, of course. I know I did. I think I played it for three days solid before I even tried to record and film it. Even there I had to correct one little spot in the audio. So, don't despair if it takes a while to nail. But stick at it because it's a beautiful piece to play.
From the top
There's a nice intro to this piece, simple but effective and it allows you to settle into the tempo and feel before the melody kicks in. Because I did this in C, I changed the voicings for the chords a bit but I think I succeeded in retaining the vibe. It starts with a simple finger picking through an open C chord on strings 5-4-3-2, then the picking pattern shifts to stings 5-3-2-1 (still a C chord), then the b7 is introduced turning the chord into C7, then it moves to an F chord played over the C bass note (a 'second inversion' of F) then a Fm6/C, which was the best sounding fit for those few beats. The chord in the orchestral version sounded more like a diminished chord to my ear, but the Fm6 is the easiest way to get around it in C.
Believe me, I tried every other way in every position. Back to C for a bar.
The melody kicks in at measure 5. There's nothing too tricky until bar 8 where the Dm comes into play. I made it a first inversion, putting that F note as bass note. The root is on the D string and seemed a little high for my liking, and the F down there moves nicely up to the G. You just have to make sure your pinkie isn't muffling that top open E string because it becomes a melody note in the phrase. You'll notice I left a little pause in there just before the Dm so you can get to it easier.
Bar 10 is very testing ... the chord becomes a C augmented there and you need to get you hand in a very awkward position to get everything ringing properly. Once again, the top E string needs to be free to ring out, so there's quite a bit to think about at that point. The trick is to play it over and over and over until thinking need not come into it. The fingers will learn to do it on their own, trust me.
Bar 11 is just as mean ... and once again that E string need to be clean. That horrible stretch with the pinkie is a joy to get through too, as you'll find out.
Bar 12? Only slightly friendlier that the preceding measures. Think "E7 with an extra F note" if that helps for the first few beats. That little double stop phrase at the end of bar 12 is where I fixed the audio. You won't hear anything untoward, but the fingers in the movie are not playing that one double stop at 0:54 the way it's shown on the virtual fretboard and tab. So don't pull your hair out if you're watching the left-hand fingering. I didn't realize until I had filmed this that I hadn't got that part right.
Bar 13 ... nothing too tricky.
Bar 14 looks and sounds like it would be difficult but it's actually one of the nicest bars to play in this tune. All the notes seem to just roll off the fingertips even with that move up the fretboard. That open-string melody note gives to plenty of time (3 nanoseconds instead of 2!) to move the hand back down for the G/D chord.
Bars 15 and 16: piece of cake.
Bars 17 to 21 ... nothing too difficult but watch out for the little double-stop phrase at the end of bar 19. It's easy to play but needs to flow in and out of the arpeggios without jarring.
Bar 22. That Dsus4 to Dm ... I'm not overly keen on the root note being so high in register but that's as low as you get a D note in standard tuning. I leave another little pause there so you can get to ...
Bar 23 with as little stress as possible. Here you need to keep that high E string nice and open for the very first note of the phrase, so look out. The change to D7 is in the bass note, moving up from the F to the F# -- minor third to major third.
Bar 24, we get back to the V chord, the G, and halfway through we drop the root down to F, making it a G7.
Bar 25 is a repeat of the opening melody line of bar 5, except that this time it resolves to the I chord -- C -- at bar 27 instead of Am. I then added an outro similar to the intro and it all comes to a logical end on a high root at bar 31.
Great fun to play once you get it down and, as I said before, stick at it. It took me several days of steady playing to come up with the arrangement and another two or three to assimilate it enough to turn it into a lesson. I have refined it even more since filming it, sticking to this arrangement, but just smoothing it all out a bit more and injecting more dynamics and 'feel' into it.
Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
As well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.