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House of the Rising Sun - Lesson 1

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Beginner-Intermediate

Click here for House of the Rising Sun - Lesson 2 | Click here for House of the Rising Sun - Lesson 3

I decided to use this great chord progression as the basis for three lessons. There are countless ways to express these chords on a guitar and every time I settled into one way, another would present itself. I'll explore a few of them starting with this very basic approach.

I did change one chord slightly in this version ... I turned the F into a Fmaj7 by leaving that top E string open. I like the sound of it just as much as the plain old F and it's much easier to get the fingers around for those just starting out. The plain F other version involves either a full barre or an uncomfortable mini-barre. I know how discouraging F chords can be for beginners!

The piece is in Am, but the chords are not strictly related ... the D in that key is really D minor, not major, and the E is usually Em too. But, it's moving away from the related chords that really perks the ears up and definitely the thing that makes this tune so memorable and distinctive.

This can be seen as an accompaniment for a singer, as there's no real melody line. The bass notes do mirror the melody line for a few beats, but it's really just a finger picking pass through it all.

You'll notice quick smart that I don't keep a regular patter going. I tried that and it was just too bland, so I decided to do one measure straight, and the next with that little skip in the pattern. I play steady eight notes in the first pattern, then I switch to a dotted eight for the first note (the dot adds half a beat to it) then a sixteenth note before playing eights again. It's shown in the tab but the easiest way by far to learn it is to just listen and imitate it ... feel it, in other words. If you watch carefully, you'll see that to keep the feel and timing right, I do a tiny little silent tap on the strings -- on the beat -- with my picking fingers where that little skip in the pattern occurs. I didn't realize I was doing it until I watched the video, but obviously my internal metronome is ticking away and making me do that. You may want to try that out too if you have trouble keeping the flow going.

This lesson also demonstrates the art of changing chords. If you watch the video, you'll see that I don't move the whole shape at once. Because this piece is picked from the bass notes up, I make sure I get that finger to the bass note first, then, while I'm picking it, I'm bringing my other fingers down onto the new chord shape. The first change, from Am to C, is easy because all I do is move that ring finger to the C bass note while the other two fingers remain anchored; The next change, from the C to the D is no problem because that first note is an open string note and I can pick it while bringing my fingers into the D shape; the next, from the D to the F, you'll notice that I bring each finger down individually starting from the low notes (because they come first in the picking pattern) making sure I'm applying each one firmly and cleanly. You'll find that most picking patterns start from the bass notes and then move up to the treble notes, so this applies most of the time. But, if the picking pattern starts with treble notes, then you would do the opposite, you'd make sure you got the treble notes fretted first and then bring your fingers down on the rest of the strings. I don't know many players who can get the whole shape down as a unit cleanly ... every time. If you're just starting out, you may in fact see this process as impossibly fast anyway, but once you practice it for a while, you'll see that these fractions of seconds are actually quite big time spans and allow you to keep it all precise, clean and confident.

Notice that the picking in the E and E7 moves slightly away from the pattern set up in the other chords ... not that you have to do it that way, of course. That's just the way I did it.

This arrangement is pure arpeggios, meaning that you take a chord and pick through it. The names are in the video and the shapes are on the tab.

I end this on a couple of strummed chords (I use the back of my fingernail), but of course you can just keep repeating the picking and go back to the beginning to repeat the whole thing as many times as you (or your family members) can stand. >> Now let's look at House of the Rising Sun - Lesson 2