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La Paloma - A Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson
Difficulty rating: Advanced
Lesson by: Kirk Lorange


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This was a request by member 'tonedeaf', aka John. Thanks for the suggestion, John, it's a beautiful tune, well worth the time and effort I have put into re-familiarizing myself with it, arranging it and turning it into a lesson.

This is a very challenging piece and it's not for the beginners here. There's a whole lot of travelling up and down the neck and to keep it all flowing nicely while doing all that travelling is no small feat. It took me a few days of playing it to get anywhere near good enough for a lesson and I'm still not there.

This is a tune that I would have first heard as a toddler back in the early 1950's, so I know it and know it well. The melody line is a classic and the harmony in 6ths that goes with it epitomizes this kind of Latin American music. I tried a few different keys before settling on A. It works well because the whole tune consists of just two chords -- A and E -- and each of those has a root on an open string. That always makes it easier. I did leave out a few 'filler' sections that I heard on some other versions at iTunes, sections that just sit on rhythm part waiting for the melody lines to kick in. The form of the tune is AABBC, meaning that there's a first section A that repeats, then a second section B that repeats, and an end section C. Those are not chords, just letters denoting different sections of the tune.

You'll notice that I have included the bar count in the video. The red numbers above the virtual fretboard match the red numbers on the tab/notation. This should make it much easier to cross reference the video with the tab.

The virtual fretboard shows all the moves in real time. It can get quite confusing sometimes watching the video because I often use full chord shapes, but only pick out a couple of notes from the full shapes. This is a good habit to get into as [1] you will not be playing any 'wrong' notes if you play the wrong string by mistake and, [2], you will get to know and literally see how these snippets fit into the big picture. Harmony lines are always part of full chords and if you know what those chords are, you can easily make up your own lines.

Back to the lesson ...
A section, bars 1 to 21

I've kept the first pass through this section sparse. There's just those three bass notes in bar 2, the rest is just that harmony line moving up the neck. The way I did it, staying on that one string-set* (2-3), seemed to me to be much easier than moving across to the neck to string-set (1-2), which would have kept the positions closer to the nut. I think it's easier to 'see' those double stops marching right up the neck than to have them chopped up and move to strings B and E. Remember that the relationship between strings 2-3 and 1-2 is different, therefore any visual pattern you set up on one string-set disappears when you move to the other. This way, by staying on string-set 2-3, you can see that there are just two different 'shapes' for those double stops: one is where the two frets line up across the fretboard, the other they're jogged out one fret. You'll just have to memorize the sequence as they move up the fretboard, unless you've bought my PlaneTalk Package. In that case, you'll be able to relate everything to the I-IV-V chords of the key. Ask me about it in the PlaneTalkers' Forum if you're not sure what I mean.

At bar 7 the harmony switches from 'thirds' to 'sixths'. I've mentioned this before in these lessons: sixths (6ths) are the same notes as thirds (3rds) but in different octaves ... confusing, I know.

Example: look at bar 9 ... you'll see two notes written as '7' in the tab. Those notes are B (the treble note) and D (the bass note). Now look at bar 5 ... the opening treble notes of that bar are 3 and 4 in the tab. Those two notes are also B and D. Same notes! So it's the same harmony since they're both played over an E7th chord, but the configuration is different. In the first instance, the notes are a 6th apart, with the D note underneath the B note in the next octave down. In the second instance, the notes are a 3rd apart, with the B note on the top. You don't need to know this stuff, of course, you can just put your fingers as indicated, but it's good knowledge if you plan on being a full fledged musician.

Once again, I've kept as much of that descending harmony line on the same string set (1-3) and, once again, you'll see two distinct patterns for them: one is straight across the fretboard and the other jogged out by one fret. Again, if you're a PlaneTalker, relate these to the I-IV-V chords of A.

The second pass through section A (bars 13 to 25) is almost the same, I just throw in a couple more bass notes to add some bottom end.

B section, bars 22 to 37

I play both repeats pretty much the same here. There's less travelling around for the B sections, but the timing becomes a little tricky. You'll see in the tab that some of the phrasing is in triplets (the little 3s under the stems). Don't get all hung up on the tab, just listen to what I play. There's a certain lilt about this feel, and you'll see that many of the lines end on an anticipated note or chord ... they come in just before the end of the measure instead of landing on the downbeat of the next. That's what gives this kind of music its distinctive feel. There's a bit of a silent Tango going on underneath it all.

C section, bars 37 to 47 ... the ending

There's a neat little figure at the end of bar 37 that brings in the end. It's just three little double stops that, if fleshed out, would become A, D and A diminished chords. As fleeting as it is, it's a very ear-catching phrase that really tells you that something new is imminent, in this case the end section. The entire tune is basically the I and V chords of the key of A, namely A and E7. That little diminished chord that lasts an eight beat is the 'third chord' of this tune.

That last line in bars 41 and 42 that goes up and down in sixths for what seems like forever is probably the trickiest part of the tune. You really do need to get that hand moving quickly between the various positions. There some big leaps in amongst it all. Again, you could do it all up the neck by switching back and forth between string-sets 1-3 and 2-4, but I did try that and t's just as difficult as the way I finally settled on. At least we guitarists, unlike pianists, do have different ways of playing the same thing, but in this case, they're all hard! You just need to keep playing it over and over until you get it. I still need to do some practicing myself on this one if I ever want to include it in my repertoire.

I end it with a little ascending line that ends on a Cha Cha Cha ... just for the fun of it.

*A string-set is just what it sounds like .. a set of two or more strings, numbered from treble to bass. So string-set 1-2-3 means the three thinnest strings, E, B and G. It's a convenient way to describe which strings are being used. Double stops require two strings, chords require 3 or more.