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The Star Spangled Banner - A fingerstyle guitar lesson.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate

The Star Spangled Banner - The Lesson explained

This is the second version of this great piece of music I've done for the site. The first was more of an elaborate Elizabethan sounding arrangement (on the 'difficult' side) in the key of G. This one is a little easier on the brain and fingers but, be warned, there is no real easy way of playing this finger-style. It's just one of those tunes that jumps around a lot with big, wide intervals. You need to travel around the fingerboard for this tune.

This one is in the key of D and it's in Dropped D Tuning.

Tuning your guitar to dropped D is dead easy: just lower the bass string, the thick one, down a whole tone to D. The best way to do that is to start twanging the D string (4th string) so that it's always ringing, and slowly start to release the tension on the bass string while twanging it. You'll hear a whole lot of throbbing and pulsating in the sound waves as you do so because of the interference of those two discordant pitches. You'll pass through D# on your way down from E and then you'll hear the pulsating lessen as you approach the lower D, and then stop altogether when you finally reach D. You'll hear a nice clear, steady ringing between the two Ds, which are one octave apart. You may need to tweak the other strings a tad, as the release of tension can affect the overall tuning. Use an electronic tuner if you have one ... they're never wrong.

I've kept the chords in this to the basic major/minors and refrained from embellishing too much. It's very tempting as there are countless ways to add to these anthem-type tunes, lots of passing chords crying out to be played. But, I tried to keep it as straight forward as possible. The tune revolves around the four most important chords of a major key: I-IV-V (the three major chords) and the vi ( the relative minor). There's a ii chord in there (the Em) and one 'outsider', an E7 chord that acts as a sort of passing chord, accommodating the G# note in the melody line.

You'll see that I hold down whole chord shapes but only play a couple of notes. Don't let this confuse you. The tab is accurate, as is the animated fretboard in the downloadable version. When I started looking for an arrangement of this, I first locked the chord structure in with those full shapes, then picked out the melody/bass line. Rather than rethink my fingering, I just kept the chord shapes there. It is, in fact, a good idea to keep those full shapes there in case you hit another string by mistake: at least it will be another chord tone and will sound fine. But, if you find an easier way to play the notes, go for it. There are no right or wrong ways, just different ways.

There are a couple of hammer-ons/pull-offs -- end of bar 3 and 11, beginning of bar 6 and 14 -- they're the opposite of each other. The pull-off is from the second fret to the open string; the hammer-on is from the open string to the second fret. You don't need to do them, of course, but they add a bit of pizazz.
The piece is in 3/4 time, a waltz, but you'll see that I've inserted a couple of 4/4 bars in there too. I did that mostly for the midi files (which come with the downloadable version), to try and simulate the slow-down I play in those two sections. Don't let it confuse you. [/size][size=2]You'll notice also that I play that section differently the second time. I wasn't sure which way I liked best, so I did both.

The section starting at bar 18 is a series of double stops, a harmonized melody line played on the B and G strings. There are two fingering configurations, one where the fingers are on the same fret, the other where they're jogged out by one fret. This kind of line becomes second nature after a while (like a few years) of playing, in the meantime you'll just have to commit the sequence to memory. Use the fretboard markers, that's what they're there for.

The ending is probably the trickiest. There's a fairly quick little line, all eighth notes, at bar 28. Work it out first, then insert the two bass notes. In bar 30 I use my left hand thumb for one of the bass notes. This is a common technique, used by many of the great players, but one that can cause pain if you do it too much. I know, it happened to me a few years ago and it still cause discomfort if I overdo it.

Take it slowly, enjoy Dropped D. It's a wonderful tuning, commonly used, so it's well worth checking out. That altered bass string means that chord shapes change on the bottom end -- you need to move whatever bass note up two frets to be playing the right note, but that becomes automatic if you practice enough. It's great for tunes in D (of course) but G and A are good too. It's also my favorite tuning for playing slide guitar.

Have fun!

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange


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Kirk Lorange.