Kirk Lorange

Folksy pickin' à la John Prine

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The TAB, GuitarPro file, midi files and notation that come with this lesson are now only available as part of the "Fingerstyle Lesson Pack" Details here.
There have been a couple requests for that rootsy country folk picking, à la John Prine, amongst others. If you are not yet familiar with John Prine, you should have a listen to him. He is primarily a writer of wonderful lyrics, which he sets to very straight forward chord progressions, usually in the key of G. He paints with his words wonderful, detailed pictures of life's greater and lesser moments, poignant, funny, heart rending ... he is one of America's national treasures.

I also did what John often does: use a capo. G is a perfect key for this kind of picking, because of the pull-off and hammer-on possibilities. However, if you want to sing in another key, but still play it in G, there's only one solution: clamp a capo somewhere higher up the neck, and play it as if in G. What in fact happens is that the capo becomes the nut and raises all the strings, in unison, to a higher pitch, so that you can still use all the open chord shapes of the key of G. I've clamped my capo on the 5th fret, and played as if in G, so in fact I'm in the key is C, since C is 5 semitones above G in pitch.

So, if don't have a capo, go out and buy one. They're cheap and very very useful. Every guitarist should have at least one in their bag of tricks. I use them all the time when playing live. There are several types ... the one I use in this movie is a spring type of clamp which is quick and easy to apply. There are elastic ones (not recommended) and non-sprung clamp on ones ... check with your music store. One of the advantages of using a capo is that it gets easier to play up the fretboard ... and it also brings the strings down a little making the action easier.

This is not any one song ... I just had a quick listen to a couple of JP tunes and came up with this fairly typical variation. It's all I-IV-V chords, which is true to the genre. This kind of music is really just a vehicle for the lyrics, so it never gets too far away form the 3 primary chords. However, don't for a moment think that it's simple ... you will see that to capture the feel, you really do need to work hard at it. It's very often the case that seemingly simple chord progressions demand a whole lot more from the player than complex tricky ones ... not so much from the fingers as the soul, the heart. I have witnessed on many occasions in the studio flashy, dexterous players come completely undone when asked to contribute to one of these 'simple' tunes.

You will have to listen very carefully to my version while studying the tab. Because I'm weaving melody into the chords, it never really settles into any one pattern. Rather, the 'feel' of it, the way the eight notes tumble off each other, the way those notes are embedded into each chord, the overall 'vibe' of the part ... is the end goal. The detail is not all that important ... the feel of it is what really matters. It's a very rough and ready way of playing guitar, and it's always secondary to the vocal line, the lyrics.

There are a few pull-offs and hammer-ons occurring in amongst it all. The open G and C chords are very handy for that kind of thing, as you may already have discovered. You'll see that the D chord (the V) is always underpinned by an F# bass note (the 3 of D) ... that's also a big part of this sound.

Take it slowly, and, as I say, I would recommend using your ear more than anything else to capture that rolling feel ... don't worry too much about duplicating every tiny detail I do. As I was running through this before I rolled the cameras, I played it differently each time, so don't go thinking this one version is set in stone.

Once you get the general feel for this, you can apply it to any old chord progression. You can see that the thumb is basically grabbing root notes (apart from that 3 under the D chord), two to the bar, from each chord shape, the melody line is handled by the ring and middle fingers, the other notes are part of each chord shape. The usual, in other words.


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