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4+20 - A classic from 1970.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

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For this lesson, I will now be charging a small fee of US $3.95 for the Printable PDF of the TAB/Notation. Click here to order it.

The Lesson explained


Here's one I've been meaning to do for years: Stephen Stills' '4 + 20'. I remember hearing this for the first time way back when Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's seminal album 'Déja vu' was released in 1970 ... I instantly grabbed my guitar and started figuring out how to play it. Back then, there was no way of finding out what tuning he was in but I heard that low D note droning away so I assumed he was in dropped D. I was wrong, he was in open D, but I worked out how to weave that top line, the melody, into the rolling bottom end in Dropped D. This is a lesson for what I worked out. I also added a little intro that is my own.

First: lower the bass string by a whole tone down to D. As I'm sure you know, this is my favorite tuning. My guitar is always in dropped D. The only time it isn't is when I'm doing a lesson here that needs to stay in standard.

The Intro: this is just another way of playing through the chords that are in the tune, namely the Fmaj9 -> G -> D. You'll see that the F chord I play is the C shape moved up to F. That open G string is the '9'. The G is the way a G chord looks in dropped D, with the root up at the fifth fret instead of the third; the D chord is that single root up at the 7th fret plus the droning D and A open strings. You will see/hear that I 'anticipate' a couple of notes in the lines. Those two notes are D notes. The first belongs to the G chord (it's the 5 of a G chord), but I play on the last eighth beat of the F chord. So it anticipates the coming of that chord. The second belongs to the D chord, but I play it on the last eighth beat of the G chord. Again, it jumps in just before the chord it belongs to arrives. These are called 'anticipations'.

(You may wonder why I play each of those 'anticipated' D notes in different positions. The first one is on the B string, third fret. I play it here because it's in that G chord shape and it suits the fingerpicking pattern I play there. All the strings in that shape are G chord tones and I don't have to worry about hitting a wrong string; the second one belongs to the D chord and if I stay down at the third fret, I have to worry about that G string ... if I leave it open I may play it by mistake. G is not a chord tone of D. I could always fret that G string at he second fret and make an A in case I do hit it by mistake -- at least then its a chord tone of D -- but my picking pattern still has to skip over a string. It's much easier, safer and cleaner to play it up at the 7th fret. So the is a method to the madness.)

The actual song: it's a combination of a simple melody line on the high strings played in conjunction with a finger picking pattern on the bass strings. Coordinating the two is the tricky bit and only repetitive practice will get you to where you can keep it all rolling along smoothly. My pattern in this lesson is not consistent, it changes slightly here and there. I think it just evolved over time to adapt to the dropped D and the way the melody line fits the droning. You may find a more comfortable way of fitting it all together. The TAB/notation is accurate for this take in this video, though, so you can use it as a starting point. I hadn't played in in years before yesterday and it took me a couple of minutes for the muscle memory to kick in, but once it did I was rolling. It's all muscle memory, so just keep at it.

The F -> G -> D parts are slightly different. I find it hard to play the same thing twice. Learn all, or learn just one, or make up your own using those grips, or blend them with the grips used in the intro. There are countless way to express these, or any other, changes.

Enjoy it, it's a fun piece to play and, if you know the words, yodel along.


For this lesson, I will now be charging a small fee of US $3.95 for the Printable PDF of the TAB/Notation. Click here to order it.