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Sleepwalk - A fingerstyle guitar lesson

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

PlaneTalk Online

The video with un-blurred virtual fretboard can be downloaded from a link at the top of the TAB

Sleepwalk - The Lesson explained

I have fallen back in love with this wonderful melody that I first heard in about 1960 when I had just started playing guitar. I did a slide version of it a while back. Here is the fingerstyle version as a lesson for you.

OK, first off, it's in Dropped D tuning, so lower that bass string down a whole step to D. I tried just about every key there is, all were impractical except for G, our favorite anyway. Then I decided to drop that lower string to get a nice deep bass note over the many V chords in the piece. So this is in G, in Dropped D.

I open with a little harmonic rendition of the famous intro line from the original, which were also harmonics played on the steel guitar. It just so happens that in G, there are natural harmonics that spell out that 4 note line. They're indicated in the video by magenta diamonds, and notice that the diamonds are directly over the fret wires. If you don't know about harmonics, click here. They're just a bit of embellishment, though, no need for them.

I came up with a simple 4 bar intro for this one, a fairly straight forward finger-pick through the basic chord progression. I end it with a single harmonic. The actual tune starts at bar 5.

The chord progression has an interesting twist to it: it's what's known as a "One Six Four Five" progression, meaning the first, sixth, fourth and fifth chords of the key. In the key of G, this normally means G - Em - C - D. In this tune, the Four chord is minor, not major. So, G - Em - Cm - D. It's little difference that makes make Sleepwalk unique; it's what makes that line played in double stops so hauntingly beautiful. There are countless thousands of tunes written around the usual I - vi - IV - V chords, but only one that I know of that's written around I - vi - iv - V, and it's this one.

The tune is basically a repetition of the basic 2 bar melody with a bit of a turnaround (turnarounds are linking sections) and then there's a classic 'middle eight', which is simply a different section 8 bars long.

The main 'verse' is a little tricky. You need to stretch quite a bit on that opening G chord. Because we're in Dropped D, the bass note (G) is now at the fifth fret, not the 3rd, and the melody note on the treble string. Take the time to get your hand -- ligaments, muscles, tendons -- to stretch to accommodate that grip. Stick at it because this is a common Dropped D position, and Dropped D is a great tuning. You also need to let that melody note ring on. That in itself is tricky!

The Em is not too difficult, but again, to keep it clean and ringing, you need to concentrate on keeping those fingers nice and arched to allow those extra picking notes to ring cleanly.

The Cm -- that 'out of the key' chord -- is expressed in this arrangement by passing fleetingly through its 3, the minor note. That note is the Eb, first fret of the 4th string. It's all that's needed to say that this is a minor chord, not the usual major.

Next comes the beautiful harmonized line that. to me, IS Sleepwalk. For once, it's dead easy. That same little shape moves up and back down again. You'll see/hear that I treat each of these a little differently. Some I play straight, some I let the timing lag for effect, others I do a little back-and-forth slidey thing. That's just to keep the ear interested and because it's fun to experiment. The top of that line is also pure Cm. The two notes are the root and flat three of C.

So that's the main theme. There are some fillers between those sections, the first being intro-like, the second being a lead-in to the middle 8.

The Middle Eight is simply a IV chord, a real IV chord -- C, changing to the iv chord, the minor, and then back to G, the I. The melody is built into those changes ... twice. That section repeats.

Back to the main theme, and out, and all done!

Have fun with this, it's a wonderful tune to listen to and if you can play it, you can listen to it any time you want!