These songs and blog entries are really a kind of homework for me.
The songs are the lessons, and the blog entries provide me with the chance to reflect on what I’ve learned. Because I’m assigning this work to myself (to do when time permits and interest arises), there isn’t necessarily a fixed curriculum. I decide what I want to do, and I figure out how to do it.
I have, more or less by accident, developed a sort of process for learning a song. I don’t use it for every song, but I am pretty consistent about it. As this process involves making use of the work of many, many other people on the internet, I feel I should give thanks to and for all of the tabbers out there, the hobby musicians who figure out the chords and lyrics etc. for songs and post them to share the experience with the rest of us. If I didn’t have Ultimate Guitar or Ukulele Tabs (among others) to turn to, this would all take a LOT longer to figure out! I do often alter (or flat-out ignore) what I find at sites like those, but they are a marvelous start for researching a song, and they give me ideas even when they can’t give me accurate notes. Thank you, tabbers! Happy New Year! You help lazy jerks like me learn stuff!
Now for the process, as illustrated by today’s offering, Anna Nalick’s lovely Wreck of the Day. My guitar-goddess friend K. and I learned this for jam looooooong before I had a 6-string guitar. She was my designated player, I was her designated singer, and once upon a time before a jam we spent some time trying to figure out cool songs for her to play and for me to sing. A lot of the credit for how I ended up playing this one belongs to what K. figured out about how to play it.
Step 1: Listen to the song
This step requires two things: listening to various recordings of the tune and watching video of a performance of it (if that video is available). We did that. It was cool. It wasn’t necessarily enough for figuring out the chord structure, though (in spite of K.’s awesome skill at picking out the tune by ear from the recording).
Step 2: Look for tab
And here’s where we ran into some trouble. When I first suggested the song, I tried to help K. out by finding chords for it. What I found was, well…not always helpful. This one, for instance, uses a capo at the 7th fret to find the notes with chord shapes that the tabber seems to have found convenient. Problem: it makes the chorus walkdown (such a distinctive part of the song) quite impossible to do nicely. Even though the structure of the song is more or less accurate when compared to the recording, it’s still not right. Back when I first looked at tab, there were actually several that insisted that this tune is a 3-chord song (GDA). Trust me. It is NOT. The person who posted this version (which bears only the faintest resemblance to how Nalick and her guitarist actually play the song) seems to have been trying to improve on some of those 3-chord errors, but the result is simply the wrong chords in the right relationship with each other (it’s in the wrong key). Again, the pickin’ won’t work nicely and the walkdown’s awkward. Someone DID post really good tab, but didn’t note the chords, which made it a challenge to find a way to do strummy stuff (important for those of us who can’t sing and pick notes at the same time).
Still, it was a good start. There were a few different sources of help, in addition to K.’s good ear.
Profit! Play what you can and try stuff to make it work
That’s what we did, anyway. And then, after a few performances, we just stopped playing the song regularly, and never did get around to fixing the bits we didn’t get.
Last week, we tried to play it again at jam, which requires being able to tell the other players what chords to use. Because K. is awesome, she had it mostly figured out, but it didn’t necessarily work well — we never could get through this damn song! Following her lead, I went back (now that I am learning to play 6 strings for myself) and tried to find chords for the whole thing (in a simplified version playable by me, strumming, no picking).
I figured out (building on K.’s work and using the tab as a guide to which picked notes ought to be in the chords), that the verse chords are (probably) like this: C G B7 Em
The chorus apparently goes like this: C B7 Em walkdown to A7 C B7 (resolve to a D after repeat)
When I check this against the video I linked above, it’s pretty close, but not precisely right. It is, however, close enough to make the song singable in the right key with the right tune, so it’s good enough for me!
And the result is this attempt at the song, which is sort of wrong, but works anyway. Homework!
P.S. New Year’s Eve Lesson: I really, really shouldn’t drink and play guitar in public. It’s disastrous. Yaaaay!