The Doobie Brothers – “Long Train Runnin'”

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The minor 7th chord would never be the same. While Tom Johnston (lead singer and guitarist for The Doobie Brothers, as well as the writer of this song and riff) may not have been the first to use a double hammer-on in this manner, anybody who has mastered this song probably rarely plays this particular voicing without mimicking the same move often. By “double” hammer-on, I’m referring to the left hand 2nd and 3rd fingers both doing hammer-ons at the same time on the 2nd and 4th strings respectively. The particular voicing being used for this minor 7th chord is a Root 5 barre chord (this just means that the bass note, or, more specifically, the root note of the chord is on the fifth string).

The double hammer-on is preceded by a five-string barre (G9sus) which may be a bit of a challenge since your first finger alone has to press all five strings and get them all to ring. Keep in mind however, it’s not terribly important that you achieve a chord that rings out and resonates for a long time in this context (like you might get from putting a capo on the 10th fret or from open strings). Or to put it another way, you don’t need to hold down the barre constantly for extended periods of time. This is because there is a beat and half where you are doing muted strums. When doing muted strumming, this is the perfect time to let your left hand relax before it has to press again.

Periodically using muted strums while you play, specifically in the midst of playing barre chords, is a great way to add interest, is great for short choppy funky styles, and gives you a more percussive sound. But from a technical standpoint, the side benefit is it gives your left hand barre a chance to recharge before it has to press again. That being said, it is important that you get all the notes to ring, so check each string individually to make sure your barre is working properly.

Here are a few techniques being used in this particular riff.

  • Hammer-ons: For what it’s worth, classical guitarists refer to hammer-ons as “ascending slurs,” and some will even mock you considerably if you refer to them as “hammer-ons.” Nevertheless, the term “hammer-on” is commonly used, for better or for worse. It is a technique that involves plucking one note with a pick (or fingers), and then allowing the left hand to, well, hammer-on the following note without the use of a pick to articulate. The second note usually takes place on the same string as the first note that was plucked or picked with your right hand. Another term for hammer-ons is “legatos” (Italian, literally meaning “tied together” or connected. The opposite would be staccato, meaning disconnected, short or detached.) Here the term “legatos” can be used as a synonym for the word “hammer-ons” or “slurs.” This is because by using ascending slurs, you naturally get a legato sound. By only articulating the first note with a pick, the slurred note naturally connects nicely to the first note when executed well. To effectively execute hammer-ons for this song, make sure the principle note that you are playing, namely the 5-string barre, rings out well. Otherwise this makes executing the slur very difficult to pull off. Essentially, your finger executing the hammer-on mooches off of the vibration caused by your pick for the first note. On a side note, it is possible and fairly common to do hammer-ons without picking at all with your right hand. Finally, make sure that each joint on the left hand fingers is bent, and your tip joint should go straight into the string (like a hammer hitting a nail). Certainly before trying to play the whole rhythm part, work on the hammer-on alone and make sure it rings out properly. If you can’t execute the hammer-on by itself, don’t expect it to work when you are playing the rest of the rhythm part.
  • Muted Strumming: This is when you press on the strings with your left hand just enough to completely mute the notes (not to be confused with palm muting). When you do this well, there should be absolutely no audible pitches, just the percussive sound of the pick hitting completely dead strings. Make sure not to over-press causing certain fretted notes to ring out. Muted strums are notated with an “x” in place of the standard note heads.
  • Accented Notes: Accents are accomplished by strumming the string a bit harder, thus achieving a louder dynamic. They are notated with something similar to the greater-than symbol (>). Keep in mind accents are only effective if the non-accented notes are played at a quieter dynamic. In other words, if you are playing every note very loudly, the accents will not stand out as much as they should. I don’t know if you know anybody who yells a lot, but I know a few. The loud volume of their voice begins to loose all meaning and you begin to tune it out over time. When a quiet person raises his voice, it really grabs your attention. Accents, or dynamics in general work the same way.
  • Subdividing 16th Notes: To pull off busy syncopated grooves like this one without sounding clumsy, you will need to be able to move your strumming hand up and down in a constant 16h note pattern, or what I call “subdividing.” On the score above, I notate down strums (strumming down to the ground) with an arrow pointing down, and up strums (strumming up to the ceiling) with an arrow pointing up. You will also see down and up arrows with parentheses around them. This means bring your pick up without touching the strings. Notice if you do this right, it should feel like your arm is in constant steady motion. Sometimes you connect with the strings, sometimes you don’t. For a very detailed description on this process, click here.
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Steppenwolf – “Magic Carpet Ride”

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Let me preface this post by saying I have never experimented with drugs, nor do I have any interest in ever experimenting with drugs, nor do I have any interest in legalizing marijuana, etc. On the other hand, I have seen enough episodes of VH1’s Behind the Music to be bored by the mere thought. This may sound self-righteous, but believe me, I have my vices. For one, I’m addicted to guitars. I’m a recovering Pez addict (not the candy so much, I don’t care for the candy. I have just purchased a few too many cartoon character candy dispensers.). Unfortunately, buying guitars (and other guitar related gear) is a much more expensive habit than buying Pez dispensers, but I digress.

This song certainly comes from the psychedelic era, but I would argue that it still rocks even when you’re sober. I can’t say that it rocks harder when you are sober, but like I said, I have no interest in finding out. I consider myself a guy who appreciates music for what it is. I love the beauty of a good melody, the pulse of the beat, the brilliance of rhythms, the tension of dissonance, the relief of resolution, the agony of a tortured chord progression, the span of emotion that music conveys, the power of a tight groove, the tone of a beautiful instrument, the crack of the snare drum, the acoustics of a beautiful cathedral, the hum of a loud amp before the pick hits the strings, the range of dynamics, the feel of nylon strings, even the beauty of the notes on the page (kind of the same way that Shoeless Joe felt about baseball).

Honestly, even before I learned what a dominant chord was, I would wake up to my mom practicing the piano accompaniment part for the choir anthem that coming Sunday morning, and I would just lie awake letting “the sound take me away.” I just thought it was incredibly moving. I would listen to my friend Jim play blues licks, and I don’t know if he was sad, but I know that he could get his guitar to cry. All that to say, music needs no “performance enhancing drugs” to move you to tears. Okay. Rant. Over.

Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” has never moved me to tears, but it is definitely groovy. Michael Monarch was one of Steppenwolf’s guitarists in those days and said in regard to the intro, “I cranked the amp and just beat up on my guitar for awhile.” After that, the band comes in with a tight groove. I’m going to focus on the main rhythm part that repeats throughout the song. It utilizes muted strums and staccato syncopated rhythms. Let’s look at a few techniques necessary to playing this song well:

  • Muted Strumming: This is when you press on the strings with your left hand just enough to completely mute the notes (not to be confused with palm muting). When you do this well, there should be absolutely no audible pitches, just the percussive sound of the pick hitting completely dead strings. Make sure not to over-press causing certain fretted notes to ring out. Muted strums are notated with an “x” in place of the standard note heads.
  • Staccato Notes: Short or detached. This is notated with a small dot over (or under) the note. To play staccato notes, strum the chord, and then immediately after, release the tension of your left hand fingers on the strings (without taking your fingers off the string completely). So you should hear the chord ring and then immediately stop. Also, make sure that the notes completely stop. Pick one of the chords from this song and try just playing steady staccato quarter notes to get the hang of it. It should look like your left hand is pressing with each strum. On a side note, experiment with under-pressing the strings, or pressing just enough that the pitch barely ekes out. This can result in some hyper-staccato awesomeness. Essentially, you’ll just barely hear the notes. The sound that results is very percussive as well.
  • Subdividing 16th Notes: To pull off busy syncopated grooves like this one without sounding clumsy, you will need to be able to move your strumming hand up and down in a constant 16h note pattern, or what I call “subdividing.” On the score above, I notate down strums (strumming down to the ground) with an arrow pointing down, and up strums (strumming up to the ceiling) with an arrow pointing up. You will also see down and up arrows with parentheses around them. This means bring your pick up without touching the strings. Notice if you do this right, it should feel like your arm is in constant steady motion. Sometimes you connect with the strings, sometimes you don’t. For a very detailed description on this process, click here.
  • The “F-Shape”: The guitar has five unique major chord shapes. They are C, A, G, E and D. Without going into too much detail about the CAGED System (look it up, you will never be the same), let me just say that the “F-shape” is really no more than an abbreviated E-shape barre chord. That being said, it does offer some unique qualities that the normal E-shape is not capable of when using a full barre, thus the F-Shape deserves honorable mention. This riff uses the so-called F-shape exclusively. If you struggle with getting an F chord to work, than this song may help you improve. In fact, anytime you have trouble with a new chord shape, it will help to try moving it up and down the fretboard while keeping the shape intact. This riff does just that. Here are a couple of tips about playing this particular barre chord:
    • Use the side of your left hand index finger (that is closer to the thumb) to press down on the string.
    • Try letting your first finger tip joint buckle backwards to help put a little more pressure on the string with less effort. Letting any left hand joint buckle backwards is frowned upon in most instances, but for small barre chords, it can actually be a good thing. Keep in mind, however, this approach isn’t for everybody. Not everyone is capable of bending their tip joint backwards. Also, only allow your first finger to buckle on this particular chord, the other two fingers should be be rounded properly in order to get the best possible leverage and to avoid touching other strings.
    • Finally, if you really struggle getting the notes to ring out, try to barre three strings, even if your first finger is only needed on the top two strings. Then try barring four strings. In short, just experiment moving your first finger up and down until you find that “sweet spot” on your finger that effectively gets the highest two strings to work.
    • If you are really struggling to get the strings to ring out, don’t get frustrated. Just practice barre chords a little everyday, and one day you will wake up playing them perfectly. At least that was my experience after 6 months of frustration.
  • Finally, say no to drugs. It’s a common misconception that everybody has to try drugs at least once. Use the money that you save, and go buy yourself some Pez dispensers.
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The Monkees – “Pleasant Valley Sunday”

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The high energy blazing tempo, the classic riff, the syncopations, the modulations, the passionate vocals and harmonies, the crazy reverbified outro. This song rocks. Hard.

The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday” has a great recurring guitar riff that was played by Michael Nesmith on an electric (presumably a Gretsch). The song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, but “The Riff” itself was composed by Chip Douglas, the producer of the track [and the album that it comes from: Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. (1967)]. Douglas also ripped out the tasty bass line on this track. The guitar riff was inspired by the Beatles’ “I Want to Tell You.”

Michael Nesmith's Gretsch 12-string. This 12-string Gretsch was likely not the one used for "Pleasant Valley Sunday" even though it is the model he's playing on the music video. This is the guitar that Gretsch custom built as a 12-string at Nesmith's request. This song, however, makes no use of a 12-string. Nevertheless, he probably did use a 6-string Gretsch.

It may take a while to feel the timing on this one. At first listen, the first note sounds like it falls on beat one, but once the band comes in, it becomes clear that the first note is actually an eighth note pickup on the “and” of the fourth beat. In the outro of the song, listen to the juxtaposition of the riff against the band, the syncopation that results is magical.

Play this with a pick. The riff makes use of a lot of slurs (pull-offs and hammer-ons). There are also a few quick position changes, but these are made simple by the open A-string pedal tones. Make use of the open notes as opportunities to quickly move to the next position.

Pleasant Valley Sunday (Single release with "Words" on the B-side)

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Switchfoot – “Let That Be Enough”

Click the link below to view the full chart:

Switchfoot – Let That Be Enough (Full Chart)

The song “Let That Be Enough” is from one of my favorite Switchfoot records, their second album New Way to Be Human (1999). Break out your nylon-string guitar for this one and throw away your plectrum. Let’s do some “fingerpicking,” or as we classical guitarists call it: “playing.” Actually, from what I’ve gathered from watching various videos on Youtube of Jonathan Foreman playing this song, he uses a technique called hybrid picking. That is, he uses both a pick and fingers. However, the studio recording does sound like he’s playing a classical (nylon string) guitar. With that in mind, I would fingerpick this without a pick, as I can’t bring myself to using a pick on a classical. That being said, hybrid picking can be a very useful skill to master, as it allows the player to easily switch between picking and strumming. On a steel-string acoustic, I would definitely consider using hybrid picking.

This is a "random" picture of a classical guitar with a spruce top. Actually, since I don't have any photos or info on the guitar Jonathan Foreman was playing on this song, I decided to post a picture of my classical. It was built by Abel García López who is based in Paracho, Mexico. This instrument is amazing. Jonathan Foreman plays Taylor acoustics (which I also love).

Here are a few pointers:

  • If you’re finger picking, use the thumb only on the low E-string and the A string. After that, each finger gets its own string (namely, index on the D-string, middle on the G-string and ring on the B-string.). This setup will work for the entire song since the high E-string is never utilized. I think you’ll find that this feels great and is quite natural.
  • For hybrid picking, just shift each finger accordingly as the index finger is now paired up with the thumb in order to hold the pick. So, use the pick on the E-string and on the A-string. The middle will play the D-string. Let the ring take both the G and B-strings (or you could try using your pinky on the B-string. Many hybrid pickers do).
  • For the notes in parentheses, or the “ghosts,” these are faintly heard with a good set of headphones. For example, the open D on the second measure isn’t a full out pull-off so much, he’s just taking his finger off the string and you can slightly hear the open string ring as a result. I wouldn’t purposefully articulate that note, but you can hear it nonetheless in the recording. However, I do play the ghosts on the E and A strings throughout the song, only at a lower dynamic.

Switchfoot's sophomore album.

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