n1. the act or an instance of analysing one or more particular cases or case histories with a view to making generalisations
One of my favourite ways to learn from music is through the analysis and contextualising of songs. Rather than taking the approach of learning a song just for the sake of playing it, I find great value in picking songs apart, drilling down, getting to the bare bones of what makes them what they are. There’s so much joy to be had in playing music – but what if we could figure out what makes it work, what makes it, well, good. From classical composers, who would copy out entire symphonies by their predecessors just to learn from them, to modern songwriters like Lennon and McCartney, who absorbed and reconstituted decades of diverse musical styles, musicians have always listened to, learned from, and to an extent, copied others.
I’ve been working with my pupil James on developing his all-round musicianship and musical knowledge, to try and help him progress to new levels as a musician. He’s already a very good player, with a well established technique – one of those players that you know would, if they have a mind to, really connect with the notes they’re playing and make a great sound on the guitar (isn’t that what it’s all about, technique?) He’s keen to understand the theory behind the songs and techniques, so that he can compose his own songs more confidently.
The case study I looked at with James this week is a great example. Gabrielle Aplin’s How Do You Feel Today is steeped in the influences which formed her – folk greats like Joni Mitchell, John Martyn and Nick Drake. While she’s channelling these through the flowing, driving, fingerpicking of her Open G-tuned song, because she is singing, she’s made it her own. You can’t deny the beauty of her singing and playing in this song:
So, I set about pulling it apart, learning it, transcribing it (you can download my TAB of the Intro,Verse, Chorus here) and trying to tease out the key learning points to share in a lesson. It combines most of my favourite things about playing the guitar – Travis Picking techniques, open tunings, using parallel chords up the neck to create melodic lines, and letting fretted and open notes over-ring, creating all manner of odd chords. Playing in an open tuning is like taking a step back a couple of decades for me, unlearning all the shapes, pentatonics, scale boxes and patterns you quickly become reliant on as a guitarist. You’re encouraged – forced – to have an ‘open’ (ta dum) mind towards the fingerboard. “I’ll put my fingers there, it sounds nice, I’ll do that again.” As James pointed out, as you’ve always got the chords notes of the open tuning to fall back on, you can’t really go wrong!
If you’d like to learn a song, but REALLY learn it, get in touch and make a suggestion. As well as having a clear idea of good routes to progression, I’m also very happy to work with my pupils to choose alternative routes. I don’t think there’s a single song or piece of music that wouldn’t have something valuable to learn.