Babysteps - The Beginners Guide To Guitar. Part 4

Barre chords, fingerpicking, action adjustment and a Lionel Richie Classic are covered in this in depthlesson.

Ultimate Guitar
Wow kids it has been a hell of a long time. I can't even remember the last time I submitted a lesson and, for that, I apologise. Starting & finishing my first year of college (yes I'm doing music), exams, working, teaching, band-forming etc have kept me very, very busy with only time to occasionally submit tabs (If you want to see what ones simply go to my profile and check and hey, why not add me, I'd like to know my students :D). So much has happened in the meantime, Glee has hit worldwide fame, Gaga fever is high, and a new Doctor is thrashing about in his TARDIS. But now summer is here and the lesson drought is over, to the people who rated and commented my previous lessons I thank you and to those of you who are new, your friendly neighbourhood JP welcomes you. So let's get cracking with a feature I introduced for the first time in my previous lesson - Cleaning Up Your Act. It's been a long time coming. Cleaning Up Your Act How many of you didn't pick out your guitar? (As most first guitars are gifts from parents and/or Santa and/or awesome uncle, I'm assuming a lot of you are in the same boat as me). As a result you may not have gotten to try the guitar before it was bought and given to you. Because of this there can be a common issue which occurs. Many of you may find that the strings are too hard to press down for your liking while others may have found that the strings were too easy to press down for you to play comfortably. This is down to the distance between your strings and the fretboard, known as the "action" or string height. In this section of the lesson I'm going to show you how to adjust the action on an electric guitar to your liking. There is no right or wrong action in theory, as action is an entirely subjective thing (although it should be noted that Stratocasters don't need their action any lower than what they come with as any lower action won't suit it at all). A lot of guitar players like low actions as it affords them the ability to play faster while people like S.R.V. liked high actions. Personally I'm in between as I like a medium action that lets me play faster than usual while also giving my digits a great workout. For a higher action I'd recommend using heavier strings. Before you set about adjusting your action you should check that your guitar's truss rod is set correctly. The truss rod is an adjustable metal bar that runs down the centre of your guitar's neck. It stops your guitar warping from the tension that the strings exert. By using a feeler gauge (most motor stores have one or a mechanically interested relative) check the distance between the bottom of the string and the top of the 7th fret. If it's less than .005" then your truss rod needs adjusting. Ideally it should be between .005" and .015". Now using a screwdriver or allen key (depending on your bridge) increase or decrease the height of your string saddles (the part of your guitar that covers the hole where the string enter the body of the guitar). Anytime you make an adjustment check your guitar's tuning and test for fret buzzes through your amp and try bending above the 12th fret on the B and high E strings to check for flaws. Any fret buzz acoustically is fine as long as it doesn't happen through the amp. If you have a Gibson style guitar or a Floyd Rose-equipped guitar, you raise or lower the entire bridge. When you're done check your truss rod again and then you're finished. Play Your Part And now on to the playing end of the guitar experience, this week we're going to learn about barre (bar) chords and also use fingerpicking to play a Lionel Richie classic. Bar chords and fingerpicking are valuable for the guitar player so let's give them a go. Hitting the Bar A Bar chord is a chord that uses no open strings. The chord is formed by essentially "barring" an entire fret with one finger and then using the remaining fingers to form a familiar chord shape like the E major chord shape etc. To start, try playing an E major chord using your 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers, leaving your first finger free. Then move all your fingers up one fret and use your first finger to press down on the first fret. Make sure each note rings out. To make things easier, try having your thumb perpendicular to the floor. The chord you're playing should look like this.
  0 1 2 3 4 5
As usual the O at the top means open strings etc. This chord is the F major chord. The 2nd and 3rd frets use the basic E major chord shape while the barring of the first fret raises the pitch by a semitone to F major. The name of the chord is determined by the note on the low E string, in this case the note is F, All of your basic chord shapes can be barred to form new voicings of chords so why not give them a try. When barring an A major chord shape you can use just two fingers, your first finger to barre and your third finger to form the chord shape - which is essentially a smaller bar. To practise bar chords, hold the bar chord shape without strumming, hold it for as long as possible then let go, rest two min and do it again, this time going for longer and so on. This helped me to master barre chords. Picking a Winner And now onto learning and using fingerpicking, as an exercise and incorporating it it into our song. This is the process of using your fingers on your picking hand to pick indivdual strings instead of just strumming a full chord. It can be used to create cool accompaniments and also melodies and harmonies combined. You can also just use a pick to pick individual strings rather than fingerpicking, more a matter of personal preference. The fingers on the picking hand are as follows: p - (thumb), i - (index), m - (middle), a - (anular), c - (little finger). The pattern of fingers we are using is p-m-p-i. Our picking pattern for the verse of the song is as follows
 Am         G          F          G 
  p m p i    p m p i    p m p i    p m p i
The length of each note in this pattern is one crotchet (one quarter note). This picking pattern works as an accompaniment for a lot of songs and the song we're using it for this week is Lionel Richie's "Hello". This is an absolute fantastic song that works amazingly on acoustic guitar or if you get the settings right on your electric you can turn it very dark. It's also quite a slow song so it allows easy fingerpicking practice. So here's how the song is laid out. For the verses we'll use fingerpicking and for the rest of the song we'll use strumming and as you can see it also incorporates our bar chord. For strumming its really up to you, a nice slow strum is advised, even just single strums of the chord will do
Verse (use fingerpicking)
|Am   /   |G   /   |F   /   |G   /   |
This is played five times for the verse.
Pre-chorus (fingerpick all but the A major chord)
|Am   /   |G   /   |F   /   |A   /   |
Chorus (strummed)
|Dm   /   |G   /   |C   /   |F   /   |
|Dm   /   |F   /E  |F   /G  |Am  /C  |
|Dm   /   |G   /   |C   /   |F   /   |
|Dm   /   |F   /E  |F   /   |
The bridge is just a reiteration of the same chord progressions and it's worth noting that the final chord of the song is A major as it kind of sums up the song with its final playing. And those are the parts used in the song. Hope you enjoy playing it as much as I do. Feels good to be doing lessons again and the next one won't be as far away as this one was. You've learned barre chords, fingerpicking, how to adjust your action and a kickass song all in one lesson. Try using the bar chord equivalents of the chords in the song to get a feel for how they work and to hear the different versions of them, plus its great practise i.e. play G major using a Bar chord of the E major shape (hint - it's the F major one moved up two frets). And as usual any questions are welcome and I will do my best to answer them, also my profile has recordings of previous lessons on them so do check them out and add me while you're at it and check out my tabs. Peace. JP.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    i loved the series of guides (even with the HORRIBLE cliche of babysteps) but theres one problem i have with all the beginners guides. there are some things i still need to learn. such as the names for the chords i can play. but while i lack the basic knowledge of things like that i know the chords themselves and have the technical skills to play what i want to play. but i want to create music. i want to learn how to combine chords and scales to make something. i want to be able to pick up my guitar and play some non descript music for hours. improvising. Chord progressions and scales are probably what im looking for but guides to them still dont tell me what i want to know. i try to experiment with scales and chords and sometimes i get lucky and make something nice but i still cant do more than a min or so and it drives me crazy. i post this on your guide because you seem to be someone i could learn from and i can hope youll write something to this effect sometime
    Thanks for the articles! I have a total noob question: On the chord charts, what does the darkened circle mean?
    Hi Guitar Guy - I should have written this differently: On the Chord Diagrams in all the songs - the left side lists the notes; the right side has a 0 for a string that is played; an X for a string that isn't played; and a darkened circle. That's the one I'm not sure about. Thanks!
    I don't think that there is an equivalent that you can type in on the keyboard, it's a graphic. Try this: Search for Cecilia in Tabs, choose Version 2 by Simon and Garfunkel, then select the check box for "Display Chord Diagrams." Below that will pop up the chords F, C, Bb, G. There on the right side you'll see that filled in dot/ darkened circle. Thanks!
    ah now i see, the darkened circle is showing the root note off the chord, i.e the note that the chord getsits name from, i.e in c major the note c is beside the darkened circle
    Aloehart: I've been playing music for quite a while and have come up some imrpov ditties. Some people like, some, well... Hard to catch them tomatoes! My main bend has been piano and only recently have I been getting MUCH more avid about hugging my guitars. I've kinda got what may be some sad news for you. And one word that strikes fear into most people: THEORY.... But actually, it's not really all "that difficult" and it does take work. Along that road, you will learn chords that go together and ones that shouldn't be in the same room.. But the better thing is knowing the "WHY". I know that I am going to sound like a "pitch-man" and I am pretty much unknown in this neighbor hood, but find a teacher that concentrates on music Theory. A while back, I picked up this video series ( And it just kinda "Clicked". I'd been a student of 10 years of piano teaching, 2 years of guitar teaching and, chorus and no-one EVER taught me anything about Theory!!! No explanation as to "why" certain things are or are not. No. I am not pitching his product, just saying what has helped me to understand what the heck is going on. Look for a teacher locally that will work with you. Not one that just hands you songs and says, "come back next week and we'll see how you are doing". ($30 a pop for that?!?!?!) Now that I understand more about theory (the "why's"), my playing has gotten a LOT better (ergo... less in-flight tomatoes). Learn this thing called "The circle of Keys". (You can find referance to that all over the web.) that will also help. But the main thing is finding a GOOD teacher or mentor. Then there is another approach that I fiddler friend of mine did... Became ABSOLUTELY OBSESSED with learning a certain style of playing, then all aspects and styles. And now... he teaches and it quite well regarded from what I hear. Take care and hang in there! You may not get there FAST, but with each step, and every minute that you challenge yourself, you WILL get there! Joel.
    Also Guitar Guy: Just wanted to say, keep up the good work! And best of luck for your music endeavors! Thanks! Joel P.S. (Sorry for getting a little long winded on my previous post.. Too much coffee? =) )