Acoustic Beauty: Performance Pieces for Solo Acoustic Guitar
 

 

This course is useable in a number of different ways by a number of different kinds of players with a number of different kinds of creative directions.

If the flowing, cascading, ringing quality of solo acoustic guitar is what you’re after, this is the course for you. As a series of instrumental arrangements crafted specifically for and in order to help other solo players, the majority of this series is most obviously aimed towards developing fellow-fingerpickers and hybrid (pick & finger) players from a solid Intermediate to Advanced level. However, there is more than meets the eye at first.

If accompanying yourself on the guitar as a singer-songwriter is your focus, there are also a few things for you here along the way (in which case you may want to direct most of your attention to the content in Lesson 1, the bonus material at the end of Lesson 2, and eventually some of the concepts presented in Lesson 8).

If — as a solo guitarist or self-accompanying singer and writer — you’re feeling stuck in a box of cliches and are convinced that some altered tunings are what you need (and maybe they are; altered tunings are wonderful), this is the course for you. In that case, Lessons 4, 7, and 8 comprise your Altered Tuning Method.

Finally, if you’re just getting started out and know your basic open chords but want to start learning how to fingerpick and are not yet ready for (or even necessarily interested in) the Chet Atkins & Jerry Reed series, this series starts out with the foundation of the player you may wish to become: a simple beginning folk-style lesson. That much has always been enough for many famous and notable singers and songwriters. What comes next can either serve as your springboard to dive further into developing yourself as a solo acoustic instrumentalist, or continuing to develop your self-accompanying chops with a different creative direction.

Lesson 1 may be quite enough at first. But when you’re ready to move further along, all the materials are here for you with over 8 hours of video instruction and note-for-note TABs.

Accordingly, there is a little bit of something for everyone here. It’s guitar-centric for guitar players….but was consciously designed to be a little more than that for everyone involved. Beyond a basic understanding of open chords and expanding outward to much more than that, the only prerequisite is the desire to learn. Because it’s a kind of guitar playing unto itself, you do not need to have been through the Chet Atkins or Jerry Reed courses in order to dive into this, although if you have been, this will give you just one more dimension to the many varied kinds and methods of playing solo guitar.

Six well-known songs are taught throughout eight videos, containing custom arrangements and note-for-note transcriptions by SSC instructor Sean Weaver. Two versions of Goodnight Irene and Scarborough Fair are taught at different skill levels and to demonstrate a couple of ways of playing each tune.

All are album-length solo acoustic performances with no other backing tracks or instrumentation in order to give you a full-length cohesive piece of music to play & enjoy for your friends and family with only an acoustic guitar; no need for the bass player & drummer to make the gig on time!

The song lessons are presented in order of skill level, from beginning to advanced.


 

Lesson 1: Goodnight Irene - The Folk Style Lesson

(Difficutly: 2 Stars. Beginning Fingerpicking.)

Once you’ve learned your basic open chords and have begun to dabble with using your right hand fingers, this is the place to start for beginners, as well as more advanced players looking to brush up on some of the endearing aspects of simple folk fingerpicking. A well-known folk standard, the melody never climbs above the 3rd fret and only 3 basic chords are used in the key of C with a gentle all-fingers approach. No key changes or difficult barre chords required.

Although the arrangement may be played with any right hand technique if you’re a more developed playing with a wide range of techniques, it sounds just as good with all fingers and is a good place to start learning basic fingerpicking techniques, especially for those opting out of the more advanced Chet Atkins & Jerry Reed courses.

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Lesson 2: Scarborough Fair - The Standard Tuning Lesson

An introduction to hybrid picking with a special section for self-accompanying singer/songwriters. 

 

(Difficulty: 3 Stars. Intermediate.)

When you’re ready to jump further into the solo acoustic repertoire but not yet into the deep end of the pool, this is the video for you. Taking the well known English ballad Scarborough Fair most well known from the Simon & Garfunkel rendition, solo acoustic players are treated to the beginnings of exploring the combination of fretted pitches against open strings, central to the flowing & ringing quality of many solo acoustic guitar stylists.

The song is played in only one key with an emphasis on developing the right hand techniques and left-hand facility to bring out the melody while supporting it harmonically, in a different way from the alternating-bass Chet Atkins school. Particularly if you’re interested in finger style guitar but more captivated by European kinds of players from Martin Carthy to Davey Graham to self-accompanying singer-songwriters like Paul Simon and James Taylor, this is for you.

Halfway through, we play Greensleeves before retuning to Scarborough Fair, so you get to learn a couple of songs along the way! Again, the arrangement may be played with any right hand technique but it is taught with hybrid pick and fingers. For singer-songwriters and others who may be more interested in basic acoustic techniques than playing any full tune instrumentally and by themselves, a basic breakdown of some common folk-rock and 1960’s patterns are explored towards the end, with a discussion of what Paul Simon was doing on the notorious S&G recording.

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Lesson 3: Goodnight Irene - The Solo Acoustic Blues Based Version 

(Difficulty: 3.5 Stars. Experienced Intermediate.)

In this video we take a different look at Goodnight Irene, exploring one way among many that the tune can be and has been interpreted by countless artists over the years. Still entirely within the key of C, we use a hybrid pick & fingers approach to mix our basic open chord shapes with some inversions and voicings further up the neck, in order to treat the melody and performance in a bluesier style in 3/4 time, all without going into the deep end of the pool just yet.

A little bit of string bending is involved so if you’re still working up the hands to do that you might wish to review some of the blues and string-bending lessons first, but this lesson is accessible to both the intermediate and advanced player alike.  

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Lesson 4: Shi Beg Shi Mor - Exploring DADGAD 

(Difficulty: 3.5 Stars w/ Capo, 4 Stars w/o Capo. Experienced Intermediate)

This begins our journey into to vast land of altered tunings with an accessible arrangement of a traditional Irish tune that has been interpreted by many solo acoustic guitarists from Pierre Bensusan to Tony McManus to Pete Huttlinger, along with The Chieftains and Fairport Convention.

Although the lesson is taught with the capo on the 2nd fret, it may be easier for you to get used to it first without the capo and then adjust to the new frets with the capo on if you are new to all this. Along the way, the instruction is clear about how to learn it both ways for whichever way you’d like to begin, and the difference explains the half-star difference in the course grading.

With no key changes and exploring the melody, this one begins to explore certain advantages of altered tunings, including multiple octave strings and various chord voicings which would be much more difficult or sometimes impossible in standard tuning. More focus on these aspects are provided in other altered tuning lessons as we go along, but this is definitely the place to start if you’re new to altered tunings in general. It is performed and taught with pick & fingers but again, don’t let that stop you if you’re used to a different kind of right hand technique. Any may be used.  

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Lesson 5: Amazing Grace 

(Difficulty: 3 to 4.5 Stars Depending on Repetitions and Keys. Intermediate Advanced.)

In this arrangement we explore the well known hymn in three different keys at a variety of skill levels. This allows the Intermediate player to focus on only one or two preferred areas or the more Advanced player to more fully develop the full arrangement, and was specifically designed to give a wide range of skill levels something of value.

All in standard tuning, the first section in C is ideal if you are just starting out and looking for a simple way of playing the tune with open chord shapes and no barre chords. Bit by bit we begin adding in more chords and then modulating to a couple new key centers. More advanced students will appreciate the detail given to chords and bass line development, particularly once we modulate to the key of D. There is something for many kinds of players and students in this one.  

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Lesson 6: Danny Boy/Londonderry Air 

(Difficulty: 4 - 5 stars, depending on the section and key. Some left-hand alternatives may bring it down to 3.75 for certain players. Back side of Intermediate to Advanced)

Taking the well known Irish tune Londonderry Air, set to words as the song Danny Boy, this lesson explores the tune starting out in the key of A, focusing on making the melody sing with a ringing quality, before moving onto C where Chet Atkins played it and concluding in D with a Tommy Emmanuel-ish ending. The tune can be played very traditionally or wish some jazzier chords and attention is given to all of these aspects throughout the arrangement and lesson.

Although the tempo is not too fast, some wide left-hand stretches are present, but with numerous alternative positions mentioned and shown in the video.  

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Lesson 7: Vincent

(Difficulty: 4 - 5 stars. Advanced.)

The only real Chet Atkins style piece in this series, this lesson explores Chet’s sometimes-overlooked prowess at the flowing, arpeggiated style through his arrangement of the Don McClean tune in G6th tuning. Beyond the classic thumb picking present in the full-length Chet Atkins Fingerstyle Method, he was also a master of many other schools of fingerpicking, which explains the fondness so many guitarists hold for his influence.

The entire piece is played in one key but with a wide range of interpretations as we explore the right and left hand techniques to bringing the melody out supporting it with a nice full sound, containing open strings against fretted pitches, barre chords, and cascading natural harmonics.

It is taught with the thumbpick they way that Chet played it, but like any of these tunes, can be played with a variety of right hand techniques. If you’re looking to continue further into yet another altered tuning and are ready for a more advanced piece, this is the lesson for you.  

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Lesson 8: Scarborough Fair/Greensleeves: Relearning The Neck In Altered Tunings (open G-minor)

(Difficulty 4 - 5 stars, depending on the section and whether or not you use a capo. Advanced)

In this companion to Lesson 2, we take an entirely different look at the same combination of tunes, using all fingers in the right hand and playing the arrangement in open G-minor with a capo on the 2nd fret. As with Shi Beg Shi Mor, the transcription and instruction focuses on explaining how to play it without a capo as well, but to get the sound of the Jam Along you’ll want your capo nearby. When you’re ready for mechanisms to really begin unlocking altered tunings, this is the lesson for you.

Playing most of the arrangement in open G-minor and exploring new chord voicings and distinct sounds of this highly altered tuning, we then take a trip into D-minor, separate from the parent-key of the already altered tuning. If playing in the main key of the altered tuning requires you to start relearning the neck, modulating to a new key is the only way to really relearn the guitar entirely when you’re ready to master your favorite tunings.

If the full (or even partial) arrangement isn’t your cup of tea, but you are interested in the philosophy of altered tunings and find yourself wondering why in the world anyone would ever go to the challenge of relearning the guitar in a new and specialized tuning, the companion video gluing this video together with the standard version of Lesson 2 is specifically for you. For others opting for one version over the other, as well as those who may wish to learn the complete set of arrangements in both formats, the companion will give you a deeper understanding of the advantages of each, in order to infuse your own arrangements and/or compositions with new life. In short, altered tunings allow for new possibilities with melodies and chord voicings, and can dress up a melody with more of the ringing, flowing quality inherent to so much solo acoustic work (especially when playing instrumentally without singing).

Although if you’re singer-songwriter you may find more immediate use in the discussion and short bonus at the end of Lesson 2, don’t be scared away if you aren’t inspired to learn the solo acoustic altered version. Just a cursory view and some attention giving to positions and ways of playing chords may be enough to inspire you in a different direction, as many notable singer-songwriters (but arguably most notably) Joni Mitchell have used altered tunings to unlock more of their creative potential and create new sounds.

It may be enough for you to take one or two ideas with just a basic understanding of what open G-minor is all about and find your own uses for these new sounds. Accordingly, the mechanics of this full arrangement are definitely at an Advanced level for Advanced players interested in the solo acoustic world, but don’t let that stop you from cracking the cover even if you’re chasing a different kind of expression. There’s enough here to be of use, whatever your specific goals with the guitar are. And finally, it’s not all or none. You may wish to start out with learning just one or two sections in G-minor and hold off on the new key until a later point in time. However far you wish to go with this is ultimately in your hands, and the materials are here to help you along at any stage in the process.  

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Congratulations on completing our course for solo acoustic guitar with Sean Weaver.  Head back to our main courses page to review our many options and pick out your next challenge!

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