Okay, wait. There are limits to what a blog post can accomplish. James Taylor is an amazing guitarist. As I'm trying to figure out how to play some of his songs, I thought I'd point out some tendencies he has as a performer and songwriter.
Taylor tunes his guitar better than we mere mortals do compensating for the even temperment of modern musical instruments and the tendencies of the thickness of strings to ring sharp (here's James Taylor's tuning method and here's a video where a guitarist plays both tunings for your comparison). Basically, he tunes each string a bit flat, allowing for the sharpness that happens when they are struck. To sum up by string:
If you listen to the comparison video, you'll probably notice very little, suggesting how much our ears will compensate. But, if you do notice anything, I felt like the Taylor tuning was a bit warmer, possibly because of more/better harmonics between strings.
Taylor loves his hammerings on and pulling off. He does a lot of it by forming his D and A shaped chords in a "backwards" (his word) way, allowing his index finger to manipulate the 3rd of the chord. He also apparently hates the open B string when playing his open G chord and barres the B and e strings with his fourth finger to play what's sometimes annotated as a G5. He explains his chord shapes about 44 seconds into this lesson on how to play "Carolina in My Mind."
I'm not actually sure that "movement chords" is a phrase, but what I mean is that he likes using odd chords that add a bit of tension that get resolved in the next chord. This is the province of diminished 7th chords (minor third stacked on minor third, stacked on minor third) which George Harrison did a lot. The dim7 chords are super interesting but also not something you want to stay on for too long, and used mostly as passing chords.
But the ultimate James Taylor chords is the 7th with suspended 4th, i.e. X7sus4. As a fingerpicking genius Taylor plays a lot of open chords and so his 7sus4 chords tend to be D7sus4, A7sus4 and E7sus4; sometimes capoed to another key, but those are the main shapes.
A7sus4 comes into play in "Shower the People" over the verse lyrics "broken heart" -- immediately followed by an Adim7 -- double passing chords! -- before resolving to the Bm D G that is pretty familiar from a more standard pop song. E7sus4 is the shape that hangs over the space before the chorus in "Everybody Has the Blues."
The D7sus4 chord is the one that sounds most "James Taylor-ish" to me. Just strum it (xx0213) a few times and you can't help singing the next line: "You just call out my name..."
Okay, just a few things to think about when trying to master these tunes. Have fun!
4/9/2023 01:06:51 am
Your insights into James Taylor's playing style are right on the money. The way he forms the D chord, is the way that I learned a long long time ago. That is the only way I have ever played it. The hammer-ons and pull-offs are easily available.
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Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.