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Joan Baez and her guitar skills

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GUEST,Megan R. 24 Oct 06 - 05:39 PM
Wesley S 24 Oct 06 - 05:56 PM
Wesley S 24 Oct 06 - 05:57 PM
Greg B 24 Oct 06 - 06:14 PM
Little Hawk 24 Oct 06 - 09:10 PM
Midchuck 24 Oct 06 - 09:17 PM
Maryrrf 24 Oct 06 - 09:52 PM
Peter T. 24 Oct 06 - 10:00 PM
Big Al Whittle 25 Oct 06 - 07:07 AM
Vixen 25 Oct 06 - 08:59 AM
The Sandman 25 Oct 06 - 10:50 AM
GUEST,Jim 25 Oct 06 - 11:54 AM
Folkie101 25 Oct 06 - 01:13 PM
The Sandman 25 Oct 06 - 01:13 PM
Greg B 25 Oct 06 - 02:09 PM
Don Firth 25 Oct 06 - 02:34 PM
The Sandman 25 Oct 06 - 06:49 PM
Little Hawk 25 Oct 06 - 09:58 PM
Barry Finn 26 Oct 06 - 01:40 AM
Little Hawk 26 Oct 06 - 02:55 AM
Scrump 26 Oct 06 - 05:06 AM
Little Hawk 26 Oct 06 - 11:29 AM
The Sandman 26 Oct 06 - 01:52 PM
Folkie101 26 Oct 06 - 02:00 PM
Don Firth 26 Oct 06 - 03:15 PM
DonMeixner 26 Oct 06 - 03:21 PM
Don Firth 26 Oct 06 - 04:19 PM
Midchuck 26 Oct 06 - 04:43 PM
Don Firth 26 Oct 06 - 06:37 PM
GUEST,Megan R. 27 Oct 06 - 08:01 AM
Big Al Whittle 27 Oct 06 - 11:29 PM
GUEST,Megan R. 28 Oct 06 - 02:39 PM
Don Firth 28 Oct 06 - 03:15 PM
GUEST 28 Oct 06 - 10:56 PM
Big Al Whittle 29 Oct 06 - 07:05 AM
GUEST,Megan 29 Oct 06 - 02:11 PM
The Sandman 29 Oct 06 - 02:22 PM
GUEST,Megan 29 Oct 06 - 02:35 PM
Big Al Whittle 29 Oct 06 - 05:17 PM
The Sandman 29 Oct 06 - 05:51 PM
The Sandman 29 Oct 06 - 05:58 PM
The Sandman 30 Oct 06 - 03:19 AM
GUEST,Megan R. 31 Oct 06 - 07:05 AM
Don Firth 31 Oct 06 - 05:36 PM
The Sandman 31 Oct 06 - 07:21 PM
The Sandman 31 Oct 06 - 07:40 PM
Don Firth 31 Oct 06 - 10:31 PM
The Sandman 01 Nov 06 - 06:44 AM
Big Al Whittle 01 Nov 06 - 01:22 PM
Don Firth 01 Nov 06 - 04:14 PM
The Sandman 02 Nov 06 - 08:28 AM
Don Firth 02 Nov 06 - 02:02 PM
GUEST,baez 23 Mar 07 - 11:25 AM
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Subject: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan R.
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 05:39 PM

Hello to the folk community,

I found Mudcat by accident when I was searching for information on Joan Baez's early career. I was helping a neighbor clean out her attic when she handed me three of Joan's acoustic records. I've never heard of Joan before, but I really like her singing and guitar playing. I play several basic chords on the guitar and would like to figure out her fingerpicking patterns. It also sounds like she's strumming *and* fingerpicking on some songs. Please help me figure out her fingerpicking and strum patterns.

Thanks,
Megan


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Wesley S
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 05:56 PM

Hi Megan - I'm pretty sure there was an extensive thread about this very subject recently. If you look up at the top you sould find a search feature. If you enter Baez and check the threads over the past year it should pop up.

And welcome to the Mudcat.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Wesley S
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 05:57 PM

Try here


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Greg B
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 06:14 PM

A friend of mine, who I didn't even know was a musican, one
day said 'Oh, yeah...I used to take guitar lessons from Joan
Baez, at her house.'

One of those 'huh?' moments.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Little Hawk
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 09:10 PM

She was and is an extremely fine guitar player. Very clean and accurate picking and strumming, always most appropriate to the song in question. There's some lovely stuff on the Vanguard collection "Very Early Joan". I always loved her arrangement of "Farewell Angelina" too.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Midchuck
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 09:17 PM

Her first Vanguard album was my first learning tool.

How do people learn to play now, when every "folk" album has a dozen sidemen and you can't hear any one instrumental part cleanly?

Peter.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Maryrrf
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 09:52 PM

I totally agree with the above post. I love it when recordings only feature vocals and one instrument. Most times, that's all that's needed.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Peter T.
Date: 24 Oct 06 - 10:00 PM

Her playing -- and/or arranging -- on "Diamonds and Rust" is quite startling, and out of the ordinary.

yours,

Peter T.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 07:07 AM

Joan is a terrific accompanist. I listened to her an awful lot when I was young.

She almost wrote the text book on standard tuning accompaniments. I can't recollect her using an open tuning - though of course I'm willing to stand corrected, and I'm not too familiar with her later work.

What makes her so good (IMO) is the constant variation - once the lyrics start,literally no two bars of guitar accompaniment are the same. they just seem to accomodate the words effortlessly.

In a song like Plaisir D'Amour for example - the simple arpeggio pattern is constantly varied by a very educated thumb, that can sit on top of the beat, or dodge around the lyrics at will.

Clever stuff!


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Vixen
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 08:59 AM

Joan was my earliest female musical influence--my aunts Anne and Nancy would play and sing her songs, and I would listen to them and her recordings endlessly. On her first album, I believe she's accompanied by Fred Hellerman (a Weaver???) as well as by herself, but I've always thought her early guitar work (up to the Farewell Angelina album) was "shimmering!" The only later album I have is Diamonds and Rust but the magic is still there.

Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce!

V


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 10:50 AM

Three finger picking ,add the pentatonic major scale as passing notes, either in bass played by thumb or in treble by fingers, Using sixths or ninths, for added colour when appropriate, plus occassional hammer ons and pull offs.keep it simple .I tend to add sixths or ninths when there are vocal gaps, Learn some modal chords as well e modal and a modal.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 11:54 AM

There are several ways of switching between finger picking and strumming, but I believe that Joan used the "Carter scratch" for strumming, which makes it easy to switch to finger style playing.
The Carter scratch is played by using the thumb for the 1 & 3 beats and the back of the fingernails, followed by an up stroke brush with the fingers for the 2 & 4 beats. For waltz time, use the thumb on 1 and the fingers on 2&3.
Hope that helps Guest Megan R.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Folkie101
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 01:13 PM

in Joan's 1987 bio, "And A Voice To Sing With", she says she was pressured by the record company to use Fred Hellerman (of the Weavers), on some of the album's songs. Fred btw, was honored this year for Lifetime Achievement at the Grammy Awards (if i remember correctly, Ronnie Gilbert was seated beside him - but, i'm not sure of that fact.)

sometime last year, I saw Joan on a PBS show (i think it's called Mountain Stage), and she sang several Child Ballads. the effect was breathtaking. and then, she floored me by singing and accompanying
herself solo (she also sang the Child Ballads solo w/ guitar) on Diamonds and Rust (her guitar work sounded just like the recording - full and polished, but, not flashy)....it was just amazing! clearly, the audience was spellbound too. it was a stunning performance.

Folkie


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 01:13 PM

Thankyou Jim.very succinct.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Greg B
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 02:09 PM

Joan's strumming always reminded me of techniques used by
the Mexican and Spanish-style guitar players I grew up
hearing in California.

I'd suspect that she may have heard a lot of the same
thing...


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 02:34 PM

Here ya go! Pig out! Go mad!   Clicky

After reading through this thread, I thought I'd see if there was anything on YouTube, and lo! and furthermore, behold! So I sat here for a long time and just listened and watched. Ye gods, that lady can sing. And play!

Just listening to her and watching the way she plays, I have a few observations:   I think that when she learns a song, she works out a way of accompanying it—an approach, a "style," so to speak. Carter family "scratch," some kind of arpeggio pattern, works out a few bass runs or variations on a chord, etc., maybe even mixes styles a bit, always with "how well does it fit the song?" in mind. But I don't think she does note-by-note arrangements. I think she improvises quite a bit.

This is not to say that she improvises like a jazz musician. It's that she has the strums, arpeggio patterns, runs, and variations down so pat that she doesn't have to work out an accompaniment note by note.

I think it would be a mistake to study her accompaniments note-by-note and try to copy what she does. If you want to copy anything, copy her approach to accompaniment. And this will take some time. She's what, 65 years old? And she's been singing and playing the guitar since she was in high school. Probably about fifty years. No wonder she can play really nice accompaniments with only about 15% of her concentration on her hands, able to devote the other 85% to putting the song across.

But early on, I don't think she worked out note-by-note accompaniments either. The approach? She would learn a strum or a pattern or some other lick on the guitar and (hear comes that dreaded word!) practiced it until she got it down solid and didn't have to think much about it anymore. Then she had a whole bagful of techniques that she could call on when she learned a song and could mix and match.

That's the way to do it.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 06:49 PM

silver dagger, used to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Little Hawk
Date: 25 Oct 06 - 09:58 PM

You got it right, Don. She practiced. One thing I always noticed about Joan, she was very good at self-discipline, and that's half the key to success right there.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Barry Finn
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 01:40 AM

Hi Greg
I was taking guitar lessons back in 78' from a friend, I didn't know a thing about guitar's or about playing them, today I only know a tiny bit more but the friend Rob Joel was showing me (trying to show me) a bass run going from C to G & back again. Where my thumb hit the A sting on the 3rd fret I was to then take my index finger off the A put my next finger that had been 2nd fret of the D string & put it on the 2nd fret of the A sting then pick with the thumb then play the A string open then go into the G cord, picking E again with the thumb first as I started to play the cord. I was having trouble going back & forth with this when he said "it's simple & it's lovely, I taught Joan Baez that" I stopped & asked him "what". Turns out he was pretty fond of the kid who he said had the dirtest feet in Cambridge & it turns out that he said he had taught or showed her a number of things on the guitar. You mentioned above that her playing reminded you of Mexican and Spanish-style guitar. Well I never heard Rob play much of that style, maybe a couple or 3 times but during my lessons he got to showing me some Spainsh flamingo style (& other styles) trying to explain different technique & different styles that went way over my head, maybe she got it from him. He was a great singer & always amazed me with the his wealth of knowledge about the songs he did (never the show off, mind you). I'm not sure why but he was a mentor to me, I think he was fond of my street background. I wouldn't be surprized if he seen Joan in the same way. He certinally was right there at the time, would've given a youngster a helping had at the drop of a dime & I'm sure he was looked up to & sought out by quite a few, it being his nature to be so approchable & accomadating. He did have a father like grin when he talked about her. I guess I should find out more about Rob from those times. I moved to Hawaii not long after starting lessons with him. Forgot how he taught me, got to practicing things all backwards & just got worst & worst until I deceided I should keep my friends & stop. While I was living out there in Hawaii Rob passed away, it was quite a while before I found out, I really was very fond of him. He always said the the VA would always be checking him out (medicaly) to find out why he was still alive after the war (WWII, I think)
If you watch the u-tube linked above about 1:09 minutes into the song you'll see Joan doing the run as I discribed above, going from C to G & agin shorly after that. (I didn't watch all that much)

Barry


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Little Hawk
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 02:55 AM

Joan was quite proud of her bare feet, which were said to be very attractive ones by various people at the time, and she walked around barefoot a lot and often performed that way too. I guess that's why they got dirty, eh? ;-) There's even a live recording from the early days where she asks the audience at Carnegie Hall if it's okay if she takes off her shoes...and gets some enthusiastic applause. Some wag should have yelled "More!", but no one did. They were very well behaved in those days at folk concerts.

As for the riff...hmmm...sounds neat. I'll see if I can figure that out tomorrow.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Scrump
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 05:06 AM

Don Firth has it right IMO - that's just what I try to do myself (not that I'm trying to claim I'm anywhere hear as good as JB). Being able to make variations in the accompaniment in the way Don describes not only makes it more interesting for the audience, but for me too. It's better to have a lot of techniques at your disposal that you can use almost unconsciously (which takes a lot of practice) than to just work out a rigorous note-by-note arrangement which you reproduce every time. The artists I enjoy the most live, are those that never do a song exactly the same way twice.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Little Hawk
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 11:29 AM

Well, I quite agree with that, Scrump. I guess you must love Bob Dylan, eh? ;-)


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 01:52 PM

BARRY FINN ,what your describing is the pentatonic major scale. G major pentatonic, IS G A B DE, C MAJOR PENTATONIC IS CDEGA you can play bass runs based on g pent and c pent, very easily its also the basis of the carter family style, bass run.
The pentatonic major is 12356 of the major scale related to the relevant major chord.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Folkie101
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 02:00 PM

did Joan play any/a lot of barre chords in her early records, or was she playing mostly basic chords?

hello Don Firth,
thanks for the YouTube link! great stuff!

i once read a groovy book about the "Life And Times Of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan & Mimi and Richard Farina. in it, a folksinger says that he would show Joan things on the guitar (licks and such), and several hours later, according to him, she could play the lick, etc. better than he could.

it's clear she was very dedicated to achieving her dreams of becoming a singer and guitarist.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 03:15 PM

Hi, Folkie101. Yeah, she was playing barre chords early on. In her autobiography, And a Voice to Sing With, there is a photo of her at age seventeen playing what appears to be a Goya G-10 classic (good beginner's guitar), and she's barring the 5th fret. It looks like she's playing an Am chord (Em form, barred on the 5th fret), although in the photo, I can't locate one of her fingers!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: DonMeixner
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 03:21 PM

Joan Baez is missing a finger!!??


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 04:19 PM

AHA!! I just located the missing finger!

It looked like she was barring the 5th fret with her 2nd finger, but that would really be doing things the hard way. No, what she's doing in the photo is supporting her index (1st) finger by adding her second finger on top of it. From the observer's viewpoint, her 2nd finger is eclipsing her 1st.

It suddenly hit me because one of my guitar students is just starting to learn bar chords, and she keeps trying to support her 1st finger with her 2nd. A lot of beginners do that, but quickly learn that in a lot of bar chords, they're going to need that 2nd finger somewhere else. It's just a matter of time and practice, building up strength in the barring finger.

All of which indicates that Joan was a beginner once. That should be encouraging!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Midchuck
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 04:43 PM

It suddenly hit me because one of my guitar students is just starting to learn bar chords, and she keeps trying to support her 1st finger with her 2nd. A lot of beginners do that, but quickly learn that in a lot of bar chords, they're going to need that 2nd finger somewhere else. It's just a matter of time and practice, building up strength in the barring finger.

I don't see that as something you shouldn't do for that one chord formation. I do it, when I'm using an Em formation at a higher fret. Most barre chords, you need all three of the other fingers elsewhere. Em, you have a finger to spare, but you're holding 4 strings down with the barre, not 3, so you need to put a little more pressure on the barre. So why not?

Peter.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 26 Oct 06 - 06:37 PM

No problem, Peter, I do it on that chord formation too. It only becomes a problem if you have to rely on the support of the second finger to get a clean bar chord. That's why I give my students a six-string F major as their first full bar chord. But before that, I have them sneak up on bar chords with partial bars, like A7, for example.

If a person can do a full six-string bar with just the index finger, then there's no problem using the second finger for extra support when you don't need it elsewhere.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan R.
Date: 27 Oct 06 - 08:01 AM

Thanks for all the great posts guys! I will study many of these posts bit by bit to learn new skills. Then I'll add my own style to what I learn. Thanks again!

Love,
Megan


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 27 Oct 06 - 11:29 PM

its the nice little touches with Joan.

theres that thing on come all ye fair and tender maidens, where she is playing the d7 arpeggio intro , and just flips a little finger on to the third fret first string - the G.

it gives such an atmosphere of yearning - so simple, but so clever.

also in once I had a sweetheart, she is playing part of the Ist position A chord - probably holding down three stings with the index finger. a sort of running arpeggio on the three strings. then she plays this lovely unconventional alternating bass. First the open 5th string A, then the 6th string fretted at 3 - the G.

clever lady!


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan R.
Date: 28 Oct 06 - 02:39 PM

Can someone please give me your ideas and thoughts on how Joan used 6th and 9th chords, modal chords, E modal chords and A modal chords to make her folk arrangements have added variety and color. Also, what are the modal, A modal and E modal chords that were used in the keys she played in? I guess I should ask the question this way. Can someone type out the *chords* in the keys of C, A, G, E, D, F, B and B flat adding 6ths, 9ths and the modal chords (mentioned above.) I will use these to experiment in my arrangements of folk songs. I hope I'm not asking too much.

Peace,
Megan


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 28 Oct 06 - 03:15 PM

Uh--busy day right now, so I'll be back later. But, Megan, I think you're trying to over-complicate it. Joan uses pretty much standard major and minor chords, but she often adds passing tones or rhythmic ornamentation. A musicologist might come along and analyse one of her accompaniments, and at a couple of points say "Oh, that's a 9th chord." But I don't think she thinks of it that way.

And there is a cohesive system of accompanying modal songs (i.e., "What chords do I use to accommany a song in Dorian mode, since the regular minor subdominant is obviously wrong?"), but there are no "modal chords" as such.

Sorry I don't have more time right now, but I'll be back.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST
Date: 28 Oct 06 - 10:56 PM

Plastic Surgery can do miricles....but the fingers still strum the same after age 25. A lot like laying down calcium in a woman's bones...it is there or it is not.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 07:05 AM

Megan

could you tell us which songs these are used in? Some of us don't really have that extensive a knowledge of musical theory - but we would be happy to supply any practical knowledge we have.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 02:11 PM

Right now I'm learning Come All Ye Fair And Tender Maidens and Willie Moore. Do I need to learn scales to play Willie Moore similar to the way Joan does? Or, is she hammerring on and off on certain notes in playing Willie Moore? When I play different chords, I'm starting to put my pinky at different places on different strings to see what sounds I get. Also, I'm starting to hammer on and off to see what happens too. When I looked at Joan's videos on YouTube.com, I see on certain songs that she uses a capo, and she doesn't seem to be doing anything that complicated with her fretting hand (with or without her capo.)


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 02:22 PM

Dear Megan, If I were you I would only copy Joan Baez as a stepping stone to developing your own style.
why not get books by people like john pearse and stefan grossman, which analyse different fingerpicking styles.
And by taking a bit from different sources you,ll end up with your own style.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 02:35 PM

Hi Captain Birdseye,

Point well taken. Even though I'm 18, I've never been really exposed to folk music. Joan's songs and playing style have really touched me.
I don't plan on copying her note for note. My friends don't see what the fuss is about with traditional acoustic folk music, but I'm hooked.

Peace,
Megan


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 05:17 PM

Willy Moore is pretty much a three chord trick, whenever I've heard it. That sort of appalachian banjo sound. I can't bring to mind Joan's version.

her version of Come all ye fair and tender maidens is pretty simple.

it revolves round playing the C to A minor rundown, followed by the G to Eminor

so play the d7 trick mentioned in previous post.

Come all you fair
and on the word 'fair', you play middle C - that is 5th string fretted at the third, then in rapid succession 2nd fret of the 5th string, then 5th string open - moving from a C chord to a A minor.

Then Take warning how, and on the word 'how'

you hit G - That is 3rd fret 6th string, then in rapid succession 2nd fret 6th string, then sixth string open, - moving from G chord to Em chord.

Hope this is clear - its easier to show you than write it down. I bet theres some people round your local folk club who can demonstrate.
Joan probably capos three - to make the song in B flat
all the best

al


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 05:51 PM

Dear Megan, you have good taste, and I hope you have lots of fun and pleasure with your music. Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 29 Oct 06 - 05:58 PM

when you make a c chord,if you bring the little finger on third fret second string, you have c9,when you make a g chord take the little finger off ist string place it on second string,3 fret,you have g6


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 30 Oct 06 - 03:19 AM

DearMegan,
cover your top 4 strings, at the second fret with index finger, then top two strings at fret 5, this is A modal, EAEAEA, MODAL CHORDS are made up of NOTES 1 AND 5 of the related major scale, so you are missing the third note of the scale, it is neither major onr minor but can be substitued for both.
E modal is 5 string second fret, 4 string second fret,3 string 4 fret. ebebbe.
D MODAL can be made by not playing 1 string or by fretting fifth fret,1 topstring giving you high A instead of 2 fret f sharp.Dick Miles.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,Megan R.
Date: 31 Oct 06 - 07:05 AM

Hi Dick Miles,

Thanks for all your help with the chords and information! I'm having a lot of fun with this!

Hi Don Firth,

I'll try not to complicate my learning process. Thanks for your help too!

Love and Peace,
Megan


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 31 Oct 06 - 05:36 PM

Hi, Megan—

I hate to disagree with Captain Birdseye (a sterling fellow indeed), but there really isn't any such thing as a "modal chord." What he is describing is what are called "open fifths."

In medieval times, modes were just regarded as different scales, and it wasn't until around the sixteenth century or so that the Ionian and Aeolian modes ("modern" major and natural minor scales) emerged as being somewhat more versatile than the rest, and the other scales fell into general disuse among mainstream composers. In medieval church music (Gregorian chants and such) music was generally monophonic (everybody singing the same melody) or polyphonic (two or more melodies interweaving, or sometimes the lower voices singing on just one note, a sort of drone). Oftentimes only the melody was written out and the singers or musicians were expected to improvise the rest of it. The intervals they used most were perfect, fourths, fifths, or octaves. Thirds, sixths, and other intervals (especially seconds and sevenths) were considered dissonant or "discordant." But times changed. It wasn't until around the sixteen century that chords began to emerge as such, and music developed a distinctly harmonic structure as well as a polyphonic one.

The problem with using only perfect fourths, fifths, and octaves is that they merely ride the strongest overtones of the fundamental notes and, as my music theory prof said, "they create no actual harmony." "Parallel" fourths, fifths, and octaves were a no-no in music theory exercises. It takes adding a third to the mix to give a chord (notes which sound "in accord," which is where the word came from) definition, identify it as major or minor, generally give it color, and create such things as "leading tones." Someplace along the line (a few centuries back) it was established that a chord consisted of a root (the note upon which the chord is built), an interval of a third above that, and an interval of a fifth also above the root. Like so for a C chord:    C D E F G1 2 3 4 5. Then you can "double" the notes—stack up as many Cs Es and Gs as you want, and it's still a C chord. The three notes that are needed to make a complete chord are referred to as a "triad." [You make 6th, 7th, 9th, and 11th chords by adding these intervals about the root to the triad;   but don't worry about that now. Jazz musicians use them a lot, but folk musicians rarely do.]

"Chords" composed of only perfect fourths, fifths, and octaves are often used by rock musicians, who usually refer to them as "power chords." They do come in handy for certain effects sometimes, but they're sort of like spices in cooking. They need to be used judiciously and sparingly.

Although there have been heated arguments about this on Mudcat threads, musicians, composers, and musicologists in the Western European tradition (to which we belong) are adamant that it takes three different notes to define a chord. Any two distinct notes (root and fifth, for example) are called an "interval." Sorry, but that's by definition.

So where does all this take us? Getting to the nitty-gritty of which chords to use when accompanying songs with modal melodies, it's nowhere near as complicated as people try to make it. No more complicated than working out chords for songs in scales we're more used to. Nothing really mysterious about it.

For a song in a major scale (which is Ionian mode, remember), the chords used to accompany it are derived from the scale itself. Let's use a C scale to keep it simple. This is a good rundown of how to build chords (or figure out chords) for any key:   Twang!   This is an excellent web sit, by the way. Lots of good information here.

Okay, let's take a song like "John Riley" that Joan Baez recorded, and say we want to do it in A minor. The chords available to us in A minor are Am, B diminished (which we don't really want to use), C, Dm, Em, F, and G. Sometimes the key of A minor might use an E or E7, which contains a note not in the scale (G#), but that's another issue, and we won't deal with that here. But when we get a few measures into the song, we find that the Dm and F chords are going to clank badly because the note being sung at that point is an F#. In fact, every time we sing an F, it's not an F, it's an F#! So we take all the notes in the song and spread them out at a scale sequence. And we discover that the scale is A B C D E F# G A. Not a regular minor scale. In fact, it's Dorian mode!

Okay, what to do about chords? To accommodate that F#, you can't use a Dm chord (which contains an F as the 3rd) or an F major—obviously! But now, the chords you have available for use, built on the Dorian scale, are:    Am, Bm, C, D major, E, F# diminished (which you don't want to use), and G.

Those are the chords that Joan Baez chooses from to accompany "John Riley." She may capo up, but as I recall, these are the chord configurations she uses.

Likewise, her recording of "The Great Silkie." It's almost exactly the same as a regular major scale. Let's assume the key of D:   D, E, F#, G, A, B, and C#. But we notice that there is no C# in the song if we do it in D. But there is a C natural. What looks like a major scale, but has a flatted seventh, is Mixolydian mode. The chords available are D, Em, F#m, G, Am, Bm, and C (no A major or A7, both of which contain a C#). The shift between the D and the C gives it a very modal sound. These are the chords that Joan Baez selects from.

She knows what she's doing.

Other than the regular major and minor scales, the Dorian and the Mixolydian modes are probably the ones you will encounter the most in British and American folk music.

Here's a pretty good run-down on modes:    Plonk!

I hope I haven't hopelessly confused the issue. Happy pickin'!!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Oct 06 - 07:21 PM

Chords that consist of two notes of an interval of a fifth, without the note that determines whether they are major or minor,and when they are played on the guitar,in more than two notes are referred to by the majority of folk musicians as modal chords.
rock musicians tend to use the term power chords, with reference to two note fifth chords.
The dictionary definition of a chord is the simultaneous and harmonious union of sounds of a different pitch.
therefore a chord can be TWO NOTES as well as three notes or as many notes as you want, provided they are a simultaneous and harmonious union of sounds, so two notes can be described as you did correctly as an interval when they are played one after another or together and they can also be described correctly as a chord when played together.
go to any guitar workshop and musicians refer to modal chords, in the same way as they refer to major or minor chords,modal chords do exist and they consit of any two notes or more, that do not have a major or minor thirds, and have interval of fifths.
They can of course have added notes the same as major or minor chords can. C MODAL 9 would be cgcgcd, cmajor 9 would be cegd, c minor 9 is c eflat g d.
Modal chords exist and the world is not flat.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 31 Oct 06 - 07:40 PM

Folk musicians do use sixths and ninths,,Elizabeth Cotton in Wilson Rag,most blues musicians,and some traditional muscians ,myself included, certainly use them,.
I also use dominant elevenths, sometimes as a partial substutution for dominant seventh, If it fits harmonically with the melody.
   no one music is an island unto itself,there are always crossover points where jazz influence creeps into traditional music, listen to shetland fiddle tunes accompanied by guitarist Willie Johnson.
he uses jazzy 6 9 11 chords, and it sounds great.Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 31 Oct 06 - 10:31 PM

Captain, I don't want to argue the point, because it's already been argued to death several times on Mudcat threads, not to mention elsewhere. Musicologists in the Western European tradition (to which the Americas also belong) long ago defined two distinct notes as an "interval," and a "chord" as requiring three distinct notes at the very least, generally consisting of a root, a third, and a fifth, or a "triad," the minimal combination that can qualify as a chord. Two note combinations are sometimes called "dyads."   But not "chords."

The Grove Concise Music Dictionary does define a chord as "The simultaneous sounding of two or more notes," and when I quoted that to a couple of music professors when I was attending the University of Washington School of Music, I was informed in no uncertain terms that the Grove definition is incorrect and that it has caused music teachers no end of irritation and argument from students who own a copy of the Grove dictionary and feel compelled to quote from it.

Click HERE and scroll down to "chord." And there is more HERE (but I wouldn't recommend the left hand position in the photo!!).

I don't want to belabor the point as to my personal qualifications, but they consist of three years of music study at the aforementioned U. of W. and two years in a music conservatory (the Cornish School of the Arts), plus a years' private study in music theory and composition with Mildred Hunt Harris, plus voice lessons, classic guitar lessons, and folk guitar lessons from Walt Robertson and workshops with people like Rolf Cahn, Bess Lomax Hawes, and Doc Watson. I also taught classic guitar and folk guitar in both private lessons and classes for a couple of decades, in addition to performing on television, doing concerts, and playing steady engagements in clubs and coffeehouses when I wasn't performing somewhere else.

The last guitar workshop I participated in was at the 2003 Northwest Folklife Festival, and if folk musicians are referring to power chords as "modal" chords, then that must be a very recent phenomenon, the result of the influence of rock slopping over into folk. I'm also aware that some folk musicians, similarly influenced by jazz (case in point, the late Dave Van Ronk), often use added note chords (ninths, elevenths, et al), often with very good effect, but as you say, this is a matter of crossover from other genres of music.

Assuming that Megan is a relative beginner, I'm trying not to confuse her by overloading her with information that is not germane to her present interests. She admires Joan Baez and is trying to get a few clues as to how Joan accompanies songs. As I mentioned above, if Joan uses sixths, ninths, elevenths, and such, these are highly transitory and the added notes are in the nature of ornaments and passing tones, not as fundamental parts of the basic harmony. I'm sure—sure—that Joan does not think of momentarily adding a G on top of a first position D major chord as "playing a second inversion G sixth." It's just a bit of tonal variation, and is usually integrated with a rhythmic right hand pattern (see—or hear—her accompaniment to "The Great Silkie"). One could take a vertical slice out of her accompaniments at various places where she tosses in an extra note along with the chord—as a passing tone or decoration—and give it a very complex sounding name, but that's just making it much more complicated than it really is. And I think the same holds true for the guitar work of Elizabeth Cotton and many others.

I do the same sort of things in my own accompaniments:   add occasional notes to basic chords as ornamentation and variation, often transitory passing tones (example: C, C augmented, F. The G# in the C aug is merely a passing tone on the way to the A in the forthcoming F major, and it's off the main beat). Among other things, I can play several Villa-Lobos etudes, which are filled with added note chords ("jazz chords," if you will), and I could certainly incorporate that sort of thing in my folk song accompaniments if I wanted to. If I felt that they were appropriate. But I would think long and hard about stylistic dissonances before I started doing that.

Traditional accompaniments start with fairly basic harmonies, generally I, IV, and V or V7 chords, substituting relative minor chords hear and there, or occasionally substituting relative major chords if the song is in a minor key, along with other embellishments. But thinking in the kind of terms that a rock or jazz musician would is questionable when it comes to dealing with traditional music—unless one is trying to take it out of its traditional musical style and turn it into something else. I do use classic guitar technique a great deal, but I keep the basic harmonic structure pretty simple, as befits the music.

For all of her ingenious bits of business on the guitar, Joan sticks pretty close to traditional styles. That's one of the reasons her accompaniments sound so good.   

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 01 Nov 06 - 06:44 AM

DonFirth Thankyou . How do you describe the chord, that is often described as a modal, eaeaae What do you call it, and likewise e modal Ebebbe.
as I understand, power chords are generally two note chords,but not doubled. my musical acquaintances, in the traditional music word do nto generally refer to EBEBBE as E power chord but E modal chord .
language is a living form,and is in a constant form of flux, if sufficient people use a word for instance, E MODAL Chord it can become correct and accepted through usage, as everyone in the said community understands and communicates using this word, the previous dictionary definition ifs forced to change,.
   this is what appears to be happening in this case, in fact the pengiun american book of american folk songs in its revised edition of 1974[32 years ago] also refers to modal chords, so this is not a recent phenomenon.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Big Al Whittle
Date: 01 Nov 06 - 01:22 PM

when do you get time for all those fish fingers?


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 01 Nov 06 - 04:14 PM

(Fish have fingers!??)

Howdy, Captain.

I think I've heard the term "modal chord" used a couple of times, but from singers of folk songs who are generally self-taught and have little acquaintance with music theory beyond the Circle of Fifths. In fact, from these folks (some very good musicians, by the way, despite their horror at the thought of anything smacking of formal musical knowledge for fear that acquaintance with such will pollute their "folk purity"), I've heard some pretty bizarre expressions to describe things that, to persons with some knowledge of music theory, are convoluted attempts to grasp simple concepts. As to the expression "modal chord," the few times I've actually heard it used, it seemed to mean different things to different people.

I did a google search for "modal chords" and turned up a fair number of citations. It appears as you say. Most people do seem to regard them as regular chords with the third missing and the root and fifth doubled. But I also notice that many of the citations have to do specifically with the guitar and with open tunings. Also lots of people on forums asking "How do you use them?" [Sort of like marketing Coca Cola; nobody knew what it was and why they needed it until a lot of advertising convinced them that it was essential to living the Good Life.] And there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of agreement about that either.

It seems to be a very specialized terminology—which, incidentally, doesn't really have much to do with modes other than trying to remain musically ambiguous. It would seem to me that using standard major and minor chords built on the notes within the mode itself (as I descried above and as Joan Baez actually does) would be a better route to go. One can get a very exotic "modal" sound without having to rely on odd-ball fingerings and special tunings. Not that I don't do a lot of odd-ball fingerings, especially in classic stuff.

Before the expression could come into common usage, I think there would have to be more widespread agreement on what it actually means than just what I've seen on a number of web sites. And I would think that it would have to be generally accepted by musicians of various genres, not just a small percentage of guitarists or a few performers of folk music.

I don't have the Penguin book that you mentioned, and I'd be interested in reading what it says about modal chords, and if it describes what, exactly, the term refers to.

As to EAEAAE and EBEBBE, it's pretty hard to analyze them as chords because they aren't chords. In both cases, you have a stack of fourths, fifths, and octaves. Based on what is immediately above the lowest or bass note, in the first one, you have an interval of a fourth (E to A) with a vertical sequence of doublings of the same two notes. In the second, it is an interval of a fifth (E to B) with the same kind of doublings.

Important note:   These combinations, fourths and fifths with doublings of the notes, are not wrong. There is nothing wrong with using them for the particular effect that they have. They can sound very medieval or very oriental, depending on the context. If you want that effect, go for it!

For harmonic analysis, here's an essential consideration:   when two or more instruments are being sounded, to analyze the harmony you have to know the notes that both instruments are sounding. So—when these fourth and fifth interval combinations are being played, what note or notes are being sung? With the EA combination, if the note being sung is a C, then you'd have a second inversion of an Am chord, if a C#, it's an A major. If it's an F, it would be an F major seventh with the seventh in the bass and a doubled third and seventh but a missing fifth (even though a note in the basic triad is missing, there is a sufficient number of notes to give it an identity). I could go on with different notes, and the same routine would hold for the EB combination, but you get the idea.

If I were going to use the term "modal chord," it would be in reference to, say, using a D major instead of a Dm in an A-based Dorian mode, to accommodate the F# in the scale. "That sounds like it's in Am. Why are you playing a D major instead of a Dm?" "Because the song is in Dorian mode. The D major is a 'modal chord.'" In other contexts, of course, it would not be a modal chord.

Good discussion. I think it's a good idea to thrash these things out. But I'm not too sure all of this this helps Megan very much.

Don Firth

P. S. Speaking of odd-ball fingerings and doubling notes, give this one a shot!

Ouch! That hurts!

and scroll down to the photo of Ida Presti. I met her and her husband, Alexandre Lagoya, when they did a concert in Seattle back in the Sixties.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: The Sandman
Date: 02 Nov 06 - 08:28 AM

ok .the only reason I thought to mention eaeaae and ebebbe, is that they are worth knowing, as they can be used instead of A major or A minor or E major or E minor [ IF DESIRED OR IF YOU WANT AN AMBIGUOuS SOUND], and that most guitar tutors are so bad, that they rarely show these options.
Neither do they show alternative inversions of major or minor chords, and in my opinion [modal chords as I describe them] are tastefully correct 50 percent of the time, sometimes of course you do want to establish whether something is major or minor,.
What I hope Megan does is draw a chart of the guitar fingerboard, so that she can see she has d major chords[ and other inversions of major or minor chords] in lots of different places.
RICHARD YATES has a very long pinky finger.


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: Don Firth
Date: 02 Nov 06 - 02:02 PM

I just did another google search looking for a good "chord builder" site that I could recommend to Megan. Putting "guitar chord diagram" into the google search box can turn up a lot of stuff. I found a lot, but they all seemed pretty messy and possibly confusing. I was looking for one particular site that I'd seen before and thought was clear and concise, but I couldn't find it again. Anyway, some of these sites might be worth a look.

But better, I would recommend getting a good manual that gives chord diagrams all over the fingerboard (all the possible C chords, all the possible Am chords, etc.) and then take them one key at a time, one chord at a time. One of the books my first classic guitar teacher had me get was Fundamental Fingerboard Harmony for Guitar by Richard Pick (odd last name for a classic guitarist). It showed all possible chords on the guitar, major, minor, augmented, and diminished, including 6ths, 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths in all inversions, in both regular music notation and chord diagrams, along with just about all possible right-hand picking and arpeggio patterns. It was a fantastic book for both learning the fingerboard and turning the right hand into a little electric motor. Unfortunately, the manual is long out of print. My own copy is well worn and nearly falling apart. But there must be other good ones out there.

Another good way of exploring that terra incognita (here be dragons!) above the fourth fret is to take a simple tune, play it in first position, then play the same tune in the same key (exactly the same notes) everywhere you can on the fingerboard. I spotted this exercise in The Christopher Parkening Guitar Method, Vol. 2, page 40. Parkening takes a three note segment at the beginning of a French folk song, "Au Claire de la Lune," (using only E, F, and G) and puts it in three different places on the fingerboard, first string, second string, and third string, with a total of eight possible fingerings, some of them on only one string, some moving across strings. Trying this sort of thing with various familiar tunes is a great way to learn the fingerboard!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Joan Baez and her guitar skills
From: GUEST,baez
Date: 23 Mar 07 - 11:25 AM


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