Strumming: Getting A Sense Of The Genre

Tthe absolute key to learning how to strum a song is feeling it as well as getting a sense of the type of song you are playing. That will set the framework for the entire song, including the lyrics.

Let’s look at a few artists and three points that make up their sound:

Bob Dylan

  • notorious for lengthy vocal lines that stay rather monotone (one tone)
  • quick but easy chord changes
  • folk-based sound

Dave Matthews

  • paraphrased lyrics that fluctuate from very high to moderately low
  • sometimes hard-to-reach chords that are rarely open
  • jam-band style of delivery

Pink Floyd

  • sparse and ethereal vocal lines that tend to stay at a reasonably level keyin vocality until a chorus or bridge is reached
  • rather complex progressions but usually easy chords to play
  • very interpretive for strumming due to the sparsity of the vocal lines

Of course there are TONS of other artists that I could talk about, but let’s just use these three.

With Bob Dylan, you’ll find that most of his songs can be played using a basic folk pattern. If you are frustrated about time changes, don’t be. The time changes will naturally place themselves for the most part in the appropriate position. Remember that the focus of E-Z Strummer is to play any song the EASY way, and not necessarily note-for-note time changing chord progressions. The songs we learn here are based on what most people want to hear at your gig.

With Dave Matthews, it’s truly hard to create an easy version of most of his songs. It’s not because he’s that ‘good’ per say, but moreso that he uses uncommon chord formations that are rather difficult to translate to a common chord song lesson. In other words, sometimes it just isn’t possible to make a DMB song sound easy. However, using a funk, jazz, or blues template for strumming usually does the trick. It’s all about the genre of music a musician is labeled as.

In the case of Pink Floyd, we have a bunch of options. The main reason for this is that their music is wide-open for interpretation. Most of their songs sound great using the common chord method, but there are times that it just doesn’t work. This goes for anything out there that you might WANT to play, but simply won’t translate. However, with Pink Floyd, usually a simple rock pattern fused with a little jazz works wonders for achieving the overall sound.

Final Thoughts…

Think about this for a minute. A musician is usually categorized into a given realm or genre because it’s simply how they write a song. While there are a few, such as Tom Waits, that can span over an entire genre in just one song, it’s rare that the artist won’t revert back to their original style. Tom Waits really started as a jazz/bluesman, but then started dabbling in folk, then into polka, then into some sort of…um…pirate sound? (“Singapore” always reminds me of a ‘bad guy’ song from a Disney movie for some reason) Why? Because they are the creators.

Take A Look At Some Videos on “Hallelujah” From YouTube (hopefully they don’t remove them!)

K.D. Lang Jason Castro
Leonard Cohen (original artist) Bon Jovi
Jeff Buckley Sheryl Crow


What is the overall concept on each song above….except ONE version. That’s right. ONE version. I’ll say it. The all sound the same. Literally…the same. And of course, the original version is the template, so these artists have taken the overall theme of the song and applied their own style to it, even if the style doesn’t actually…um…change. That doesn’t mean it’s bad. It just means it’s not original enough to be taken to heart.

I’ll go out on a limb and say the most innovative version is definitely the Jeff Buckley version. Maybe it is because of the intro. Maybe it is because of the electric guitar…but I think it is something different. He performed the song as if it was actually his. He took artistic interpretation. Jason Castro’s version was actually pretty unique at the time, but as you can see, it has spawned nine million other versions that still sound the same. The Sheryl Crow performance was a while back, but I am not a big fan of what she did. I’m also NOT FOND AT ALL of the Bon Jovi performance. I just couldn’t take it seriously. I don’t deny singing ability for a song like this by Jon Bon Jovi. However, it isn’t right. It doesn’t fit them. It just…doesn’t work.

The last thing I will mention is that honestly I could listen to the K.D. Lang version all day. It was breath-taking to say the least to me. Again…that’s personal taste.

Instead of duplicating what they’ve already done, EVEN FOR A LIVE AUDIENCE (you know who you are you American Idol contestants that continually do the same version of “Hallelujah”….grrr.) you must find where you fit into their creation. Ultimately the problem lies in the fact that I firmly believe that many of you might be thinking and trying too hard…and I mean that as a compliment. I love the fact that you truly want to learn how to play your favorite song…down to the first and last stroke, but this will only cause you grief. In my next mega tutorial, I’ll discuss how you can learn to strum and sing, as well as how you can make a song work for you…without a strumming pattern!