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Registered User
Joined: 10/07/08
Posts: 1,602
12/09/2020 8:38 pm
Originally Posted by: usa4cc[br]So if you look at the song that I provided--it's actually a church song too--what my friend was saying afterwards was that I have to make the change at the exact time where the change is on guitar tab--so in the first line, on "know" right as it begins and the same with "baby". And then "someday" and then "water."

Pointedly, your friend is wrong overall but to the song you posted, was pretty much right. Characters on paper do not dictate a groove. I don't bag on Ultimate Guitar as it can be a very useful tool to figure something out quickly. I used it for Shalom Chaverim. Just take it for what it is.

To your friends point and why I disagree; Ultimate Guitar is useful in giving you a general idea about when a chord change occurs but it is not exact. It's only as good as the person that entered it. Ultimate Guitar is like a Wiki of songs. People are entering this stuff in themsleves. Even back in the 80's when guitar tab came in the form of books or in magazines, even professionals who did this stuff got it wrong.

Make the chord change when it sounds right. My pastor used Ultimate Guitar almost exclusively and myself and/or the other guitar player would then play it through. He had a good sense if timing so we were always on the same page.

Originally Posted by: usa4cc

But he does have a much better ear--whereas my ear is not very good. I think the issue basically is that I was strumming and changing chords kind of just around where the mark was but my friends were singing it exactly based on the mark--and to make matters worse I didn't even know the melody, never heard of the song before. Also, he said that my strumming pattern which was the classic D-DU-UDU, was too much for this song and maybe that was part of the problem. He strums by just doing four downstrokes and occasionally an upstroke. Does that make sense?

'Mary Did You Know' is both an interesting example but also a hard one for strum timing and pattern. Some songs are dictated by the strum pattern and some songs are driven by the vocal melody. Whereas a more classic acoustic rock song like George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' is driven by a persistent strummed pattern, 'Mary Did You Know' is very much by the vocal melody.

I do think the Ultimate Guitar timing was pretty close. I've played that before and it looks right. For this song, your friend was right to tell you for this song, stick to the page. Further, the observation that you were strumming a more standard D-DU-UDU; your friend was spot on too. This is not a song that should stick to a standard pattern. Though I wasn't there to watch you play, it sounds like you may have been trying to strum a pattern to this song.

This does bring me back to 'thinking and playing'. You're thinking of a strum pattern. Listen to the cadence and the melody of the song. Because the rhythm is driven by the vocal melody and patttern, you should be playing to that.

My version is like this pattern:

(D) (U) (D) (D) (D) the last downstroke righs out

Ma - ry did you know

I won't go thrpough the whole song but this is an example of a line where it's not 'standard' strumming.

But, this brings me back to my previous advice; only strum out one chord at the chord change when you're learning the song. At first, don't do a pattern. Just get the change timing down. Then start working the strum groove once you're good with the chord change timing.


I really don't have a very good ear, so it's mainly based on the notes I want. Like if I put my capo on the second fret and play the 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 chord, it sounds a lot different than with no capo. But is it not supposed to be so arbitrary--like for example should the capo be based more on the vocal range if that is the only instrument?

It's not arbitrary but to your point of it being based on the vocal melody, you're correct. Sort of......This is all about transposing. It also depends on the song too.

I mean, Stairway to Heaven is in A minor. If you were to play Stairway to Heaven, pretty much always play it in A minor. Other songs are more prone to transposition. A lot of older church hymn songs get transposed all the time.

[br]That was the excercise I went through was to tranpose the key for Shalom Chaverim from Ultimate Guitar to better fit my wife's voice. So your instinct on using the vocals as a key, that's correct.

When we transposed for my wife, we knew that the key of (open) E was way to low. I'm lucky that my wife, having never played an instrument (though she did just pick up guitar this year...) has a wonderful sense of pitch. So I had her sing the vocal melody accapella.

Something to keep in mind, those same cowboy chords you learned are often a great reference point in transposing a key. You find a lot of stuff in E, G or A.

So while my wife sang the song/melody, I went looking for the key. If it wasn't good in the key of E, my next guess was that she would be more comfortable in G. I mean, many, many songs are in the key of G so vocalists usually have a comfort zone in that key. I had her sing and just struck the single string G to see if that matches her pitch. It did.

So, I moved the capo to the 3rd fret so that even though I was playing the same shapes as Ultimate Guitar versaion in E, I was playing them in the key of G. The capo is like moving the nut up so you can play the same chords but at a higher pitch.

The rest is really listening. In this case, Ultimate Guitar had the chords as Em7, C, D and G. These were the shapes I was playing but with a capo, these shapes were actually different notes.

-The open Em7 shape (which is an E minor but not fretting/removing your finger from the D string) sounded terrible so I just went with a standard E minor shape. Transposed, it was actually a G minor playing open chord style with a capo.

-The C chord shape was clearly not correct. It was the wrong note/interval. The 'open' shape I ended up playing was based on a B minor (with a flat 6th). With a capo, it was: D minor (with a flat 6th).

...and so on. Don't let all the transposition notes above explode your head. I did little more than just play familiar chords and shapes I knew, with a capo, and listened to what sounded right. We did a couple of run throughs and had the right notes.

You said that you don't have a good ear. Unless you start as a pre-schooler associating a pitch with a note designation, you'll never have perfect pitch. I surely don't. I was terrible at figuring out songs for a long time. Still not my strong suit.

You can learn better pitch. Start with a simple excersize when your guitar is tuned: E A D G B E. Sing out the letter as you strike the open string. Learn to find the note vocally for each string (also handly when you don't have a tuner). Do the same with a 5th string C note and a 6th string G note. You'll start hearing the notes by ear.

This will help a lot in finding notes and transposing when needed.

So, another 10 cent worth of mt 2 cents ;)