Hey, and welcome.
Originally Posted by: ...the difference between playing a song with just strumming chords, and actually playing the notes.
The biggest single source of confusion on this issue is that in pop and rock music the guitar rarely plays the melody
of the song all the way through the song. When and if the guitar plays the melody it is usually only when it is not being sung. The singer usually "plays" the melody.
The guitar is a "rhythmic" or "support" instrument only playing chords or riffs that provide background support for the melody.
Originally Posted by: ..."Wonderful Tonight" in it. It gives the 4 cords to use and shows rhythm slashes for strumming these chords through the whole song. It also has the notes and words bellow that. Now, when Clapton plays this song, he isn't strumming; he's playing notes.
I have no idea how your book handles it, but this is what happens in the song.
1. Beginning, Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody
2. When the words start, the singer takes over the "melody proper". At that precise point, the guitarist switches to strumming background chords
3. Verse and chorus go by. After the chorus ends ("You look wonderful tonight") Clapton (or the lead guitarist of band playing this song) plays the little single note melody
And so on. Make sense? :)
In my experience, many books will show the guitar chords as the background part ("what to strum"), but then use a music staff with notes to show what notes the melody is (what notes are "attached" to the words being sung by the singer).
Originally Posted by: I don't understand when is the best time to play notes vs. strumming chords? I also notice people hold cords but pick single notes while holding that chord.
Play notes when you want to play a melody or solo. Strum chords when you want to play a background or rhythm part.
Sometimes people hold a chord shape but pick one string or note at a time out of the chord shape
. This can be an efficient way of holding many notes down with one hand position.
Hope this helps. Let us know how it goes for you. Best of success learning. Have fun with it!