As songwriters, it helps to always be looking out for a inspiration. Often times that comes from an emotion or a memory. Even places can inspire you to write. World-renowned fingerstyle guitar player and songwriter, John Knowles refers to these as “song-starters.”
In his second edition of Fingerstyle Journals, John delves into the composition a number of his original tunes. For each song, John shares the inspiration and back story behind each song, and also teaches you to play it’s fingerstyle arrangement.
Here are six lessons from the course, covering one whole song from start to finish. For the full course, check out John Knowles’ Fingerstyle Journals 2 on TrueFire!
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Composing & Learning Songs: Before We Begin
Chet Atkins was my guitar hero when I was growing up. When I moved to Nashville, he became my creativity hero. He would call me and say, “I’ve got this song started and I want you to help me finish it.” And then he would sing me a line.
In this course, we’ll be singing, looking for titles, looking for feelings in melodies, looking for rhythmic hooks, and looking for stories.
Of course, once you’ve composed a song, you’ll want to learn how to play it. If you can already play it, you aren’t creating…you’re recycling. When you create something, it leaves you with new challenges…new moves to smooth out.
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Central City Flyer: Overview
The original “Central City Flyer” was a brochure that arrived in the mail. To me it was a great song title. It felt like an express train running through a small Kentucky town. The image and the rhythm were too good to pass up. I added a few words so I would have a line to get me started. “Central City Flyer bound for New Orleans.”
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Central City Flyer: Performance
Here, I perform the full track for you. Next, I’ll break down the different parts of the song.
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Central City Flyer: Verse Breakdown
In “Central City Flyer”, I’m keeping time with my thumb while I move up and down the scale in thirds. I’m making a half-barre at the second fret to play an A chord. Then I pivot on the tip of my index finger to keep the bass going while I reach for the scale notes.
There’s a couple of moves that keep that train feel going. At the end of the first phrase, I play a G chord, a G# chord on my way back to that A chord.
Then there’s that little rhythm lick between verses. It also shows up at the end of the last verse.
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Central City Flyer: Bridge Breakdown
In the bridge, I’m keeping an open E in the bass while moving triads to harmonize the melody. You’ll recognize those triads as parts of chords you already know.
Then I move everything I’ve played so far up three frets so there is a G in the bass. Of course, the rest of my fingering changes to accommodate that G on the sixth string.
Then, I shift to a Bm9 with the B on the 5th string. This move sets up a D chord with an E in the bass so I’m ready to go back into the verse.
Fingerstyle Guitar Lesson – Central City Flyer: Composer’s Notes
I was practicing keeping time with my thumb while playing the scale harmonized in thirds. I added the rhythm of that one line of lyrics…”Central City Flyer bound for New Orleans.” That’s where the melody got started. Then I just let it go where it wanted to go…and I kept that train rhythm going.
My verse sat around for several months without a bridge. Then, I remembered the old black-and-white movies where a train is racing across the county and the music goes up three frets every few seconds. I was all set to go.
Digging these free fingerstyle guitar lessons? Check out John Knowles’ full course, Fingerstyle Journals 2.