The Cohen finger picking style

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peter danielsen
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The Cohen finger picking style

Postby peter danielsen » Mon Mar 16, 2009 12:07 am

Ive tried for years to speed up the Avalance fingerpicking, but still it is much to slow. Any suggestions? appart from: Go on with the practise!
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby John K. » Mon Mar 16, 2009 12:30 am

peter danielsen wrote:Ive tried for years to speed up the Avalance fingerpicking, but still it is much to slow. Any suggestions? appart from: Go on with the practise!
Peter
Hi Peter - I first tried to play the triplet technique with The Stranger Song, I had borrowed a book from my college library that showed the exact strings and notes and spent hours on it. No way. Fast forward to periodic attempts, still useless. Note that I play the "One of us cannot be wrong" (and numerous other songs) pattern flawlessly (if I may be so bold), the "Suzanne" pattern well and flawlessly given time to practice, and the "Bird on the Wire" pattern competently. It doesn't matter, I don't think I'll ever do the triplets like Leonard did.

So, good luck with the practice!

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hydriot
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby hydriot » Mon Mar 16, 2009 1:52 pm

One of the things often overlooked is that Leonard is actually an extremely good guitar-player. Like all great art, he makes it look effortless ... which it ain't.

The only one of his early songs I finger-pick well is Bird on the Wire. I'm afraid with most of the others I have given up and just strum. Priests may involve only three strings per bar maximum, but each bar requires 24 notes to be played (and stretches for an entire line!), all triplets. I defy any amateur to maintain that speed with any precision for the entire song. I certainly can't.
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Joe Way
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby Joe Way » Mon Mar 16, 2009 5:05 pm

I don't remember where I read it, but he recently said the Roscoe Beck has successfully duplicated his "chops."

John, I know which book that you are referring to-I believe it is one of his first published music books that contains tablature. I worked on it long and hard when I was younger, and agree that Avalanche is one of the more difficult patterns to attempt to replicate.

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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby vern.silver » Thu Mar 19, 2009 9:08 pm

The book you are refering to was in fact the first book published with Leonards first two albums being represented and includes priests. This book is available again. I recently replaced my worn book which fell apart on me years ago with a new copy which I purchased through Musicroom.com.

I have managed to perfect the triplets for Avalanche, Teachers Song, Love Calls You By Your Name etc, but only by continued practice. Play the first note of the triplet with your thumb (p) and the next two with index (i) and middle (m) finger (p, i, m; p, i,m; etc.) The best expalanation I could find that explains what a triplet is how to play and count them is at this link:

http://www.studybass.com/lessons/rhythm ... bdivision/.

Try using an metranome, and speed it up as you get your fingers to cooperate.

I think the 'chops' refered to that sets Leonard apart is that he uses 32nd notes in songs like Stranger Song and Priests. I have never been able to get this technique - my fingers cannot move that fast. These are not triplets, and are played p, i, m, a; p, i, m, a. In Stranger Song which is in 4/4 time in the book, that is 32 notes to play in each measure. In Teachers which is also in 4/4 time there are only 24 notes to be played per measure. To be sure, those extra 8 notes are a real challenge especially by throwing in the ring finger ( the a) which isn't always the most dextrous finger. I simply just fake the sound by playing it using triplets.

Vern
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby peter danielsen » Sun Mar 22, 2009 1:46 pm

yes vern, my friend Carsten, who is a much better guitar player than me, play the triplets like, you. But some day I will be able to do the Cohen chop and I shall rule the world.
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby somewhat_nifty » Tue Mar 24, 2009 5:02 pm

It is my dream to be able to play Avalanche one day - this thread isn't very encouraging! I can do the basic pattern a la You Know Who I Am, One Of Us... etc, and am getting there with Bird on a Wire, but I'm sure I'll have to practise for years to get the triplet pattern right - oh well, something to work towards. Cohen is an amazing guitar player, it's a shame his consummate musicianship often gets overlooked.
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby amjes » Sat Oct 30, 2010 8:03 am

Sorry for reviving an ancient thread for my first post, but this is where I stumbled onto this forum, and decided to take this as a challenge. I'd struggled against Cohen's picking style a few years ago, never having been a finger-picker myself, and had resolved myself to just strumming the chords, but that's really not as satisfying. Had never tried 'Avalanche' before, though, as it seemed intimidating due to how quick those arpeggios sounded.

So taking up this challenge, I thought about how it was played. "Well, if it's too fast to arpeggiate with multiple fingers, what about raking across the strings with one?" Within an hour I was playing it at speed, though with a simplified bass line, as I had figured that the recording was two guitars, but when I checked live footage (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-oLmOm9vk0) I found I was wrong. But from that video, it looks like that's the secret - raking, not picking, albeit with two fingers (which I'd try if I didn't give myself a blister-to-be on my middle finger during my first twenty minutes, before changing my picking angle). The hard part is actually what the thumb is doing, not the other fingers.

Try thinking about Cohen's guitar style this way: the man says he's not a great guitarist, so it must be simpler to play his songs that people think. He is, however, proud of his 'chops' (which I read somewhere, and I wish I could find the quote - it was actually looking for this quote that found me this forum), so he's good at the way he plays. Songs like these, he probably sat down, picked up his guitar, and wrote them, at speed, by applying his technique to whatever bunch of chords he decided to throw together (because it is just chords; he's not futzing around with what he's fretting - even the bass lines are part of the chord). If you're trying to learn it slowly, and then bringing it up to speed, you're probably over-complicating it. You should be able to do a close approximation fairly quickly, once you've worked out his secret technique, and then you can narrow down the details.
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby TipperaryAnn » Fri Nov 05, 2010 3:29 am

amjes wrote: If you're trying to learn it slowly, and then bringing it up to speed, you're probably over-complicating it. You should be able to do a close approximation fairly quickly, once you've worked out his secret technique, and then you can narrow down the details.
I find this "ancient thread" you revived and your own comments interesting, amjes, because although I have learned "Bird on the Wire" as it is written it doesn't sound right, not as Leonard plays it. There seem to be too many notes to fit in! (Must try it again with your suggestions in mind.)
As for triplets, does he play triplets where there is no indication of triplets in the written music? That's the trouble with guitar tab, compared to music for piano, for instance - you get the notes but not the rhythm. Any further hints welcome!
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby vern.silver » Sun Nov 07, 2010 7:53 am

I have learned "Bird on the Wire" as it is written it doesn't sound right, not as Leonard plays it. There seem to be too many notes to fit in!
Well, this might sound complicated, but it really isn't. If you want to play Bird On The Wire close to how it sounds on Live Songs, I'll tell you what I do. When playing the A chord I play Asus4 and Asus2 as hammerons and pull offs; For the E chord I pull off to a E minor them hammer back onto the E; for the D chord it is sus4 and sus2 chords again hammering on and pulling off as I play the appregios.

Like I say, it may sound difficult but it isn't. For the Echord you are simply lifting the first finger dropping the G# to the G then back on again. For the Achord sus4 use your pinky to raise the C# on the second string to D; sus2 opens that same string to B (open string.) Dchord sus4 is by using the pinky again and raising the F# to G and the sus2 is the open E (first string.) These are simple embellishments to the main chords themselves and you are likely using them anyway. The version of 'Bird' in the book shows the Asus4 chord. Just play around with them along with the record and it won't take you long to get it down.

As far as triplets for Avalanche and other songs, the book I have of Songs of Love and Hate shows it written in tripletts, although the music is for the piano. I play it quite well just using triplets and playing p,i,m as mention earlier and using an alternating base line as much as I can. I'm not sure exactly what Leonard is doing as it doesn't sound quite the same though close. I feel he is actually playing using i,m,a and still running that alternating bass line - something I have tried and have not been able to get these old hands of mine to come to terms with.

As far as practicing slowly and speeding up as you get better, well this is just a normal technique all guitarists use when learning something new. So just keep at it. Especially if you are still quite young and your hands will still listen to you.

Vern
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby TipperaryAnn » Tue Nov 09, 2010 10:19 pm

Thank you vern.silver for your detailed reply.
Yes, it does sound a bit complicated, especially as my guitar skills are basic, and I have got into the lazy habit of not knowing a note by name, but I have every intention of trying this when I get a chance to practise at the weekend. I will let you know if I manage to improve! :)
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby vern.silver » Tue Nov 09, 2010 11:50 pm

Any decent chord book (or even on line) will show you these chord shapes and you will see how easy it actually is. You don't really need to know the names of the individual notes. Just the chords themselves and the string on which the changes are played.
Vern
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TipperaryAnn
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby TipperaryAnn » Thu Nov 18, 2010 5:07 am

Vern, thank you!
I printed your suggestions and tried them out, and "Bird" is definitely improving! I had come across some of those chords, but didn't know what they were called, except for Asus4. A long way to go yet - not up to speed, and I'm not great at the hammer on, pull off, but I will persevere... So thanks for sharing your expertise.
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Casuarina
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby Casuarina » Thu Nov 18, 2010 2:07 pm

I am just learning to play piano (day 2) and would dearly love to play the piano riff that Mr. Cohen does so brilliantly and easily in the Tower of Song.
Would some clever person be so kind as to write out the notes for me, please please please???
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Re: The Cohen finger picking style

Postby iwbiek » Sun Sep 13, 2015 10:03 pm

I know I'm extremely late to the party, but I've also come to the conclusion that Cohen's style is not nearly as complicated as people think. I also highly doubt he uses more than two fingers at a time. His thumb is definitely busier than his fingers. In a weird way, his playing reminds me a lot of "primitive" banjo pickers like Dock Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb, or even Pete Seeger, who played mostly somewhere between the old clawhammer and Scruggs styles. Of course, Cohen's style is faster and not nearly as percussive, but there's a world of difference in feel between a steel-string banjo and a nylon-string classical guitar. I've found myself able to duplicate Cohen's style with anywhere between 70% and 80% accuracy using just thumb and first two fingers, with the index finger doing the majority of the work on the mid and treble strings. As for how the thumb works the bass strings, I've found the typical folk-country 1-2 approach, with generous hammer-ons and -offs, most helpful. Surprisingly, my thumb tends to fall into the same grooves as when I play Townes Van Zandt, and I would say that works with at least 80% accuracy. Townes, of course, was firmly in the Merle Travis tradition.

I have reasons to believe this beyond just my ears and fingers. As much as we love to romanticize Cohen's story about learning from a nameless Flamenco player, even he admits that that relationship was fairly brief. Cohen was much more influenced by country (e.g., he has called "Bird On the Wire" a country song numerous times, and of course it is), and has said he traveled to Nashville to become a country songwriter. Anyone who has learned "Travis picking" can pick up Cohen fairly easily if he gets himself a classical guitar, and learns to loosen his joints up, keep his pinky off the damn guitar top, and hit the strings more softly. To my mind, the clawhammer-esque action of Cohen's index finger is indicated by the name for his guitar style. I've seen multiple people on this thread talk about Cohen's "chops," but I've always read Cohen himself refer to it as his "chop," minus the "s." I can't imagine even a poet calling a delicate three-finger roll a "chop." I think he literally slashes across the middle and high strings with his index finger, both with up- and down-strokes, using his second finger to embellish on the first or second strings. He may even incorporate his thumb too, in a style clawhammer banjo players sometimes refer to as "drop-thumb" (which is quite a nimble move, btw).

None of this is meant to denigrate Cohen's guitar skills. While they may be simple, simple is not "bad." Obviously his playing is distinctive enough that it gets people talking. It might not be complex, but it does take practice and finesse. Also remember that, ultimately, your hands are not Cohen's hands, and you haven't come down the same musical road he has. You will never be able to play exactly as he does, nor should you try.

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