Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road
Her Perspective: Top 10 Songs to Learn on the Guitar and Play at a Campfire
- Category: Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road
- on Fri Feb 11, 2011
- by Brooke Stephens on Fri Feb 11, 2011 - (1) Comments
Each night, Mark sits down with the guitar and his Macbook and looks up new songs to play - he is itching to lead some campfire songs this spring. It's fun to listen- he's got a great ear and is naturally coordinated enough to already make the guitar sound alive with music. I have no doubt that in a month he'll master the chord changes for some great songs and will get to shine at our next campfire circle.
His biggest challenge remains....the singing.
I was thinking about the songs he's learning, and the artists who made those songs into hits. So many favorite songs' appeal is based at least in some degree on the vocal ability of a superstar performer who had a top-of-the-line singing voice. Fun to copy, yes. But such performer's songs are not the easiest sing-along type songs for average (or non-) music ability folks. And anyone who has tried listening to a 7th grade girl at a Junior High school basketball game imitate Christina Aguilera's dramatic note-bending style in The Star-Spangled Banner will agree with me...the pro's make singing "that way" sound easy, but it takes a one in a million voice to really pull it off (and even the superstars leave something to be desired).
No doubt, you should aspire to play all of the songs you want to learn. But don't forget- there is a whole cache of music whose entire purpose was not to show off a hot-selling voice but to be sung along with by average folks. These songs are much easier for beginning players and singers.
So, here are Brooke's top 10 folksy sing-a-long-able songs to learn on guitar and play at a campfire. (Also, this is partly for Sabine, who commented on Mark's previous guitar song blog-post that she thought it was going to be a song list for children!) Yes, some of these are corny and will be more for the kids than the median-age adults in the group. But everyone will be able to join in, which makes the experience more rewarding. As a choir teacher, I've observed that people in a group don't care so much about what the music is or if it's cool versus corny. They just want to be able to sound like they're sort-a matching and share in the fun of it together.
- She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain - Super easy for adults and kids to pick up by ear because of the repetition. It should also be simple for beginners to master on the guitar with just 5 chords. Bonus: the kids can make up more verses for fun if you forget what comes next.
- I've Been Workin' on the Railroad - Everyone loves a little "Fee-Fie- Fiddly-eye-oh, strummin' on the ole banjo"; Try it in D for the best voice range for both adults and kids.
- This Little Light of Mine - Classic Gospel children's song from the 1930s (anything written for children singers will be much easier on voices), and it's got just a 6-note range in the melody. I learned it in the Key of G.
- Michael Row Your Boat Ashore as recorded by Bob Gibson - Originally an African-American Spiritual from the Civil War era. One of the easiest melodies on the list to sing with mostly intervals of steps and major thirds; Key of D works well for playable guitar chords and medium vocal range.
- This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie - Every child in America should have to sing this song in order to be promoted beyond 5th grade. Its patriotic message and catchy melody have stood the test of generations. A Must-Learn for me on guitar!
- Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel - Rolling Stone named this song #47 on the list of Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. If you want to have an emotional "friends are friends forever" moment with your buddies, this is the one.
- California Dreamin' by The Mamas & The Papas - I had to learn this song back in college for my one-semester guitar class. Recently, pulling out all my old guitar music, I found the chords. Perfect for beginning guitarists (Em, D, C, D repeats throughout with a B7 at the endings).
- Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver - In the same guitar class, I also had to teach my class a song, and I chose Take Me Home, Country Roads. The words are perfectly suited for being outside around a campfire. It's a little trickier in the chord changes, and it's more difficult in the melody line for novice singers, but it's got a lot of repetition so it passes my standard.
- Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan - This has been covered by hundreds of artists, so it's gotta be singable, right? It is #14 on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time list (2004). Enough said?!
- Let it Be by Lennon/McCartney - Written in the key of C, this will challenge you on the guitar more than some others on this list. I know, this isn't exactly a folk song, either. Hey, we all have our weaknesses. This song just makes my heart happy- I wish I had one ounce of this kind of music-writing talent.
Bonus Favorite: Landslide by Fleetwood Mac - As I wrote this blog post, Landslide came on my Pandora radio station. I already knew I was going to include it, but oh the way the Universe comes together sometimes. I think Mark's voice will sound great on this song- if I can just get him to learn it and serenade me this Valentine's day, my life will be complete.