How to Simplify a Song

In this lesson I want to help you make use of written music for songs that may seem difficult or impossible to play. There are a few ways that you can alter the music to make it more playable, which will also make it more fun!

Begin by choosing a few songs that you like but might not like what happens when you try to play them. At this stage, choose songs that are written in a key that uses chords that you either already know how to play or can learn easily. I will show you in other lessons how to either use a capo or transpose, both of which will allow you to play songs written in difficult keys.

When you have decided on a song, look at the number of chords in each measure and determine if there are measures that have more chords than you can handle. If this is the case, you may be able to eliminate some of the chords without changing the harmonic structure of the song. If, for instance, a song has C, G, C, C all in the same measure, you may be able to just stay on C the entire measure without having to switch to the G at all. Before eliminating any chords, you will need to determine which is the most important chord (or chords) in the measure, using your ear as your guide.

You may find it helpful in some instances to move chords over a beat. It is common to find a chart written with one chord for the first three beats of a measure, and a different chord for the fourth beat. In many cases, it is not only acceptable, but will actually sound better if you move the second chord in the measure from the fourth beat to the third, allowing you more time to prepare for the upcoming measure. By having the chord changes occur on the first and third beats of the measure, you will also be able to easily divide your picking or strumming pattern to accommodate the chord change.

A chord symbol followed by a slash mark and another note name indicates that the chord should be played with the note following the slash mark as the bass note. Although this is actually preferable, it is not absolutely necessary, so if it feels too difficult to play as marked, feel free to play the chord without the bass note that is called for.

Altered or extended chords can seem daunting at first glance. If a chord symbol has a number after the letter, or pitch class, that number refers to the note that is that interval above the root of the chord. In other words, a C6 would be a C chord with the note A added, since A is six up from C. (It helps to count on your fingers: “C” will be counted on your first finger, “D” on your second, and so on.) If you are not ready to learn the 6 chord, you can just play the major triad (the chord “C”, in this case) and it will sound fine. Use the instruction in this article to learn more about handling altered and extended chords.

Experiment with these suggestions and see how many songs become possible for you to play. Have fun  – and let me know if you need help!