Rockschool Acoustic Guitar: Cover Stars, Part 1

To celebrate the release of the Rockschool Acoustic Guitar re-tune this September, each week we will break down the story behind every track from the cover-star that appears on every grade book in the series. This week’s Level 1 publications (Debut – Grade 3) includes The Lumineers, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Taylor Swift and David Bowie.

Debut: The Lumineers – Ho Hey

‘Ho Hey’ was the first single to be released from The Lumineers’ self-titled debut album in 2012. The song gave them their first hit, achieving chart success globally. On its release it charted at number 90 on the US Billboard Hot 100, which may have seemed disappointing at first – but with patience the band saw an excellent result for their first single. ‘Ho Hey’ became known as a ‘sleeper hit’ and slowly climbed the charts, starting at position 90 in June 2012 and finally breaking the top ten in November 2012 at number 8. Not stopping there, the song achieved top ten status in the UK, Canada, France, Australia and Switzerland to name but a few.

The Lumineers are an American folk-rock band, founded by frontman Wesley Schultz and drummer/percussionist Jeremiah Fraites. Starting out as a covers band in New York in 2005, the pair soon discovered their ability to write catchy hooks together and so began gigging their original material. During their early days gigging around Brooklyn, they became increasingly frustrated with disinterested crowds. In response to this, ‘Ho Hey’ was originally written to taunt those gig-goers who refused to listen to the live music. By adding in the shouts of ‘Ho’ and ‘Hey’ the songwriting duo felt sure they could demand the attention of their audience. Needless to say, it worked and the single brought them global recognition with two Grammy nominations in 2012, for Best Americana Album and Best New Artist.

This arrangement uses the partial/smaller chord shapes taught at this level, and so links well with the technical exercises, giving you twice the opportunity to practice these finger placements. Where the C chord is based around the A, D and G strings, we see how these chords can be expanded in the lower register – using notes from our C major scale. Interest is added in the rhythms through the use of dotted notes, eighth note rests and upbeat eighth notes. This is very common in modern songwriting and helps phrases to flow more naturally, so really mastering these will certainly transfer to other songs you are learning at this level.

Grade 1: Bob Marley & the Wailers – Redemption Song

‘Redemption Song’ features on Bob Marley & the Wailers’ ninth album, Uprising, released in 1980. The song’s original recording consists of a solo performance by Marley, accompanying himself on the guitar, and still feels like one of the most important moments of his career. In October 1980 a single version of the song was released and featured a full band version on its B-Side. The single was released in the UK and France and although it failed to chart, it has since become one of the most iconic compositions in the history of popular music.

‘Redemption Song’ was written while Marley battled with the cancer that eventually took his life. Having been diagnosed in 1977 with a rare form of malignant melanoma, Marley sadly passed away on 11th May 1981; being honoured with a state funeral at which the Jamaican Prime Minister gave the final eulogy before he was buried with his beloved guitar.

Both throughout his career and posthumously, Marley was awarded and honoured for both his music and humanitarian work. In 1981 Marley was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit for his renowned international distinction in the arts. His accolades and achievements are endless, with only a few including an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2001 and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year.

Early on, ‘Redemption Song’ puts your picking hand accuracy to the test. It is best practise to repeat these sections slowly to become familiar with which notes land on which strings. Dotted rhythms also feature here, so taking care not to rush the rhythms through these bars will ensure a stable and strong opening to the performance. An even strumming hand attack is important to establish and maintain continuity in your performance, and the strumming indications are a great help in developing a fluid arm motion through this piece.

Hailed as one of the most influential figures in bringing reggae to the mass market, Marley’s music remains hugely important to the music industry today. With countless musicians having covered his work, including Stone Roses, Stevie Wonder, Chris Cornell and Joe Strummer (to name but a few) it is evident that he continues to inspire musicians to this day.


Grade 2: Taylor Swift – We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together

‘We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together’ was the lead single release from Taylor Swift’s fourth studio album, Red. Written by Swift and the enigmatic duo, Martin and Shellback, the hit peaked at number 4 on the UK Singles Chart while topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the artist’s home country. The tracks digital downloads contributed the majority of sales that delivered the single to the top of the US chart (the original release debuting at 72). Despite the ‘bubblegum pop’ hit featuring a production style reliant on both synths and drum machines, the country radio edit – which why a key influence on our version – replaces this sound with an acoustic feel, using mandolins, banjos and percussion, shows Swift returning back to her country roots.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1989, by the age of fourteen Swift had already moved to Nashville chasing her dream of a career in music. Shortly after moving she signed to Big Machine Records and became the youngest artist in history to join the Sony/ATV Music Publishing House. At the age of just sixteen, Swift released her self-titled debut album and saw it reach number 5 on the US Billboard 200 chart. Her third single release, ‘Our Song’, saw the talented singer become the youngest ever artist to have written and performed a number 1 song on the Hot Country Songs chart.

Throughout her career Swift has been nominated for a staggering 32 Grammy Awards, winning an impressive ten. Her talents have been honoured by both the Nashville Songwriters Association and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2015 Rolling Stone ranked her in their 100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time. With more than 50 million album sales and 150 million single downloads, Swift is one of the top five most downloaded artists worldwide. Since 2012, the singer’s three album releases have all topped the UK charts, and she has had 12 UK top 10’s so far. ‘Red’ performed incredibly, topping the charts in Australia, China, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. With enormous sales throughout the world, the album was certified 2 x Platinum in the UK and 7 x Platinum in the US.

There are multiple technical and musical challenges that need to be mastered before your performance will sound musically convincing. Suspended and Add chords combine with rests and more complex strumming patterns to really illustrate the progression to Grade 2. Pick hand muting will also be needed to accurately play the 16th note rests that immediately proceed 16th note open string passages. This sort of quick muting action is leading into more advanced techniques at later grades, and so mastering it here will save work at a later point as well as leading to a stronger performance.

Grade 3: David Bowie/Nirvana – The Man Who Sold the World

‘The Man Who Sold the World’ was the title track for David Bowie’s third studio album and was released in the US in 1970, and in the UK the following year. Although Bowie’s original version surprisingly failed to chart in the UK, the song did achieve UK chart success in 1974 with Lulu’s famous cover, which peaked at number 3. Between the years of 1995 and 1997 Bowie famously reworked his live version of the song, introducing atmospheric synthesisers, drum machinesand a new bassline, before returning to the original version in the 2000s.

Despite overwhelmingly positive reviews, the album failed to chart in the UK or the US on its initial release. However, on its rerelease in 1972 word of Bowie’s genius had begun to spread and it peaked at number 23 on the UK Album chart. With several artists having claimed the album as having had a huge influence on their own work, including The Cure, Gary Numan and Nirvana, the record has left behind a legacy. Not only this but the album is hailed by many as the launch of Glam Rock, along with the appearance of Marc Bolan on Top of the Pops in December 1970 – performing his first UK hit ‘Ride a White Swan’ in a glittery top.

David Bowie’s career spanned six decades and could be considered equal to none other. Known for his individuality, alter egos and musical entrepreneurship, the artist was loved across the globe and his list of accolades is endless. Not only a hugely talented songwriter and musician, Bowie was also an award-winning actor with some of his most memorable roles including Thomas Jerome in ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (which won him Best Actor at the Saturn Awards) and Jareth in the 1986 hit ‘Labyrinth’. With a staggering 19 Grammy Nominations throughout his career, of which he won 5, four BRIT awards (including the Outstanding Contribution to Music award in 1996) and countless other recognitions it would be very difficult to try and summarise his success and influence. In 2000, Bowie was to be honoured with a CBE and knighthood, both of which he turned down, a perfect example of the humbleness that epitomised this incredible artist.

In terms of musicality and technical control, this Grade 3 piece combines already familiar ideas with new elements to create a challenging performance that reflects the transition from Grade 2 to Grade 3. The real challenge with the chords is to ensure that all notes ring out and that larger barre chords are kept even. Whilst it is important to isolate small sections during the practise, it can also prove beneficial to repeat larger sections as a way to highlight technical issues that need addressing.

In 2016, Bowie released his 25th studio album Blackstar on his 69th birthday. Sadly, the artist lost his quiet battle with liver cancer two days after and left his fans in mourning. With many looking back at the last album as a beautifully crafted goodbye, Bowie remained an inspired creator until the very end. It can only be assumed that he will continue to influence and inspire for future generations of music fans.

That’s it for our level 1 grades! Stay tuned for the level 2 breakdown hitting your screens soon!

Do you, or your students, feel prepared to take on an exam this term?



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