Creating a Fingstyle Arrangement from Scratch (feat. Graceland by Paul Simon)

Lesson #511 • Aug 28, 2023

Hey there, friends! New lesson today where I show you two different ways to fingerpick Paul Simon’s 1986 classic Graceland. This one isn’t as much a direct “play it like Paul” tutorial. Instead, I’ll show the process I just went through (over the past week) in working out some fingerstyle options for this song — trying to find the balance between accessibility (easy to play!) vs. making it sound like Paul.

Straight up, I can’t play like Paul. I’m likewise miles behind the likes of Josh Turner, whose from-the-couch cover of this song perfectly captures Simon’s vibe. Unlike both Paul and Josh (who play this in E major), I’ll be in the Key of C – which is my preferred key this type of fingerpicking. I’ll show the process of transposing the song from the Key of C, teach the beginner-friendly chords I started using, and then walk through some of the more advanced stuff I worked out after getting some confidence.

In case you didn’t see it, lesson #509 — which I posted last week — is very much a prequel to this lesson. Here, I’ll continue to pull on some of the threads from that earlier lesson, mainly grab-and-go Travis Picking in the Key of C. I hope you enjoy!

  • 0:00 Summary
  • 3:04 Changing the Key
  • 5:56 Keep it Simple to Start
  • 7:09 Using Custom Chord Voicings?
  • 9:58 Advanced Version (Verse)
  • 13:43 Advanced Version (Chorus)
  • 16:28 Dialing It Back When Needed

Instructional PDF 3 pages

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It includes all of my notes for this lesson, allowing you to follow along at your own pace. You're free to download, print, and share the PDF across your devices.

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Playthrough (Simplified Version)

Here’s me playing through the song using the more basic Travis Picking pattern (identical to what I teach in lesson #509). This one is much easier to play, due to the half-time picking speed. This gives extra mental bandwidth you can devote to singing, the chord changes, or the picking itself. Definitely start with this!

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Playthrough (Advanced Version)

Here’s a playthrough where I use the more advanced picking pattern. This one is tough! The picking speed is twice as fast on the bass notes, leaving much less room for distraction. I actually need to dial down the melody notes while singing, lest I lose the groove altogether. But oh, is it a joy to capture some of these Simon-esque riffs!

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Paul Simon’s Graceland Album Recording

Joshua Turner’s Graceland Cover

Josh Skaja’s Graceland Deep-Drive

Good Guitarist’s Graceland Lesson

Here’s a handful of related lessons on the topic of Travis Picking, as it pertains to what I teach here.

Interested in a Song Sheet for Graceland?

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