How to Play 'Skinny Love' by Bon Iver

Here's a tutorial from my archives on how to play 'Skinny Love' by Bon Iver. Tabs can be found below.  Click on the image to download a .pdf.

I based my transcription on the original recording and this live performance:

The song is from Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album ‘For Emma Forever Ago’.  In the original recording (and when played live) the song is played on a resonator guitar.  I am using my trusty Yamaha folk guitar with steel strings.  I would definitely recommend steel strings for this.  Avoid doing it on a classical or electric guitar.

The guitar is tuned to an open C tuning (i.e. the open strings give the sound of a C major chord).  The tuning of the guitar though is slightly lower than the notes that I tell you to tune to.  That’s why it might sound pretty horrible if you tune to 440 Hz and try to play along to the song.  Have a listen to the song and reference the open C chord if you want to try and make the adjustment to play along to the original. 

To get into the tuning for the song, you need to do as follows:

E (string 6) tunes DOWN two tones/whole steps to C
A (string 5) tunes DOWN a tone/whole step to G
D (string 4) tunes UP a tone/whole step to E (always be careful when tuning strings up!)
G (string 3) STAYS the same :o)
B (string 2) tunes UP a semitone/half step to C
E (string 1) tunes DOWN two tones/whole steps to C

Note that both strings 1 and 2 are tuned to the same note.

There is a pretty consistent tied strumming pattern throughout the song, but we are in a shuffle feel here.  Simply put, if we are strumming 8th notes down and up, the down strum is longer in length than the up strum.  You can split the beat into a count of 3 (or triplets).  You strum down on the 1 and back up on the 3 count.

How To Strum Your Guitar FAST - 16th Note Strumming

A strumming pattern can give a song its iconic sounds just as much as any riffs or chord progression.  In many cases the rhythm of the song is THE main hook for our ears.  For this reason it’s important that we’re confident with how we play and understand complicated strumming patterns.

I have introduced a lot of what I call 16th-note strumming patterns in my song tutorials without discussing the technique in any great depth.  This video lesson will hopefully correct that and help you understand more what I’m talking about.

I’m assuming that you are familiar with the basics of rhythm and the subdivision of a measure into its different rhythms, from whole through to 8th notes. 

To recap briefly, with 8th notes we are strumming down on the beat (which we call the downbeat) and up in the gaps between the beat (upbeats) and this rhythm was counted “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and”.  From this we are able to create many different strumming patterns, but only on the basis that the strumming pattern does not contain any notes quicker than 8th notes.

8th note strumming (D = Down Strum, U = Up Strum)

8th note strumming (D = Down Strum, U = Up Strum)

Famous strumming patterns often have busier strumming patterns with more than 8 notes in the measure, so let’s consider what’s going on.

To add more notes to our measure we must strum the 8th notes all down.  This then creates an additional two up strums to every beat.  How we count these is with an ‘e’ and an ‘a’, so we are counting ‘1 e + a 2 e + a 3 e + a 4 e + a’.  We now have 16 notes to every 4-beat measure, and we name these notes 16th notes.  Note from the look of them that they are similar to 8th notes but we add a second beam between the notes to show them as 16ths.

16th note strumming - 4 strums per beat

16th note strumming - 4 strums per beat

The key to success with any 16th note strum is to NEVER let the strumming hand stop moving.   I cannot stress this enough.  To practice this you first have to be confident with strumming 8th notes all down along to a beat.  Then try strumming once on the beat but keep the strumming hand moving in the 16th note pattern.  This might feel odd initially but it is key to be successful with this technique.

Finally you can go ahead and strum all 16th notes along to a beat.  To ensure that you are not mindlessly strumming up and down, add a little accent to the first 16th note of every beat to make it clear to yourself and the listener where the beat is.

Once you’ve mastered this, you’re in a position to try some strumming patterns.  Like 8th note strumming, the exciting rhythms are creating by sometimes hitting and sometimes missing the strings, because remember…we NEVER let the strumming hand stop moving.

As with everything, you need to work with a metronome and take your time.  Perfect practice makes perfect.  The second your strumming hand stops moving stop and start again.  You can also chunk longer rhythms into one or two beat sections, building it up bit by bit.

How To Move Chord Shapes - My Awesome Chord Trick

Here is a guitar lesson on an idea so awesome in its simplicity.  Have you ever wondered why chords sound different as we move them up and down the strings sets?  Now I don’t mean the pitch, more the quality of a chord (major/minor etc).  Why if I have an E shape chord and move that down a string don’t I have an A chord?

We have a problem with the tuning of the guitar, but with a couple of simple rules I will show you how to get around that and be memorising your chords and learning new chords in seconds.

The first simple rule is, when moving a chord shape down towards the floor any note moving from string 3 on to string 2 must be raised one fret.  So looking again at my E chord, if I move that shape down my first finger is on string 2 and that note must be raised by one fret, and then I have myself an A chord.  If I continue down to try and play a D chord, I’m in the second fret on string 2 and that has to be raised a fret. It’s that simple!

Going in the opposite direction, the opposite will be true. and we have our second rule  So any note moving from string 2 onto string 3 must be LOWERED by one fret.  

This is how you can radically accelerate your learning of chord shapes on the fretboard.  This rule will also apply to scales, arpeggios, triads and any other pattern you find yourself playing.