With 40 years of teaching professionally, I have taught countless students (beginners to advanced) how to play or improve their chops.
This is the chord progression and a basic strumming pattern for Runaway Train by Soul Asylum. The band came out in the nineties, had a few hits, then promptly disappeared. This is their first and biggest hit. It is also the first song in my rhythm guitar method. All the chords are open shapes, so named, because they contain open strings. Unlike barre chords and power chords, most of these shapes are immovable. They remain firmly rooted in the first three frets. Many, many songs can be played with open shape chords. The key can be changed by implementing a capo. The fingering for the chords is notated above the grids. The 0 means open strings, the X means do not play or mute the string. I tell beginning students not to worry about trying to miss or mute the strings labelled X. Instead, it is better to develop a big strumming style. That is, the strumming hand should extend pass the stings on both the downstroke and upstroke, instead of confining the hand to a smaller movement. This confinement usually results in the pick getting caught in the strings, because it does not allow for the sweeping movement that is required.
Transcribing a rhythm part with slashes, makes a song much easier to play. There is no reliance on the lyrics to mark the chord changes. Simply, count and play. This method has proven very effective over the years.
Good rhythm playing involves keeping the strumming hand in a strict down - up movement. In this pattern, simply miss the strings on the upstroke of the first and third beats.
This song is in Common Time. This is four - four time. Most songs are written in this time signature. The top number in any time signature tells you how many beats in a measure, in this case, four. The bottom number tells you what kind of note gets one beat, in this case a quarter note.
The treble clef has to be the most recognizable sign in music. Also called the G clef, because the curl wraps around the line G on the staff. All guitar music is written in the treble clef. Keep the strumming hand moving in the strict eighth note, down - up pattern. Keep your wrist out and stay up on the tips of your fingers on the fretting hand. Don't worry if the sound of the C major chord is not that clear in the beginning. The tips of your fret hand fingers must develop calluses and harden on the ends before the proper pressure can be applied. Quite often, players treat the last strum before a chord change as open strings. This makes chord changes easier. Try not to exaggerate this. Also, as you gain experience, try accenting the second and fourth beat. This is where the snare drum plays in most songs in common time.
Don't get discouraged! It will take time before you can make the changes without stopping. Just keep the strumming hand moving in that motion and plant the chord as quick as possible. This is easy to say, but not that easy to do in the beginning. Some students get it right away, some take longer. The C major to E minor change usually comes pretty quick. When moving from the Em to Am, employ the common form technique: move the second and third finger to the next set of strings in one movement, then plant the first finger as quick as possible. The Am to G Major and G to C Major changes are difficult. Common form and common fingering cannot be applied here (unless the G Major is fingered with the alternate fingering: 2 3 4). Watch the video. You will see my strumming hand implementing that strict down - up motion.
This is the hardest part of the song. Most of the chords change after only one measure. I have substituted the FMaj7 for the F Major in the recording. The FMaj7 to G Major to C Major is a complete change of fingering. C Major to Am to FMaj7, all employ the Common Fingering technique. When moving from C to Am, hold the first and second finger in the same position and move the third finger. When moving from Am to FMaj7, hold the first finger and re-finger the second and third. This will make these changes easier. When moving from the Em to G Major, try fingering the Em with the first and second, then hold the first finger moving into the G chord. When I play this song with beginners, I usually have them sit out during the Pre-Chorus, while I play, then count them back in during the choruses.
This is same progression as the verses. Employ the same techniques. Many rock and pop songs are written in this format. If you do not feel comfortable with the strumming and continue to stumble over the changes, start by strumming a single downstroke at the beginning of the measure on each chord, then holding the chord until the next change. Remember, this won't come overnight. You must thoroughly memorize the shapes, then learn to switch cleanly between the chords.
In The Style Of Runaway Train
Full Rhythm Chart
Here is the full chart and a drum and bass track to play along with. In measure 38 on the first page, there is an eighth note rhythm slash followed by an eighth rest, quarter rest and a half rest. There must be four beats in every bar. The eighth note slash takes up half a beat as does the eighth rest. The quarter rest takes up a full beat and the half rest completes the bar by taking up two beats. In this measure, simply strum the G Major chord once, then quickly cut it off by laying your strumming hand across the strings. On the drum and bass track, you will hear a short bass fill for the rest of the bar. Continue strumming on page two.
On page three, from measures 87 to 93, there is whole note rhythm slashes. Each of these slashes gets four beats. The C Major, Em and Am chords are held for eight beats, because the tie (the curved line from one slash to the next) binds the whole note rhythm slashes together for two measures. Strum these chords once and count the eight beats. In measure 93, strum the G major once, hold for four beats, then continue the strumming pattern in measure 94. Learning to change between the chords cleanly, takes time and practice. Have fun!!!
In The Style Of Runaway Train • Full Chart • Page 1
In The Style Of Runaway Train • Backing Track
Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Prescott on May 02, 2012:
Thanks again, Barbara!
Barbara altman on May 01, 2012:
What a great song! And by the way, I love the name of your studio!
author Barbara altman
Lorne Hemmerling (author) from Prescott on April 02, 2012:
Hi Bob. The band formed in the early eighties, but didn't release the song until 1992. You had me thinking there. The song was new when I first transcribed it.....so I have been teaching this song for twenty years....yikes!
diogenes from UK and Mexico on March 31, 2012:
I play that old song in c I think. But it came out well before the 90's, no?