Apr 15

Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up". A guitar lesson (initially for myself).


Edited: Apr 18



A fresh challenge for me!


This one came up in a lesson yesterday afternoon for the first time and I've been dragged off on a new journey which I'll document here. Knowing the song quite well but without ever having thought about how to play it, my instinct was that this was a straight 4 beat. Upon listening in with my student it soon became clear I was very wrong! There's a triplet feel which I first settled on as being a 6/8 count. The problem is that it underlies a vocal rhythm which doesn't appear to have any hard structure, at least in the verse sections!


I offered my student a reasonable way of viewing things and surprisingly quickly she had a functional version running, singing and strumming. I knew I wasn't done with this one though and spent half my evening digging through for a better understanding. That sparked off the challenge I'll be undertaking here ... learning to sing the verse along with a guitar part based on the bass line from the record. This looks exceptionally challenging and as of today I can't do it ... at all!



Practising what I preach


I'm confident that my own method will yield success. The basic approach is outlined in my blog article here "Caught in a Trap? How to sing and play guitar at the same time!". I've claimed that these steps can offer success with any singing while playing challenge, and this looks to be as tough of one as I've found to date!


First stage was to come up with a simple guitar part that matches the rhythm of what the bass plays on the record. Mixing the rhythm of "Don't Give Up" with the same twiddles I've used in teaching U2's "One" gives a pattern that works comfortably over the 3 chords Am, C and G (then Am again) of the verse. You can hear it in the video below and I'll be no doubt be examining it in great depth before long in this thread.





To the drawing board!


I wrote this out in 6/8 Taplature and then worked through the first couple of rounds of the sequence adding the syllables of the lyrics where they fall against the guitar part.




Watch this space!


And that's about as far as I've got. I'm no singer, so for me this more of an investigation of mental mechanics than anything especially musical. It's also the sort of thing that often holds hidden benefits; let's see where it leads!


Join me in this thread to ask any questions, cheer me on, have a laugh, show off your skills (if you can already do this) or anything else related. Hopefully we can all learn something!





Apr 17Edited: Apr 23

Here's my first progress report and I have to say it's starting to look less challenging than I first imagined. I've spent about an hour becoming a bit more familiar with things and I can now say it all now makes sense, although reaching performance level with this one still seems some way off! I've spent substantially more time browsing through Youtube videos of this song and will add my favourites throughout this thread. This one caught my eye early on:



Paula Cole had previously performed this song with Peter Gabriel and she comments in her introduction on its unusual polyrhythmic timing. Of particular interest to me here is her pronounced foot tap, hitting a prominent 6 beats per bar throughout as in the Taplature drawn out above.



Here's a snapshot of where I'm at with things so far.



I've got here mostly by repetition to build a general overview of things (and of course I've been sure to build everything on the foot tap). Most of the time I've put in has been spent on getting the first bar down, getting comfortable with singing while playing the guitar pattern. I'll get to measuring things which stand out as being bottlenecks before long so I can ascertain some concrete progress.


In the video I'm reading semi-mechanically from the sheets (the same ones shown above) and without them I'd be struggling. On my second go around I push the speed a little and you may notice mistakes starting to creep in, notably getting the words wrong in places.


I anticipate further brute force repetition soon yielding diminishing returns and that I'll instead need to start employing some more elegant practice techniques in order to continue improving.


Just taking a side step to consider the actual time signature of this song. Although the Paula Cole version linked above obviously works well (and she's clearly viewing it in 6/8 time) during my studies to date something's been niggling me.


Googling "Don't Give Up Peter Gabriel sheet music" quickly shows that the official version is notated in 3/4 rather than 6/8 time. Having taken an initial overview this makes more sense to me and I'll be thinking of things in these terms from here on in. Below I've redrawn out my Taplature version in 3/4.


If you're not sure of the difference between the two time signatures, search "3/4 vs 6/8 time", there's plenty out there to help explain though it looks like that investigation might make a good addition to the Taplature blog before long as the foot tap is helpful in solving that puzzle. There's also a lesson in comparing my first version laid out as 6/8 with the 3/4 version below.


I've managed a couple of hours on this today and have it to this stage:



While this is further along than I'd expected at the outset of this challenge and while it probably looks fairly functional from the video evidence it still feels a long way from solid. What you can't see here is that it took me about 30 attempts to record the 3 rounds in the video with no horrendous mistakes.


I've now ditched the safety net of the written version while playing (though I'll be going back to it for practice purposes) and this recording includes (as will any future ones) the extra requirement to stay in time with a backing track. That backing is running at 80bpm which appears to be the speed of the original Peter Gabriel version.


In practice earlier I'd pushed things to over 100bpm as a stress test and things in general seemed ok. Once the camera is on though things get a whole lot tougher!


Seeing which parts have been problematic shows me where my practice will be best spent. I've been jumbling words up quite a lot throughout the discarded takes but my biggest stumbling block has been the line "No fight left or so it seems, I am a man whose". Although I can get through it I don't feel like I'm understanding it properly and if it's ever to be easy I'll need to change that. I'll take a deeper look at that part here next time.

Apr 21Edited: Apr 21

The power of "latent learning" (click for definition) is well advertised by the following video. After forgetting about this one for 48 hours I sat down tonight and without any warm-up practice, recorded the following sequence. This time things felt so much easier that I was able to push the speed substantially higher than on my last attempt where record speed (80bpm) felt about my limit.



"Stress-testing" any piece of music like this is a useful way to highlight any weak spots. As you can see in the video I don't really have any major problems with "Don't Give Up" until over 50% faster than the original, leaving the actual performance speed now well inside my comfort zone.


I've made similar Youtube videos in the past for a couple of guitar solos ...



1) Albert Lee's Country Boy back in 2010. (See a recent lesson on this one here in the Taplature Blog:









2) A Django inspired solo over "Melancholy Baby" which I needed to get in shape to play live.







While "Don't Give Up" would be unlikely to benefit from being performed live at higher speeds this approach of "stress-testing" by pushing the speed is a great way to find out where work needs to go in. Try it with anything you're working on! I guarantee you'll learn a lot!

New Posts
  • What a great lick! Click to play (from 0:07)! A very long time challenge! I first "learned" the intro to Johnny Winter's mind-blowing rendition of this BB King classic back in 1987 the old fashioned way. I had a book with the notes tabbed out and slowed my 33rpm vinyl album down to 16rpm so I could make sense of and practise it at half speed. With light gauge strings and a low action I could soon bluff it fairly well even then playing along with the record but I knew something wasn't quite right with the timing and it certainly wouldn't have held up strongly enough to play it with a band. I've never had to gig it and maybe never will but it remains another of those things which has always felt that little bit out of reach. Now, with heavier strings and a much higher action on my guitars than in the 80s (and 90s) I want to finally nail the lightning fast flurry he plays when the band drops out at the end of that intro (see video above @ 7 seconds in). Semi-success at last! A fair bit of time has been put in getting to the bottom of the actual timing and laying the notes out in Taplature format. I can't say for sure that this is how Johnny Winter was picturing the shape of the notes but after 30+ years of intermittent puzzling over this one I'm finally happy it works as intended. (Scroll down to the next post to see this played at half speed) Cracking the code I occasionally scratched my head over those 30+ years as to how the bass and drums knew when to come back in. My book just referred to this fast flurry of notes as being in "free time", indicating that the author also didn't quite understand how it all fitted together. It's not just me and him either; the outstanding Anthony Stauffer of Texas Blues Alley did a lesson on this one a while back and although he's found his own way around it he's had to mess with the timing of things a fair bit to make his version fit, adding (I think; have not fully examined) an extra beat to his backing track . Recently I decided to dig a bit to solve the mystery and have set myself the target of getting this one officially up to speed. Focusing in on the rhythm section revealed that they aren't doing anything too unusual. Both bass and drums drop out on the one beat of bar 3 (marked in red below). The drums then come back in on the one beat of bar 4 with the bass joining back in on the "and" of beat 3. Applying Occam's Razor After the straight semiquaver pickup into the fast flurry, viewing just about everything else played as triplets within triplets ( see here for an investigation of a somewhat slower but more famous example of these ) allows us to land exactly as planned when the drums kick back in. I'll sign off now and work on putting up a video of my version played through at a leisurely 30bpm, which is less than half speed (the original runs at 65bpm) so you can clearly see and hear how this one fits together.
  • I'll use this section for showing my own use of Taplature in practice. Take a look, and if you fancy joining me here feel free to start your own thread to examine the problems standing in your way on guitar. I'll be on hand to offer advice ... on the house!
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