Guitarist John Renbourn was one of the fathers of contemporary British folk music and was one of the finest fingerstyle players in the world. A founder of the seminal group Pentangle, John's music fused British and Celtic folk with blues, jazz, British early music, classic guitar and Eastern styles.
In 1964, he began studying classical guitar at the George Abbot School in Guildford. Two years later he was playing folk music in Soho where he met many other musicians, including Paul Simon, Davey Graham and most importantly, Bert Jansch. In 1967 the two founded Pentangle and remained together through 1978. Renbourn, as with the other group members, continued to release solo albums. He formed the John Renbourn Group in the 1980s. Around the mid-1980s, he teamed up with Stefan Grossman. They toured together for the next 15 years and record four albums together.
Tablature/music is available as a PDF file for each lesson. Lessons are filmed with multiple cameras and consist of a performance, explanation, and conclude with a slow tempo split screen that follows the tab/music.
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A tune written by modern jazz composer, Kenny Dorham and taken from the repertoire of British guitar innovator, Davey Graham. Still based on the basic blues form but with a slightly richer harmonic texture than typical fingerpicking blues playing. The melody is harmonized in sixths and John also teaches ways to improvise using this interval which can be applied to a 12 bar blues pattern. This is a great example of a tune with two notes in the top line played against a monotonic, "thud" bass with the right hand thumb, driving the rhythm.
A tune written by South African composer and piano player, Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim). This one has the characteristic 'District 6' feel to it (the area in Cape Town where Brand was from). A lot of music that came from this area was a combination of church and African rhythm music.
This piece and John's arrangement typifies those characteristics, a 'churchy' feel with a great groove. Employed once again are the descending 'sixths' for the harmony of the main theme which are also employed for the improvisation section. John also shows how to use doubled up bass notes, creating rhythmic 'rolls' for improvising on.
Composed by the great jazz composer and piano player, Randy Weston, when he was living in North Africa and most notably recorded by South African pianist, Dollar Brand consequently the influence of North African music on this piece is strong and is echoed throughout. This adventurous, harmonically rich, atmospheric and evocative tune has become something of a jazz standard today. John breaks down the three distinct sections and explains the harmonic thinking behind the piece.
John also teaches ideas for an improvised section based on the chord harmony of the piece. Beautiful dissonance, counterpoint lines and most importantly a magical melody are the pillars of this piece.
A very well established British ballad about Sir John Franklin’s expedition to find a trade route to the east in the 1830’s. The guitar arrangement uses traditional chord shapes that are changed slightly by the use of open string ‘drones’ which gives a little more sustain and adds a modal element to the tonality of the song. Often the chords are played with no third tone which makes the accompaniment more open and compliments the beautiful melody that is sung over the top. The right hand incorporates a melodic line throughout with the use of ‘slides’ giving the accompaniment a nice lyrical quality.
Abide With Me is a well known Victorian Welsh hymn tune. The aim is to, as John says, “make the guitar sound like a whole congregation” when playing this one! A beautiful melody arranged with some very tasteful embellishments. Great Dreams From Heaven is a cheerful, 3/4 time tune from the repertoire of Joseph Spence, the great Bahamian guitar player and singer. A cross between a hymn tune and a calypso. There are a great many songs that are attached to this melody, one being “The Masters Banquet”, an early bluegrass song that the Stanley Brothers recorded.
Bunyan's Hymn is a very well known English hymn tune, which is associated with John Bunyan because the words are all about being a pilgrim. A beautiful melody played slowly and encased in strong harmony. I Saw Three Ships is a popular, traditional Christmas carol from England in a bouncy 6/8
time featuring two distinct sections with a very simple motif and a charming refrain. The English Dance. A medieval dance tune, John used to joke that this was one of the few English dance pieces from this period of English music. It features a melodic tune in a major key that repeats against driving, sonorous bass notes played on the open strings.
Judy is an original composition by John inspired by the “folk/baroque” piece, Anji by British guitar player Davey Graham. John describes Judy as, “a piece of mock medieval minimalism”. Played with a back beat in 3/4 time against an appealing syncopated melodic pattern. Anji is the hugely influential piece composed by British guitar player, Davey Graham Influenced by the monotonic right hand bass style of Big Bill Bronzy and also the song ‘Cocaine Bill’, it was the piece that inspired the term ‘folk-baroque’. it was also recorded by Bert Jansch and Paul Simon. When you were a budding folk guitar player in England you HAD to be able to play this tune!! The essence of these two tunes is that they both have three sections with counterpoint bass and treble lines.
Lament For Owen Roe O’Neill was supposedly written by the Irish composer and harpist, Turlough O’Carolan. Being a lament it should be played slow and harp
like so the right hand technique features very slow arpeggios. A mysterious, ghostly piece. The Mist Covered Mountains of Home is an evocative pipe
tune from the Scottish highlands which John has arranged so that the tune is in the bass and the ornamentation comes from playing open stringed arpeggios
on the top strings. This creates a glistening, ‘open’ and sustained sound. The Orphan - an Irish jig. John has arranged the tune in a way that tries
to bring out the stylistic ‘turns’, ‘crans’ and ‘burls’, all techniques commonly used by pipers and fiddle players in performing traditional Irish
music. The guitar is tuned: DGDGBbD
The South Wind is one of the best known slow aires from West Clare, down in the west of Ireland. The challenge in playing the arrangement is to make it sustain and allow this truly beautiful melody to shine through. The first and second time around much of the melody is played on the bass strings with the decoration coming from the top strings. John then plays the melody up the octave which opens up the arrangement and gives variation. The string bends up to some of the notes make the tune extra emotive and lyrical.
The Blarney Pilgrim is one of the most well known and popular jigs/fiddle tunes in traditional Irish music. John's arrangement brings together the highly melodic, three distinct sections with a counterpoint bass making it a very fun piece to play.
Tramps and Hawkers is a slow aire and one of the perennial Scottish traditional songs with a very nice set of words to it. The melody has been used for a number of other songs, most notably Bob Dylan’s “I Pity the Poor Immigrant”. The melody, largely played on the bass strings, gives the tune a rich, sonorous feel. Lindsey is a song written by the great Archie Fisher who was one of the biggest early influences on the British guitar players along with Davey Graham. Archie’s influence was stronger from the traditional standpoint. This is a perfect example of a song where the vocal line mirrors the melodic line of the guitar producing highly effective results.
An original soulful composition by John which has three separate sections with each section doing something slightly different. It has a counterpoint bass pattern that goes up and a top line that goes down. John explains, “some of the fun of this music is to play lines against moving lines and there are hundreds of tunes that use this idea”. It has a ‘churchy’ feel to it with elements of R&B, diminished chord tones, sixth harmonies, octaves and wonderful, bluesy string bends.
A funky R&B tune composed by the great Booker T Jones (of Booker T and the MG’s) arranged by John for solo fingerstyle guitar. Essentially a 12 bar blues progression but with an intriguing model turnaround. It incorporates an ‘illusory’ bass line while the melody is being played at the same time, achieved by the use of a percussive right hand technique. There’s also an improvisation section which incorporates Bert Jansch-eque ‘rolls’, doubled up bass notes and piano like ‘sixth’ harmonies. “What I like about this type of tune is that it has parts with a steady bass and a top line, It’s really pretty” says John.
A 12 bar tune composed by jazz drummer, Chico Hamilton and tenor saxophonist/flautist, Charles Lloyd. “Chico Hamilton and Charles Lloyd were quite a big influence on myself, Bert (Jansch) and Davey (Graham) who were sitting around listening to music other than traditional folk music. What was appealing about groups like Charles Lloyd’s, Chico Hamilton’s, John Handy’s, Charles Mingus, a lot of bands of that type were using horns and the rest of the instruments not simply as solo or rhythm sections but as a kind of integrated counterpoint and that was the appeal of that music.” says John. This is a great example of how one might take a big band tune and arrange it for a self contained, solo fingerstyle piece. It features bluesy sting bends and more harmonically ‘sophisticated’ chord tones. John also teaches ideas for an improvised section.
A traditional American children's song that became very popular in the 1960s folk/blues scene in England. The chord harmonies for most of the song are based on the "sixth" interval with a drone open top string. This gives you a different approach and a more "open" sound to playing full chords which might be the "typical" style for an American folk song accompaniment. John teaches variations for the picking patterns that can be used for the improvised instrumental breaks. A great one to learn for someone beginning to fingerpick.