Fingerstyle Guitar Duets – Doug Young and Teja Gerken

My friend Doug Young, along with Teja Gerken, recently wrote a really cool article for Acoustic Guitar Magazine on fingerstyle guitar duets. They look at various ways to arrange for two guitars, and present a tasty version St Anne’s Reel for two guitars.

Fingerstyle guitar duets are one of my favorite configurations. With two players who both have the ability to play melody, bassline, and inner voicings there are alot of different possibilities. From straight melody and chords to harmony and counterpoint it can really fill out the sound compared to one guitar. This is something I have been wanting to explore in my own music, and plan to use some of the approaches outlined in the article. Definitely worth checking out.

Fingerstyle Guitar – Nail Shape

I came across this great video of classical guitarist Scott Tennant talking about nail shape. I think it applies equally as well to steel string fingerpickers.

There are alot of picking hand approaches to fingerstyle guitar. Folks pick with no nail, natural nails, artificial nails, or fingerpicks and all sound great. I think it comes down to personal preference and what sort of tone you are looking for. Having started off with classical guitar my preference is for natural nails, and thankfully mine are strong enough to hold up on steel strings. I have generally gone with Shape #1 in the vdeo, where the nail roughly mimics the contour of my fingertip. It has worked well enough for me over the years, and I think my tone is decent. However, lately I have been wanting to experiment with ramp shape #3 in the video. My friend classical guitarist William Bajzek gets a killer tone with this nail shape, both on classical and steel string. Really warm, thick, and rich. I think I may let my nails grow out a bit and give this shape another go.

Its always funny when you get a bunch of grown men together who play fingerstyle guitar and they invariably talk about the shape and maintenance of their fingernails.

Tunes in the Gorge

Here I am having a few quick tunes with my friend David McPike during a hike in the Columbia River Gorge. I am fortunate that we have some spectacular trails only half an hour outside of town. Two flutes are alot of fun and we don’t get to play together as much as I would like, so we brought our instruments along. Gilbert and Mir are cooling off from the hike.

Photo by Windie Chow

Musical Activities

I have been spending some time lately on other musical activities and wanted to write about them a bit here. While arranging celtic music for solo guitar will always be my main thing, it is a relatively lonely pursuit and I enjoy playing music with others too. There is just a bigger energy and sound that comes with three or four people playing together. I recently started playing in a band with three other folks. I am on guitar/flute/banjo, and we also have a mandolin player, accordian, and percussion, courtesy of Vash.  We have just had a few practices so far but are coming up with some good material, which looks to be a mixture of irish music, folk, and bluegrass. Our initial goal is to gig in the Portland area, and look for some photos and audio samples here in the coming months.

The other thing I have been trying to do more of is music composition. In particular multi tracking in my home studio. I have a modest but effective setup that includes Logic Pro, a Presonus Mobile interface, and Line Audio and ADK mics. I record in our office but the room has a bit of acoustic treatment and I can get a half decent sound, provided the bus is not going by or the folks across the street are not installing a roof. How I wish for a sound proof room..

I have always been interested in composing but once the celtic music bug bit that kind of took precedence. In the recent years I have been wanting to get back to creating some original music and am finally dedicating some time to it. With so much new media these days in the form of video games, mobile applications, and web content there seem to be more opportunities to have your music licensed and possibly make a bit of money. I am sure the competition is still fierce but at least there are more options than just moving to LA and trying to become a hollywood composer. As with alot of things I think networking and who you know is key. Being able to compose good music has to be a given. There are a number of services that will shop your music to potential clients. My solo cd is represented by a local Portland company Marmoset Music.

While they sound awesome I do not have the background to compose Hans Zimmer-esque orchestral battle scenes, so that is not really what I am shooting for.  I am more inspired to compose with the instruments I can already play (guitar, banjo, flute, mando) augmented with some MIDI sounds.  I have been listening alot to David Hamburger lately, a blues/jazz musician who made the transition into scoring.  He plays most of the fretted instrument family, combining them with percussion and strings on occasion. His stuff is mostly rooted in the blues/jazz/americana camp, which is something I could see myself doing. Ill need to get a Fender Telecaster first though.

I am also a bit of a video game fan and have been inspired lately by game music. Danny Baranowsky has composed some beautiful music for games such as the Binding of Issac and Super Meat Boy. Darren Korb combined acoustic instruments with beats and samples for the game Bastion in a style he describes as “acoustic frontier trip hop”.

So I will be posting here from time to time about my compositional activities and will probably put up some musical samples as well. I know its a bit of a stretch from celtic guitar and traditional music, but to me its all music so its all good.



Flatpicking in CFCGCD Tuning

Lately I have been spending some of my practice time exploring the CFCGCD tuning. Steve Baughman uses it for a few tunes on his Celtic Guitar DVD, and John Doyle talks about it some in a recent issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

I am amazed at how quickly some folks can pick up tunings and seem to map out the fingerboard in minutes.  At the Swannanoa Gathering Guitar Week last summer I was lucky to take a few classes from John Doyle, one of which was Vocal Accompaniment.. We looked at different ways to play behind songs, and John switched around from Drop D, DADGAD, and CFCGCD tunings demonstrating different approaches and tonalities. He seemed to very quickly map out the tuning and be able to utilize its unique sound in the context of the song. I guess that is why he is one of the best.

At the moment I am interested in CFCGCD more for flatpicking and rhythmic backup. I have been putting a capo at the second fret, which brings the tuning to DGDADE. That gives us three open D strings, which is good for celtic music, since D is such a common tonality. If you look at the fifth, fourth, third, and first strings you have the notes GDAE, which is the same as the mandolin. This allows a few different keys to lay logically in first position. The second string can cause some tricky string crossing with the picking hand, but its nothing that can’t be overcome with a bit of practice.

I have not figured out many chords in this tuning yet, just a few movable shapes that allow one to play modal chords. When backing up celtic tunes i tend to avoid chords with lots of thirds, preferring roots, fifths, and octaves.

My flatpicking is still a work in progress but here is a tune I have been enjoying lately, John Henry’s Favorite. It is a nice simple reel in D which I first heard from the flute player John Creaven. Check out the yotube video below, and you can download the TAB if you want to learn to play the tune.

Download MP3
Download TAB

I hope you enjoy it, and in the future I will post some more tunes in this fun new tuning. As always, feel free to get in touch with questions.

Guitar Lessons in Portland and Online

Hi Folks,

I have some room for additional guitar students and have added a lessons section to my website. Lessons are $40/hr and take place at my home in North Portland. Distance learning via Skype or iChat is also an option. I believe students should get enjoyment out of the material they are learning while building sound technique and good musicianship. Possible areas of study include:

  • Beginners, learning your first chords, scales, and strumming patterns
  • Learning basic fingerpicking, whether to accompany vocals or play instrumental music
  • Exploring alternate tunings like Drop D, DADGAD, or CGDGCD
  • Celtic backup, looking at tuning options, chord choices, and strumming patterns.
  • Flatpicking celtic tunes on guitar
  • Creating fingerstyle arrangements of traditional or original melodies.

Please get in touch to discuss your specific needs and schedule an initial time to chat.





I’ve been exploring the CFCGCD tuning a bit more lately. Last summer at guitar camp John Doyle was talking about how he used it, and I messed around with it some, then got distracted by something else. Then a few issues ago Acoustic Guitar Magazine featured him on the cover, and they covered the CFCGCD tuning a bit. So that prompted me to revisit it. I figured out a few basic chords and have listed them on this a PDF below.


In my opinion this tuning really shines for celtic backup and melody playing when you capo at the second fret. That gives you DGDADE. I love using the Orkney tuning, which is CGDGCD, for my fingerstyle arrangements as most of you probably know. I have worked out a good system for backup in that tuning as well with a capo at the second fret, giving me the notes DAEADE. I like the chords and that face that I can get alot of Root-octave-unison voicings. My ear tends to gravitate towards that sound when backing celtic tunes. But Orkney is not great for flatpicking with a capo at the second fret. The lack of an open D note on the 4th string makes alot of melody playing more difficult than I would like. D is such a pivotal note in celtic music. I could just retune to Drop D, which I have done some in the past and when I play in my duo with Rich. But I have never been happy with my backup in Drop D, and the chords are alot of work for the left hand. I probably just don’t do it enough.

Anyways, messing around with this CFCGCD tuning has been alot of fun. The app I use to generate the chord charts does not work so well when you want to indicate a capo. So I would recommend putting a capo on the second fret and trying these same chord shapes. Just transpose the chord names up a whole step. G becomes A, C becomes D, etc.

Coming up, I will post some tunes I have been flatpicking i this tuning, along with notation and video. If you look at the 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 1st strings you have the notes GDAE, which is just like the fiddle. So alot of melody lays really nicely on the fingerboard.

Guitarbench Issue 2 and New Videos

Hi Folks,

Man, its been a bit since the last blog update. I apologize for that, life has been busy. I have been doing a bit of writing for some online guitar magazines, improving my home studio setup, as well as working the day job and just dealing with the regular responsibilities of life.

Issue 2 of GuitarBench magazine is out, and includes an article by me with a simple arrangement of the Irish Sea. Check it out and let me know what you think!

Fellow fingerstyle guitarist Doug Young just recently posted a brilliant arrangement of Princess Royal that is loosely based on a version of mine. I really like the moving basslines he added, as well as the intro theme.

I recently got a new video camera and have finally had time to shoot a little something. I am still getting the hang of it, but I am happy with the camera so far. Its just a cheap JVC model that cost me $200, shoots in HD, and records to an SD Card. I record the audio separately, process it in my DAW software, and then sync the two up in iMovie. Next on the list is to get a back drop cloth and experiment with better lighting. Below is the title track off my cd “Noone Lasses”

Breton tunes on the Brooks Banjo

Sometimes I will just hear a tune and know I have to try and arrange it. Such was the case this set of tunes, an unnamed Breton tune and the second, Scottish Du Stockfish. I learned them both from Bryan Owens, a Portland musician who plays a variety of music on guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, and fiddle. I initially intended to arrange them for solo guitar, but the rhythm of the music just called out for some clawhammer banjo. They fell so easily on the fingerboard and within in minutes it seems like I had a workable arrangement. That does not happen to me often but when it does it sure is nice. I ended up arranging them for guitar later on, and I like that setting as well. But they are such a blast on the banjo.

The instrument is my new Brooks Spartan I mentioned back in January.

Orkney Guitar Chords

Way back when I first started this blog I put up some basic chords in the CGDGCD (Orkney) tuning. They were created using a piece of software called Fretty Charts, which was put together by guitarist Simon Fox. I think he has since taken it down, but this software filled the simple need of quickly being able generate chord graphics and charts. Programs like Finale and Sibelius are great, but if you want to slap a bunch of chord symbols on a 8.5 x 11 PDF file they can be overly complicated. It would be great to see Simon bring this software back.

I recently came across a fairly convenient way to output chord charts on my iPhone. The Guitar Toolkit app plus add on allows you to generate chords, place them on a chord sheet, and print or email the file. Not bad for being totally self contained on the iPhone. The software isnt perfect, if you notate chords with a capo on the capo shows up as a fretted string on the chord diagram, which is a bit problematic. But other than that it works well, and its very convenient to able to notate chords when I have a few minutes and email them to students.

The Orkney chord chart below is for a guitar with no capo. Whenever I backup irish music I almost always have a capo at the second fret. So try that as well and move the chords up a whole step. C becomes D, G becomes A, etc. I have tried other tunings for backup and I just keep coming back to Orkney. Perhaps I am just used to it. Other people certainly sound great in Drop D or DADGAD. The one downside is Orkney is not great for flatpicking, not having a D on that open fourth string is awkward. But I do not really flatpick a ton of irish tunes, so its not a big deal. If I need to I just go to Drop D, though i would like to explore the CFCGCD tuning more that John Doyle uses. Its not a far leap from Orkney, and with a capo at II makes it DGDADE, which is much better for flatpicking. I guess in the end its hard for me to settle on one tuning.

Download Orkney Chord Chart PDF