Musical Journey – Beginner Guitar Learning

In the last article, I told the story about how I got my first guitar. It was a slow but exciting at at times uneven progress from there. Let me explain….

1) Finding Song Chords: The vast amount of quality content available now is just amazing which is a product of the evolution of our technology that led to the ease of creating contents and obviously amount of contents being published per year. We are now living in an era where we get surprised or disappointed if a particular song we want to learn doesn’t have a YouTube tutorial or does have the chords on popular guitar sites.

This obviously was not the case back in 2007. To be fair, the amount of song chords were burgeoning at the time. They were however concentrated toward the pop genre (pop ballad, pop rock). Needless to say, most guitar sites didn’t have a lot of R&B songs. In addition, YouTube was only 2 year old at the time so the amount of tutorials, let alone R&B tutorials were scarce. You can verify this by googling tutorials for R&B songs and see how many were published 11 years ago or earlier  as of 2018. If you were to find some R&B tutorials, they were not always the most accurate (keep in mind whoever published it at the time likely would have had to learn the whole song by ear so the inaccuracies here and there were totally understandable).

2) R&B songs use a lot of barre chords: This is not always obvious when you just listen to the songs. Take a listen to Brian McKnight’s hit “6 8 12” (tutorial in-bedded in the link for those interested in the chords)

The music can seem deceivingly simple enough from a quick listen . Brian, being a great guitar player (and musician for that matter), actually regularly plays this song with just his acoustic guitar….so here is a video of him performing the song live in Seattle where you can actually see the chords being played:

You will notice that virtually all the chords are actually barre chords. No beginner is gonna touch that song…at least not in the early learning. This was to me the toughest thing to get over. I was quite excited to learn all those 90s-2000s classic R&B songs and initially was under the impression that the chords would be regular chords like G C D. When the first few R&B song chords and YouTube tutorials or live performance of songs first appeared, it became obvious that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Unlike pop or rock which tends to use beginner-friendly chords, the average R&B song has between 70-100% barre chords…and the little bit that is not barre chord tends to be chords that requires gang sign-like fingering. This can make the genre impractical to beginners…..R&B tend to us chords with minor 7th and major 7th so you tend to see a lot chords with names like C#m7, G#m7, Abmaj7, Ebmaj7, Dm7b5….which can be quite intimidating…I mean as a beginner, we generally tend to flee even at the sight of a single barre chord in a song, let alone an entire song that doesn’t have a single non-barre chord.

But….you can do it.

Like anything else worth having in life, with determination and hard work, virtually anything is possible. Learning R&B is no different. I don’t want to give the impression that the genre is impossible to play or is reserved for people with natural talent or requires unreasonable amount of time to learn.  In no way are my comments above intended to discourage anyone in learning to play this beautiful genre of music. Keep in mind things have greatly involved since 2007 (many of you are probably reading this from smartphone…which was not the norm then).

It is true that there is no getting around learning the barre chords (there are YouTube videos that are more than 20 minutes long that simply deal with barre chords). This can take a few weeks to learn and getting used to (typically the F chord will be the first chord you will learn). Then, you will progress to play other barre chords such as Fm, Cm, B, Bb. Then you move on the minor 7th and major 7th which are common in R&B (e.g. Dm7, Am7). This can take a few additional weeks.

However, once past this, your learning will be much faster than mine for the simple fact that quantity of contents available now. The amount of R&B song chords are ever growing and if the song is popular enough or recent enough (anything from 2010 onwards), the chances are greater that you will be able to find the chords of any song that you like. The same thing goes for YouTube tutorial. It is night and day compared to the dark ages of 2007. The quality of the contents has greatly improved as well. I credit those great YouTube videos for inspiring me to do chords for R&B songs which you can find here:  ( I will discuss more in the future about this site came about and the directions it took to get here)

As for my own learning, I re-adjusted and started with simple songs from Madagascar and Western pop/pop rock . This wasn’t that big of deal since I did have plenty of good songs in that genre that I enjoyed when I was a kid.  One of the first songs I learned was in Malagasy (the official language of Madagascar). Although the chords in the videos seem complicated, sonically, it’s just a bunch A D and E chords so everything is playable in the 1st and 2nd fret.

The title of the song “Havako Mamomamo” loosely translates to a lightly inebriated relative, but actually refers to a love interest of the songstress. She is essentially saying she prefers when he had a bit to drink (NOT drunk) because he opens up (talks) a bit more about his feelings. It seems the guy is an introvert (when it comes to his emotions to her) when fully sober. The lyrics can be hilarious and during our childhood we had fun singing them out-loud. Though I can’t relate to any of the lyrics’ message then (or now for that matter), the melody was catchy enough and the chords were easy enough that I wanted to learn it on the guitar.

Another interesting fact about the song is that the singer, Samoela, who is now one of the most successful artists in Madagascar), wrote this song and made it the lead single of his debut album in 1997, but he actually does not sing in the song (for the record, he can sing). Instead, he had two vocalist ladies sing. This is unusual for the fact that a solo artist who is up and coming would generally sing his/her own song so that his/her voice can be recognized especially if it is going to be the lead single to promote an album, and especially if said album is the debut album to introduce him/herself to the public…The song was a huge hit but I can’t think of any example in Western music where this was done successfully…(imagine a young Bruno Marks having just written, his first single, Just The Way You Are for his Doo-Wops & Hooligans debut album and having someone else sing that song..the amount of confusion it will cause to the public when his next single “Grenade” from same album gets released on the radio with him actually singing this time).

The first English song I learned was “Don’t Cry” of Guns N Roses (simple chord progression: Am Dm G C though it had to cool transition from G C).

If you try to just follow the song with your guitar, you may notice that your guitar won’t sound like the song…this is because their guitars are tuned half-step down (so the Am sounds like a Abm, and the Dm like a Dbm ,etc…)…This is quite common in Rock and makes it easier for the lead guitarist to bend the strings for those cool solos and can give the song a darker feel if needed (I am not saying this is why Guns N Roses tune down their guitars but those two are common reasons I found from my experience).

Another fun fact about the song, they have a 2nd version with alternate lyrics (with only the chorus being the same as the 1st version), and the band actually even recorded a music video of it:

And this is the first song that had barre chords that I learned: Cryin of Aerosmith. It has a F#m and a C#m.  I thought the song had a great melody.

As I progressed, I started learning a bunch of Guns N Roses, Bryan Adams, Westlife (Irish pop band that were quite popular in Madagasccar in the 2000s), Scorpions (German rockband with lots of hits in the 80s and 90s). To my peers and the older crowd, I feel silly to even add description or links to some of those artists given their resume but I recognize that someone born in the late 90s or 2000s may not know who they are.

To close this article, I realize the direction of it went from R&B to Rock towards the end, but the point is, our learning can take various directions to get where we need to get to. In order to play R&B on the guitar, one has to actually be able to play the guitar and the fact is pop/rock provides is a great way to learn the guitar (chords are easier, there are more songs available to learn and more tutorials available). In addition, it gives you exposure to different types of music. The fact is our favorite musicians/singers listen to and get inspired by music outside their genre all the time….if they listen to different genres, we should do consider doing the same thing…you will find you it will expand your choice of music significantly and will make you a more well rounded musical person.

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R&B song chords



Musical Journey – Intro to Guitar

In the last article, I was telling the story of how I came to discover R&B music. So, let’s pick it up from there. The year was 2004…I am in my first year of University and getting immersed in US culture (e.g. food, music, people…not necessarily in that order). We had some allowance to spend on personal effects. I went to Walmart and bought (amongst other things) the following items:

  1. A portable CD player: In all my excitement, I did forget to buy batteries for the CD player so it wasn’t all that portable until a few days later. Thankfully, it came with a power plug
  2. 3 CDs: Never Say Never (Brandy), After The Storm (Monica) and the Chocolate Factory (R. Kelly). I would have bought more but I needed to also get pesky things like… toothbrush and shampoo lol…

Anyway, in the next 3 years, I would eventually get quite a bit of 90’s and 2000s R&B music and get to listen to them with close friends or by myself. My best friend and I eventually started using the term “smooth it out” when referring to any R&B music that had that soulful vibe or practically any activity we thought was cool that we were about to do. I don’t recall exactly where did we get the term from, but I think P. Diddy (who went by Puff Daddy at the time) used it in the remix of the song Honey of Mariah Carey. You can watch him say it in this video

At this point, I had quite a bit of catalog and quite of a bit of music to “smooth it out” to…my English was improving…I could actually remember the lyrics…it was time to learn to play the music that I have been listening to all this time….so I bought a


Those who read the title probably were expecting a guitar. The truth I actually have no recollection of the actual reason I bought the keyboard. I do remember buying it from a pawnshop probably thinking I’m gonna Elton John that thang lol…I also got a piano lesson book to teach me how to read sheet music. Part of my motivation in buying a musical instrument was that, up to this point, besides listening to music, my hobbies consisted of the following…on many occasions, all 3 were done in the same day:

  1. Playing basketball
  2. Watching NBA basketball on TV
  3. Playing NBA live/NBA 2k

I was able to play a few songs that had piano like No One (Alicia Keys),Unfaithful (Rihanna), Because of You (Neyo).…thanks to Youtube, but wasn’t able to improve my skills to the point where I can play by ear. If I didn’t play the songs for a few days, I would forget how to play. This was in large part because I didn’t properly learn the chords or didn’t make it through the music theory part of the book (partly because of school and well….see my hobbies above)

Anyway, in the fall of 2007, we were attending a Talent Show and in it, two of my close friends were performing a song on an acoustic guitar (one was singing lead vocal and the other one played the guitar and also provided vocal harmony). As I sat there watching them, that wonderful performance inspired to me to get a guitar. I unfortunately do not have a footage of that specific performance, but here is cover of the song made by a group of really talented people:

There is always something special about “unplugged” performance: just the guitar and the performer (or sometimes with small accompaniment such as drum and bass, but usually absent of electric instruments). You get the enjoy the music in an intimate small setting while not losing the full performance of the artist…and that’s what I wanted to capture while playing the guitar.

Here is my illustration of this. Here is the original music video of Joe performing “I’d Rather Have Love” with the fully produced version.

…and here is that same song but performed acoustically/unplugged in a small venue (and minus all the cigar puffing lol):

Obviously, since I would be playing mostly by myself, I would have to adjust my expectation and hope to sound like this instead:

In any case, the goal was to really have fun playing the music that I got to enjoy listening to the past few years and the guitar was a step in the right direction. So the musical journey began….or so I thought…you may notice if you watched the last two videos that the chords being played were not exactly beginner chords, but this will be covered in a another story (I promise). In the meantime, here is one of the songs that I really wanted to learn at the time (and wouldn’t be able to play for another 10 years for various reasons..which again i will cover in another story as well): Gone by ‘NSync (don’t be fooled by the weird intro and the fact that it was a boyband, this song is straight up R&B with awesome guitar being played in it). You can click on link if you are interested in learning it. Alternatively, just enjoy the music video:

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R&B song chords



Musical Journey – How It Started

This is my first article and hopefully one of many to come that will chronicle my journey in playing music on guitar. I am writing this because when I was growing up…I didn’t think I would be playing guitar…or listening to R&B music….let alone playing R&B music...let alone share guitar chords of R&B music with you . My hope is that my journey will allow you to open your mind to experiences (be it music, food, travel, etc..) that you would not naturally be drawn to.

This is also for the guitar beginners who can’t yet play barre chords..(you can do it!!! I know it’s uncomfortable but we’ve all been there…once you get that F chord right, oh so many possibilities).

In early 2002, I was trying to find a way to relax in the evening after school. I usually finished school after 8:30pm that year (and the next) which in the tropical African island I grew up in is dark and late, so (wise) entertainment options were limited generally speaking to TV and Radio. I am sure there were other alternatives, but my adult brain can’t remember them now and my teenage brain couldn’t think of them at the time (because it was trying to relax after school…remember)

The TV only had one channel that seemed to only want to broadcast news and commercials, both of which are useful but aren’t exactly known for their relaxing qualities (at least not to the teenage mind).

The only viable option left was the radio (we had the one with cassette at the time…here is what they looked like). So I flipped through the channels one Friday night and came across a station that play an R&B program (which they played only on Friday night). I can’t exactly recall what the song was, but I think it was Faith Evans “Never Gonna Let You Go”.

Then at some point, it had some Brian McKnight (I think Crazy Love and 6 8 12) and Babyface (With Him). Essentially, the station played a bunch of slow jams and I was hooked. The melody, the harmonies and the soulful voices were so soothing, had that type of emotion that touched the heart ( so corny but I can’t explain it in any other way) and brought that much needed relaxation to my brain. I couldn’t sing and I barely spoke English. It was hard to explain what’s going on because the music seemed so unique and was something I have never heard before, yet it sounded so good.

Up until that point, the only international music I was exposed to were pop and pop rock ballads (think Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston) and boyband music (Backstreet Boys)….great music but not R&B (the Whitney Houston stuff on the local radio at the time was the Bodyguard Soundtrack stuff and not the R&B stuff like “My Love Is Your Love“)

Anyway, since that fateful Friday, I would make it a habit to listen to this particular radio station at that specific time and I got to hear some of this really great music….I even moved my mattress next to the radio at some point. For the younger generation, the R&B Music I am referring to is the 90’s stuff (Joe, Faith Evans, Brian McKnight, 112, K-Ci & Jojo, Brian McKnight, R Kelly and the likes).

This was of course a bit weird at the time because in the early 2000s (2002-2004), the Nu Metal genre (Linkin Park, Evanescence) became famous in the island and a lot of cool kids were listening to it…the two genres couldn’t be (or sound) more different. I eventually got to go to the US for university in 2004 and enjoyed the last few years where R&B as a whole was still at its peak in mainstream music. In 2004, to name a few, Usher’s “Confessions” album and Destiny’s Child “Destiny Fulfilled” album were released.

The key takeaway here is that some of the things we come to enjoy in life happen by luck/weird odds/coincidence and if we give them a chance, we might get to enjoy them quite a bit. The R&B program I came upon back in 2002 was a 1 hour program at 9pm every Friday night…it would have been very easy to miss, and if I did ( or my folks didn’t own a radio :-)), none of this would have happened…I am not saying it would have been the end of the world ( I love Bryan Adams and Celine Dion’s music), but I am saying it’s pretty cool that it eventually led me to be able to play “Back At One“.

In any case, I didn’t play any musical instruments then…and I wasn’t thinking about learning any either..I was just enjoying the music (this time through a small CD player and later one a desktop computer) and was fortunate to meet great friends who finally shared my love of the R&B. It wouldn’t be another 3 years before I would get a guitar but that’s a story for another article….stay tuned until next time. In the meantime and between time, enjoy this slow jam…


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R&B song chords