The Song Train
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Frequently Asked Questions About "The Song Train"

Who is "The Song Train" intended for?

The Song Train is for anyone who ever wanted to bang some songs out on a guitar and play some recreational music to enrich their life. It is particularly aimed at beginners, but the songs are useful to anyone who ever needs to lead a jam session or play music with someone they meet. Why play a song at a jam session that no one can follow? There is no need to know anything about music, there is nothing about note-reading. The only pre-requisite is that you want to play songs, and that you believe you can. Though it is focused on the acoustic guitar, you could easily learn to play banjo, mandolin, fiddle, bass or harmonica by playing along with the songs on The Song Train.

Why 2 chords? What is the big deal?

Most songs have at least 3 chords, and there are probably millions of three-chord songs you can look forward to playing once you get launched as a guitar player. The amount of extra dexterity it takes for a beginner to master three chords with the left hand, to keep the rhythm steady and sing the words at the same time, is considerably larger than a two-chord song, and enough to cause a lot of people to give up. We feel that your best chance to get started as a guitar player is to know some great one and two-chord songs, and to really want to play and sing them. If you internalize and learn a number of the songs on this album, and find meaning and pleasure in banging them out clumsily on your guitar, then you will have your best chance of getting launched as a recreational guitar player. Obviously the 2-chord thing is sort of meaningless on a piano or autoharp where chords are not that hard to play, or for instruments like flute or fiddle where you don't play chords. Even on banjo it is much easier to learn some simple chords, because there are fewer strings, they have less tension (easier on the hands) and because the banjo is usually tuned to a chord, so you can play 2 chord songs with just a single chord fingering. We do a few songs on The Song Train in open tunings, and a few with a partial capo, which makes chord fingerings much easier. Some of the songs here only need 1 finger of the left hand!

Why A 56 song recording? Why not just have 4 volumes or fewer songs?

Once you get started, and discover that you can play a song and generate some magic on your own, you don't need to begin again. We wanted there to be a big glorious pile of songs, so everyone could find a few they really liked. It's a feast. All the instructional materials we ever found gave you a couple of 2-chord songs and immediately rush on to fancier things. We think you need to spend a long time enjoying playing simple songs and learning to enjoy what it is to make your own music. Getting good and learning hard things on guitar is not the goal. Making music and singing songs you like is.

Why is this useful? What's the point?

It takes an amazing number of hours to even get the dexterity together to strum a simple song and change a few chords. The motivation it takes to spend those hours is the key. If you rely on discipline and hard work as your source of energy, you will probably lose interest. If you discover that you can play a cool song that only has one simple chord, and you can feel some of the magic of what happens when you generate a song, it is far more likely that you will get launched in music. The mystery, beauty and magic of music have fascinated people forever, and that magic is available immediately if you have the right song and the right attitude. Skip the lessons and the guilt and bang on the E chord instead. That's how most musicians got started.

Why is The Song Train not a book or video? Isn't that how people usually learn music nowadays?

Good question. We think that playing by ear (watching and listening) is the natural way people have always learned, and we would have loved to make a video of us playing these songs. However, we would then have not been allowed to do copyrighted songs, since copyright law does not allow it. It's kind of a loophole. We could not include original recordings of the Hank Williams or Bob Dylan songs, we could not print the words or show the notes in print, but we are allowed to record our own version of them as long as we pay a modest royalty, which we did. We think this is a big problem in music education, since people want to play copyrighted songs, but only old folk songs show up in the instruction books. We also tried to breathe some life into some of the old folk songs, and to treat them the same way we would any song we record.

I am not familiar with most of these songs. Why should I want to learn them?

That's the whole idea. How do you get familiar with a song? By hearing it done "for real" not as a slowed-down lesson. Almost all music instruction materials assume that you already know and like the songs they are teaching you. If you don't, how can you even start? Answer: with The Song Train. Just listen to the CD's and absorb the songs. Find one that makes you want to play it. Then try to play along. If you don't like our version of the song, go in the internet to iTunes or, search out the song, and listen to the free samples of the way hundreds of artists have done the songs. You may find an approach to the song you like better

I don't sing. This is all about songs and not guitar playing.

Instrumental guitar is really hard, and there are very few who become good at it, and very few who find enough pleasure in all the hard work to make it worthwhile. (I know-- I am one of the few...) If you are destined to become an instrumental guitar player, you won't be fishing around on the internet looking for inspiration and wondering if maybe you might want to try the guitar, you will already be practicing. The Song Train is about recreational music, about using the guitar to accompany songs, which is by far the most common way the instrument is used. It is something that is accessible to most people.

The list of popular singers who could barely sing (but we are glad they did...) is a long one. Who can complain about the way Louis Armstrong sang? He wasn't a "good" singer, but like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and many others, they all believed in the music and in themselves, and delivered lyrics possibly more effectively than "real" singers. If you can tell that Johhny Cash sang out of tune, then you probably have a good enough ear to be a decent singer. If you can't tell, so what? Neither could Johnny, and it obviously didn't bother his record company or the millions of people who love his music. It's one less thing to have to think about. If you like a song and want to sing it, and you are not charging admission or trying to sell records, don't worry. If you are having fun hitting the golf ball, why worry about your posture and your grip?

Why shouldn't I just take guitar lessons? Isn't that how you learn?

It depends on the student and on the teacher. Of course you can learn from a good teacher. But you can also learn without one, and you use less gas, and have less guilt and stress. It's all about motivation anyway. If your teacher says "Learn these chords." then what? What if it is no fun? It hurts. You're busy. If a song that moves you says "Learn these chords and you can play me" it can be a whole other story. You might find that it is hard to stop playing. (Actually your sore finger tips will tell you that.) You can also of course use The Song Train together with a teacher, if you are really having trouble figuring out what to do. It really does not require that much knowhow to play a 1-chord song. (There are 7 of them in The Song Train.)

Why are there no lyrics or notes in the book?

Mostly because of copyright restrictions, and partly because you can get lyrics to songs from the internet faster than you can even write them down if you know the song. We have supplied the lyrics we sing for the public domain songs here on this web site, though for the copyrighted songs you are on your own to either copy them off the CD while you listen to it or try to search for them on the internet.

Why did Harvey & Joyce do this?

They are not household names in American music, but it would be hard to find a more versatile or talented musical couple. The fact that there are two of them makes the project universal, and they are both solo artists capable of delivering all kinds of folk, blues, rock, country, bluegrass, gospel, old-time and celtic songs. Their solos and harmonies help bring the songs to life, and their deep knowledge of American music is remarkable.

Why hasn't somebody done this before? It's such a great idea.

We wonder that ourselves. Once you understand what it is, it's pretty obvious that somebody should have done it. It's nothing more than good musicians taking easy songs seriously and playing them for real with only simple chords, as a helping hand for others and as a lesson in what matters in music. This sort of thing is not uncommon in other endeavors, like when chefs make cookbooks for average people or when golf pros lend a hand to duffers.

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