These two lessons will look at some of the skills and techniques needed to play Erik Mongrain’s ‘PercusienFa’. The first lesson will talk about tuning, playing position and percussive techniques, and the second will talk about the separate left and right hand techniques. Please note that this article does not provide the tab, but you can download a very accurate tab from Erik’s website using this link: http://www.erikmongrain.com/Music.asp
The guitar in this song is tuned to ‘Open E’ tuning, which from low to high is E G# B E B E. I would recommend using strings of at least a 12 gauge to ensure you get a good sound from the D and G strings, as they will have to be loosened substantially to get the lower notes needed for the open tuning.
When playing this song, you will need to have the guitar in what is called ‘lap tapping’ position. Instead of holding the guitar to your body and over your right leg as normal, lay the guitar flat so that the strings are facing upward, the neck is balanced on your left leg and the body is balanced on your right. For most dreadnought guitars you want to aim to have the 12th fret pointing to the middle of your body, but this is not an absolute rule.
For those of you who, like myself, are not particularly tall, you may find that your guitar is falling off to the left as your left leg is not high enough. You can resolve this problem by using a footstool for your left leg, or a large book, or whatever else you may have to hand.
The title of the song literally translates as ‘Percussion’, and percussive techniques play a huge part in the song. The beginning and the end of the song uses percussive hits on the body with the right and left hand to create a rhythm – you can watch the video to learn the exact rhythm. You can also hear the open strings ringing out as a chord on beat one of every other bar. This is not done by actually hitting the strings, but by hitting the body just behind the bridge, causing the strings to vibrate but with less attack – when done correctly it sounds brilliant!
Lesson 2 – Left Hand and Right Hand
Continuing from the last lesson on PercusienFa, let’s have a look at the left and right hand techniques needed for the song.
Both hands in this song share the playing of the chords and melody, but they both use some different techniques to do so. The left hand mainly uses a combination of overhand tapping, hammer-on’s and pull offs. If you have not mastered these in standard position, please check out my tutorials on Andy McKee’s ‘Drifting’, as this song uses many of these techniques but in standard position.
Start by tapping the large E string in 7th fret. Place your thumb slightly behind the neck for support, and use your first finger to press the string. Then, use your middle finger to tap 7th fret on what would normally be the D string. This is the LH starting position for the song. It is a B5 chord, and that same shape is moved around the fretboard during the song to create powerchords over which to improvise the melody.
The right hand also uses some tapping, hammer-on and pull-off techniques. Practice this by taking single note on the fretboard, tapping, pulling off, and hammering on again in succession.
The main function of the right hand, however, is to produce the harmonics. If you have read by blog on the right hand techniques needed for Andy McKee’s ‘Drifting’, you will have done some work on explosive harmonics in standard position before. However, the technique for the explosives here is slightly different. Take your index finger on your right hand, stick it out straight and curl your other fingers and your thumb inwards into a fist, like you are pointing at someone. You will be aiming to strike the thin E string over the 12/13 fret divide. Use the right hand side of the finger to strike the string and create the harmonic with a quick bouncing motion – make sure your finger comes back up from the string really quickly, otherwise the harmonic will not ring out clearly.
It can take a while to get a grip on this technique, and the first few times it may well hurt, as you are hitting the string with a soft piece of skin. Make sure you practice this little and often to start with, to build up the skin toughness and to avoid cutting or bruising around the finger.