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Guitar Lesson – Songwriters

Updated on April 3, 2022

Joni Mitchell- A Case Of You

This is a song that raised the bar for songwriting, and it still sounds great, untarnished by time- like all great art. The album Blue came out while I was still at school and it has rarely been equalled since. I wouldn't say it's old, but the barcode is in Roman numerals. This is my favourite track, among many excellent songs. It's partly the consistency that makes it such a great album, but also the number of other musicians such as James Taylor helping things along. Also check out Refuge of the Roads, featuring Jaco Pastorius playing at his absolute best. It's on the Hejira album. Joni's use of unique tunings on guitar is part of her style, and this is well documented on the web. Try open G which is (low to high)

DGDGBD instead of standard EADGBE. Apart from DADGAD I find this to be the most useful alternative tuning.(see my hub Guitar in DADGAD tuning)

Another hub has chord pictures for the main chords in this tuning.

One of my other hubs is devoted to Open G tuning, as it is really good for slide playing. (Guitar in Open G tuning)

This is linked to another hub with all the chord pictures for this tuning.

There is also a link to joni tunings below. This is a really good source for more info. For other Joni songs (chords and lyrics) follow the link to at the bottom of the page. I find using the text search option is useful.

UPDATE: There is a great site - - with tab and transcriptions of most Joni songs. It is a fitting tribute to Joni's artistry, which just becomes more apparent as time goes by.

Joni Mitchell -River

James Taylor - Copperline

Another major influence on my playing, James Taylor. For me, his songwriting and acoustic guitar work are still getting better all the time. This song is so good, full of lovely guitar parts - JT was also playing on the Joni track. It's understated, full of emotion, and we'll all still be learning to play it in another 30 years! Larry Goldings is terrific too, with sympathetic and tasteful piano that stays out of the way. The One Man Band CD features this phase of JT's writing.

This song is played in the key of D, but with a capo on fret 2 which transposes the key to E. Many JT songs use a capo, and it really does brighten up the sound of an acoustic. In fact, most of the great recorded acoustic guitar seems to have some use of a capo, whether it's The Beatles, Paul Simon, The Eagles, Joni Mitchell or many others.

Thanks to the generosity of some of my guitar students I went to see JT tonight with his new band - what a concert. I'm glad that this was the first time I saw him in concert, because I can't imagine it's ever been any better than this! An absolutely top band (Steve Gadd on drums) and superb sound and playing throughout. If you get a chance, go and see it.

More great songs

  • Here are some other great songs by Joni:
  • Amelia, Blue, Edith and the Kingpin, Little Green. Little Green uses the open G tuning discussed above.
  • James Taylor: Shower the People, You've Got a Friend, Up on the Roof (Carole King)

Apart from learning the songs, there are a lot of great arrangements, harmony vocals and song production on these albums - many aspects that could be valuable to aspiring songwriters. There is a link below with some good info on Joni's guitar tunings.

I have been working through the Joni Mitchell Complete So Far songbook. For anyone interested in different guitar tunings, song lyrics and songwriting it's an essential purchase. I have found a few problems with the transcriptions, and comparing video of her playing Night Ride Home to the tab in the songbook is the kind of issue I'm talking about.

If you put the time in, it's a terrific resource put together with dedication and would make a fantastic Christmas present for any Joni fan.

John Martyn

John Martyn was a great songwriter, from an English and Scottish folk tradition. A lot of his songs feature dropped D tuning, which is normal tuning with the 6th string lowered to D. This can enhance chords in the key of D, and works very well if you have solo acoustic guitar and want a fuller, more powerful sound. Examples of great songs:

  • May You Never
  • Fine Lines
  • Spencer The Rover
  • Just Now
  • Solid Air


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