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Leonard Cohen - Guitar

Updated on September 5, 2011

Welcome back Len

Leonard Cohen is a survivor from the 1960s songwriter scene, and after a few ups and downs he is back on tour, and doing very well. Like James Taylor, he is still getting better with the passage of time, and this is the best band he's ever had, fantastic musicians that really bring the songs alive. Famous Blue raincoat is one of my favourite songs, and this is a great performance. Using a nylon-string guitar, playing in 3/4 time (waltz time) and fingerpicking are all important elements in creating the Leonard Cohen guitar sound. A typical picking pattern on Am could be (string numbers)

5 4 32 4 32 4 Thumb does low A (5) and play 3,2 together. Count 1,2,3,1,2,3

In my new hub Guitar Chords lesson - Leonard Cohen there is some more info on his guitar style.

Famous Blue Raincoat live

Other songs

I also like  Winter Lady which uses a similar picking style - Suzanne, Coming back to you and would recommend the Jennifer Warnes album of Cohen covers, which has many great tracks. Including the one above, a brilliant version.


Some of the things I like in this song: the letter format in which it's written makes it seem very personal, and it's even signed at the end! Also the shift between verse and chorus, minor to relative major key (Am to C) Plus, it really creates an atmosphere. On the recent tour (let's call it The Pension Fund Tour) Leonard is playing a Godin nylon-string guitar, maybe because it's made in Canada,maybe because it just sounds good.

Jennifer Warnes versions


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    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      The tuning is definitely lowered, and you can hear an almighty buzz when he hits a root 6 chord!

    • profile image

      Tim 6 years ago

      Thanks for having a look on it, your comment gave me the right clue: it is in the key of Gm, but I noticed that he plays the Gm chord with a barré on the second fret, so it's actually standard tuning 4(!) semitomes down. Conclusion: he doesn't play this song in dropped D (or E) as I figured it to play but rather in standard tuning with barrés to have the low bass note on the 5th chord.

    • Jon Green profile image

      Jon Green 6 years ago from Frome, Somerset, UK

      It's hard to see what is going on. My guess is standard tuning down two semitones, so Am sounds as G minor.As singers get older, they tend to tune down to compensate for their voices dropping in pitch. Also, there is a sax player, so they may be trying to keep him happy by playing in Gm !

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      Tim 6 years ago

      Very interesting read, thank you Jon!

      Do you know in which tuning Cohen is playing on the video? It's definetely not standard tuning, nor dropped-D...