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"Underdog" by Alicia Keys - Guitar Lesson

So, my wife has been learning a new cover song for a video that she is making, and she needed some help getting the guitar part down just right. The obsessive part of me took that as a cue to dig into this song and see how it is “really” played. It’s the newer Alicia Keys song called “Underdog”, and I ended up liking it a lot. Jam track and TAB for the main parts are below for you. It’s a lot of fun to play, and it brings up two larger main topics for learning guitar. #1 - 16th note swung strumming patterns and #2 figuring out songs by ear (not depending on inaccurate TABs from the Internet).

Let’s start with the strumming. If you’ve never played a swung 16th note strumming pattern at a higher tempo, it can be pretty challenging. The song moves along at about 90bpm, and the swing feel is critical for it to sound right. To help get this semi-advanced groove down, you might need to isolate just the strumming on its own without even worrying about the chords at first. This will make it much easier to concentrate on your strumming hand and make sure you get this feel right. The biggest tip I have for this is to get a metronome and set it to swung 8th or 16th notes. If you don’t have a metronome that can do this, I’d recommend downloading an app from the App Store called Tempo. It’s free, and it comes with this function. 

The idea is to put the swing feel on your metronome and slow it way down to where you can really nail the feel. From there, speed it up bit by bit until you reach the target tempo. If this is new to you, it will probably take some time to build the necessary control to play this properly. Give yourself a couple of days or weeks to work this swung strumming up to speed, as it can be pretty strange/difficult if you are new to it. 

Let’s move on to topic #2 - Figuring out songs by ear, and the inaccuracies of TAB on the Internet. I have a question for you. Does it matter how accurate a TAB is to you, or do you even care as long as you get the basic idea down for the song? For me, I gave up on TABs a long time ago just because I’ve gotten so many bad ones from the Internet over the years. Looking at TABs for this song reinforced my view. There were virtually no accurate TABs or videos for this song on the entire web! At least that’s what my ear told me. This is why I think it’s super-critical to work on getting your ear to the point where you can figure out things for yourself. What’s the best way to do that? Just start digging in and try to learn songs on your own. I cover a few ways to start critically listening to songs to see how they are played in the second half of this video. 

Enjoy, and don’t be intimidated to start learning songs by ear for yourself. We all have to start somewhere, and the sooner you get the ball rolling, the sooner you will start building those skills. If you need any help with this or anything else guitar related, you can book a private lesson with me here on the site. Have a great week!

Please note, this blog may contain affiliate links and ads, please read my full disclosure here.

Need advice on strings, picks, and other guitar gear? Here is the gear used in this video. 

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