DVD Review: Adam Rafferty Teaches Stevie Wonder Vol. II

How to Play the Music of Stevie Wonder Volume II by Adam Rafferty is a new instructional video with solo fingerstyle arrangements of the Stevie Wonder hits “Isn’t She Lovely”, “Higher Ground”, “My Cherie Amour”, and “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” The DVD/booklet sells for $34.97 at www.adamrafferty.com. For a limited time you can buy it for $29.97 so don’t wait. Scroll to the end of the review for a preview video.

Although Adam Rafferty’s latest video offering is a follow-up to his highly successful instructional debut in 2009, this new video reflects the experience he’s gained touring and performing over the past three years. The four arrangements included highlight a diversity of guitar techniques including varying approaches to right-hand technique, modulating using mid-song capo moves, alternate tunings, percussive hits and more. While he includes plenty of harmonic detail Rafferty’s focus on groove helps guitarists to communicate these songs using only the essential elements. The result is a natural sounding treatment that is rich and full but never overburdened by the complex harmonies. The video includes a very detailed booklet containing both standard notation and tablature, and all instructional segments use a split-screen so you can easily observe either Adam’s right- or left-hand.

If you are familiar with Adam’s other DVD’s he follows the same format as usual. After a brief welcome each song is presented in its entirety followed by a detailed walkthrough and breakdown. Adam also provides a short wrap up at the end of the video with words of encouragement and practice strategies.

Here’s what impressed me most about each arrangement. The links in the title of each tune will create a pop-up of Adam’s older YouTube demo the song. It should be noted that the DVD is professionally produced and has better quality sound and video than what is represented and that the performances are even more polished now.

In “Isn’t She Lovely” Adam introduces a groove that is integral to making this song and others work. He actually begins the lesson by using a doumbek to illustrate how to properly execute a triplet swing feel. Also (although he doesn’t talk about it) by focusing on the triplet feel and notating the song in 12/8 time he avoids having to explain how to count the quarter-note triplet figure that is prominently featured in the melody. The constant bass figure in the right-hand thumb and fingers drives the rhythm section feel home while the melody soars overtop. He also sneaks in a tasty temporary key change in the second half of the piece.

“Higher Ground” uses the slightly altered tuning of DGDGBE and uses carefully selected muted notes to keep the bass line and snare drum hits percolating along on the lower three strings while also maintaining ringing melody notes above. The first verse begins with the melody played in single notes and then introduces a harmony in the second verse. There’s a simple but effective percussive hit on the body of the guitar leading into the bridge which uses a combination of slides, hammers, and right-hand back strikes to articulate the melody alongside the harmony and groove.

“My Cherie Amour” is the mellow tune in the set. Adam uses a combination of open strings, harmonics, and fretted notes in the introduction resulting in a texture reminiscent of the great Lenny Breau. Looking at the printed music this looks like the most conventional arrangement of the collection but examination of the right-hand parts reveals a tricky combination of traditional fingerpicking with light strumming and back-strikes. Since the attacks are somewhat unpredictable compared to most fingerpicking pieces the effect is unique and a bit mesmerizing. This tune also introduces the mid-song capo change something I first saw David Wilcox do many years ago. Adam starts with his Kyser capo on the nut and then shifts the capo to the first fret for a half step modulation on the final verse.

The video ends with “You Are the Sunshine of My Life.” This song seems to have this biggest sound out of the group using lots of four- and five-note chords, open-strings, and quite a wide range. The arrangement utilizes all of the right- and left-hand techniques introduced in the earlier songs. It also features the mid-song capo move, a few chord substitution enhancements, and wraps up with a sweet samba vamp on the coda section.

While Adam Rafferty is still not a household name among guitarists his videos offer the very best instruction available on acoustic fingerpicking. Certainly there are instructional videos available from bigger name players but very few are as musically literate and approach the task of instruction with such care and detail. I would highly recommend this video to any intermediate to advanced level player. It’s a worthwhile investment for serious students of the guitar. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in learning the tunes of Stevie Wonder there is such a variety of guitar techniques and arranging ideas on display here that you’re sure to learn something that you can apply to your own arrangements down the line.

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