Ryan Harris Brown with Martin guitar.
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The Guitar Style of James Taylor

James Taylor is the quintessential singer, songwriter, and guitarist.  He has a signature sound, flawless technique, and amazing songs.  Here are a few thoughts on James Taylor and what I’ve taken away from playing his songs through the years.

One of the most influential acoustic guitar players in the modern pop era.

James Taylor’s approach to the guitar is very much like a pianist approaches the piano.  Each finger on both hands is capable of playing something unique and dynamic.  Adding tensions to basic open chords like a jazz guitarist would, but finger-picking them and applying them to contemporary pop songs. 

Some of my favorite James Taylor songs to play on guitar:

  • Copperline
  • The Secret O’ Life
  • Never Die Young

All of these are fantastic examples of James Taylor’s playing style.

If you break these songs down, they are compositionally from the same family.

They feature a very strong bass line in the right thumb, which is often syncopated.  Along with a variety of major 7th, minor 7th, sus, and just about any other chord you can think of being played with the other fingers. And he always tries to use open strings when available, so you’ll want to get a good capo.

A good entry point to James Taylor’s fingerpicking guitar style would be a technique called Travis picking, which is worth diving into before trying to learn some of Taylor’s songs.

In the videos below, James so kindly lays it all out for you to see.  It’s a rare glimpse into his playing from the man himself.  I often go back to these videos, always finding something new to focus on. So check them out.  From how to maintain your nails, tuning, and the nitty-gritty of his playing.

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