James Taylor Has Magic Fingers

James Taylor

Even with an artist as innovative as James Taylor, I assumed that most aspects of his guitar style and technique would be relatively orthodox. This turned out to be anything but.

Though there are many great musical devices that he employs throughout his wide ranging repertoire of folk-rock hits, I find the most fascinating to be the way he approaches fingering chords. Specifically, his method for fingering the standard A major and D major chords deserves special attention.

Anyone who’s spent time with the guitar has probably delved into the classic CAGED guitar chords. These are your most commonly played major chords for C, A, G, E, and D using open strings. E, A, and D are especially interesting because these three are all variants of the same fingering, just starting on a different root or string.

In any event, all theory aside (though I’ll come back to this), most guitarists would finger a D chord as shown at below left. However, James fingers a D chord as shown below at right.



Standard D major guitar chord


James Taylor’s D major guitar chord

This is not a hard substitution to make, and in some ways, feels just as natural or even more natural than the commonly accepted fingering.

However, when you start to look at the A major chord (below left), James uses a similar approach — an approach that in my estimation requires magic fingers. The standard fingering for an A major chord is shown as left, but James uses a fingering shown at below right that is the exact inverse.



Standard A major guitar chord


James Taylor’s A major guitar chord

I do not have the biggest hands, and I can barely get my fingers to fit on or below the 2nd fret using this configuration. To make matters worse, James is 6’3″ with much larger hands, so either he has the world’s tiniest fingertips (this could be part of the equation), or he has magic fingers that can move in and out of this type of fingering with ease.

Taking this issue one step further, James often capos up to the 3rd fret for songs like “Fire and Rain” and “Something In The Way She Moves”, so that his A chord is actually a C chord (for vocal purposes). If you look at a guitar, you can see that as you go higher up the neck, the space between frets becomes narrower and narrower. But he still employs the same fingering technique.

From a theory standpoint (unfortunately, I did say I’d come back to this), James’ approach to fingering these chords makes sense because, you can easily move from major and minor variants of the same chord simply by moving your 1st finger one fret lower (see below).



James Taylor’s A major guitar chord


James Taylor’s A minor guitar chord

However, the main advantage of the conventional approach is that you can throw in suspensions with ease. With James’ approach, you need to be pretty nimble with your pinky to make it happen (a whole different topic for another time), but if you have magic fingers, of course, well, no problem.

The only other variable in this equation is that the guitars he uses are somehow of a larger scale. Custom made by James A. Olson Guitars, no mention is made of anything in the design that would favor this technique.

Thus, I propose that James Taylor has magic fingers.

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