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The TRUTH about Learning Guitar
Improve Your Skills > Blues/Rock > Iron Man - Black Sabbath
Iron Man - Black Sabbath

Iron Man


"Iron Man" by Black Sabbath, featuring the guitar work of Tony Iommi is a great beginner song for the aspiring rocker. It is relatively easy to play, but like so many supposedly "easy" songs, it will present various difficulties to the improperly developed player, difficulties that will prevent it from becoming "solid" in the players fingers. By "solid" I mean that it is brought up to "performance level", so that the player could play it with a band and have it all hold together, all the notes there and at the right time.

This song is perfect for students who have studied "The Principles". Those students will have achieved two major goals:

  • proper development of the fingers, so that they can function with strength and independence without creating excess tension in adjacent fingers or in the body
  • how to practice a song so that it is put together in the mind and in the fingers, and can be played as a whole.

The lack of these two essentials is what I commonly see in all new students (who are new to The Principles). Happily, I have seen many students who, through studying The Principles have beautifully functioning fingers, and know how to learn a song. I want everyone to understand that without the proper foundation, many students will find this song, along with everything else, difficult or impossible to bring to performance level.

Now, with those caveats out of the way, let's take a look at the riffs used in the intro and verse sections, and see what the common obstacles are......

Playing In Rhythm

The first obstacle for students is usually playing in rhythm. That means you must be able to do a few things:

  • sing the lick while tapping your foot to the basic beat. This shows that you have an awareness of the underlying pulse. This sense of the underlying pulse can be felt even if we do not understand the rhythm in an intellectual sense, meaning that we understand the actual notation of quarter notes, 8th notes, and 16th notes. However, I believe all students who are at all serious about being musicians should develop this understanding.
  • write in the "counting symbols" under the notes (tab notes in this case), and then count out the rhythm accurately. These are "first grade" skills for any guitarist, and if you can't do it (I've met hundreds of students who can't), then realize that you never successfully graduated first grade guitar.

Also realize it is not your fault. The subject of rhythm is never taught properly, in my experience. Students play for years and are never comfortable with dealing with 8ths, 16ths, and syncopations, elements which all songs contain. The lucky ones get it by feel, the other 90% sound like crap! I have created the course that should be used by all teachers and students to give all students a solid grasp of rhythm. It gives you the complete understanding of rhythm in plain English, and no note reading is required. It is found in the second half of "The Path: Chords & Rhythm". If you do not feel that you really understand rhythm, you will be foolish to not study this course and become a real musician...............'nuff said!

We have plenty of 8ths, 16ths, and syncopations in this tune (as in most rock songs). I have written in the rhythm (counting symbols) to help you out.

What you SHOULD be able to do:

  • count this rhythm out loud while you tap your foot
  • play this lick while you tap your foot to the basic quarter note beat (these two requirements are true for everything you play. If you can't do it, you are not feeling the beat.)
  • Use The Basic Practice Approach: all users of "The Principles of Correct Practice For Guitar" understand that the Basic Practice Approach is the fastest and surest way to bring any piece of music up to "performance level". If you do not know this method, review your copy of "The Principles". If you don't have a copy.........oh, no, that is too horrible to even imagine!

Common Playing Problems

#1) Sappy Strumming - Because the tab shows only two notes, students often think they have to be careful to only hit two strings when they play this. They try to strum in a way that is very careful not to hit the other strings. This sounds like it makes sense. Well, maybe it is according to common sense, but it is not according to "guitar sense"! It results in very timid and un-rhythmic playing. Real guitar players don't play like that, we don' like pussy-footing around! We like to bang out those chords - just think of Pete Townshend of the Who, when he is throwing his arm in a complete circle like a windmill!

The secret is to always make sure you are blocking out the other strings with your left hand, and this can almost always be accomplished in some fashion. With the unused strings blocked, we just bang away at those strings like we were using drumsticks instead of guitar picks!

#2) Wrong Direction of Strumming - in order to keep proper rhythmic feel, it is usually necessary to pick according to certain rules of direction. Basically, this means down on quarter notes, down-up on two eighth notes, and down-up-down-up for 16ths. Syncopations present a special problem. Usually, we strum up on isolated up beats (when the down beat is a rest or a held note). We will see these general rules in action throughout the song.

We will also see some exceptions to these general rules. In fact, we will see an exception in the opening riff of the song. This riff contains quarter, eighth, and sixteenths notes, but we are going to play them all with down strums. Very often, in rock and metal riffs we want a very driving sound. Using up strokes on the upbeats weakens this driving feel, and so we will use all down strums throughout to keep it rockin'.

#3) Disabled Pinky - Students who have hands that have not been properly trained by a competent teacher, and who have not availed themselves of the Foundation Exercises in "The Principles" (this is the great majority of students) will invariably experience technical problems. They may even be able to play the riff and make it sound good, while at the same time building future problems and playing limitations into their fingers.


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