September 24, 2012 | « back

USAWEEKEND.COM – Talking Tech with musician James Taylor

Singer/songwriter uses video to teach others, show off cats.

James Taylor is known for his many classic compositions that are still being performed 40 years after they were written. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and multiple Grammy winner happens to be one of the world’s great guitarists. He has such a unique finger-picking style that he decided to record a series of free online video guitar lessons. To help fans get a closer look, lessons are available at his website. In early August, Taylor released his sixth lesson, the intro to the lesser-known 1997 song “Enough to be On Your Way”, and hopes to have three more lessons out this year. More about Taylor tech:

We met up with Taylor in Denver, where he was winding down his 2012 tour, which concluded this weekend in Chicago.

Why lessons?

“I have this technique which I sort of assembled and came up with myself. People have used my songs and guitar style to teach guitar for a long time. I thought it would be good to get it from the horse’s mouth. It’s just a way of passing it on, putting it down and having a record of what my technique is and how I play.”
Gear for making the videos

Taylor and a friend shoot the videos at his barn in Washington, Mass., with multiple cameras They use a Canon 5D Mark II for the main shot, and several tiny GoPro cameras to show action in several places, including inside the guitar. Taylor takes the strings off, places the GoPro inside the body of the acoustic guitar and then strings it back up. He also puts a second GoPro on the neck, to give a bird’s eye view of his fingering.

The game plan

He shoots several songs in marathon sessions, and releases them piecemeal through the year on his website and YouTube. Eventually, Taylor hopes to offer them all on a DVD.

Learning to play via YouTube

Students used to buy the record and slow it down, playing it over and over again to follow the song. Now, a simple Google search for “Sweet Baby James guitar chords” will instantly turn up the song, for free. “I’m not sure how accurate those chords are. Just giving you the chord changes won’t give you the arrangement. Passing tones are everything; moving lines are important, too.”


Taylor is a veteran of touring, where the audience used to show their appreciation by flicking their lighters in unison. Now, they use a flashlight app on their smartphones. “They’re much brighter and absolutely cool.” With everyone sporting phones in the audience, there are a lot more photos and videos being made at concerts. “They usually make an announcement at the beginning of shows saying you can’t take pictures, but I don’t care.”

LOL cats.

If you’ve seen online videos of cats playing iPad games attributed to James Taylor, it’s sort of true. They are videos of Taylor’s cat, Ray. They’re shot by his webmaster, Ellyn, who posts them online. to help bring attention to Taylor’s website. “She keeps the web going and website supplied.”

Tech on tour.

Taylor and his band travel from town to town in a souped-up tour bus, complete with satellite dish and multiple TV sets. His must-have device: a digital recorder for “remembering songs and lyrics” — as they pop up in his brain —for future compositions.