All About H.E.R.

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black woman with fender guitar
H.E.R. with signature Fender Stratocaster
       
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By Shawn Leonhardt for Guitar Tricks and 30 Day Singer

In interviews, the artist known as H.E.R. states that there is always a guitar sitting next to the bed, ready to be played. Once you have a chance to listen to her work, that is no surprise! Beyond guitar playing, she is an incredible vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter who has won multiple awards like the Oscar, Emmy, and Grammy. The R&B she plays is reminiscent of past sounds and modern vibes; here is a deeper look at H.E.R. and the approach she has with the guitar.

H.E.R. Background and Influences

H.E.R. is an acronym for “Having Everything Revealed” and is the current name of the artist formerly known as Gabi Wilson. From an early age, she was lucky enough to perform on some high-profile gigs, and her star and talent have only risen since! Her earliest covers were of Aretha Franklin and Alicia Keys, which clearly inspired her later songwriting.

She was putting out albums as early as 14, but she didn’t reach a higher status until she put out her EP H.E.R. Vol. 1 in 2016. Here, she had a chance to record with past artists like Wyclef Jean, Usher, and Alicia Keys, and the album did so well that it was loved by Rihanna and promoted by NPR. She continues to release music that is popular and has little sign of slowing down.

Besides R&B singers, she was also influenced by guitarists like B.B. King and Prince, especially their songs that are like love ballads. The repertoire of H.E.R. is mostly soulful and bluesy breakup songs, like many of that genre!

H.E.R. Guitars and Techniques

She is such a fan of the Fender Stratocaster that she has her own signature model, providing a clear R&B tone. However, H.E.R. also plays five different instruments, so it is common to see a variety of guitars, basses, keys, drums, and more. Songwriters often tend to play more than one instrument as it helps with ideas and control over the creative aspect. No matter what she plays, the goal seems to be a great song!

H.E.R.’s guitar technique and playing style are nothing too difficult, and many of her songs follow chord progressions that include lots of major and minor 7ths. Many pop, jazz, and rock songs use progressions like the I-IV-V and ii-V-I, in the key of C that would be C-F-G and Dm-G-C. When we want to make the song soulful or add rhythm and blues, we need to add in some extended guitar chords with chromaticism!

You will find H.E.R. songs to be a few chords and easy progressions, except she extends it like Dm7-G7-Cmaj7. Besides giving the chords more, we also need to provide the right rhythm in the strum to make it R&B. If your goal is to be a singer-songwriter as a guitarist, then learning how to play H.E.R. tunes will be helpful as that is the right style.

H.E.R. Songs

“Hard Place”

She received and won Grammys with this simple three-chord ballad! In this case, the repeated progression in the verse and chorus uses a V-ii-I progression, so it is in the key of E, that’s E-Bm7-A. This is the whole song, and the rhythm occasionally uses 1/18 and 1/16th notes in a light funky manner. With love ballads, we don’t want to overplay; we need to balance the vocals with the guitar.

“Focus”

This has a chord progression with some older jazz chords, but it is slowed down enough to have more of a love ballad feel. The chords are I-V-VI7-iim7-iv, so it starts out stronger and then drifts with a minor vibe. Along with the drum rhythm, it provides a nice mix of modern R&B and even an older classical feel with the piano arpeggio.

“Damage”

This is one of her harder songs to play as it uses tough keys with slash and extended chords. Remember, a slash chord just has a different bass note, and you can always transpose or use a capo to make it easier. Here we have chords of IIImaj9-VII6-Im11, which may seem tough, but added 9ths and 11ths just add flavor to our R&B. If you struggle, try playing the beginner guitar chords before adding the extensions.

“Come Through”

It’s another love ballad that has some potentially difficult chords if you are new, but with practice, they aren’t too hard! The basic movement is the usual mix of the I-ii-V, except here, we use a diminished and raised II like this: Imaj7-bIIdim-iim7-V7. And once you have these four chords down, it just repeats throughout the song.

“Gone Away”

Here, we have more of a pop progression that moves up the scale degrees with I-II-iii-IV, so we have a light building as it moves along. This may be an easier song to learn as the strum and chords are simple; as always, the singing is more important.

“Hold On”

This one follows a simple classic rock and blues progression, so it has a slightly more rocking vibe than the others. It is still a slower-tempo ballad like H.E.R. often plays, but the bIII in the I-bIII-IV sequence gives it a bluesy vibe. There are also a few uses of a sus4 and power chord, but first, just get the basic changes down; eventually, you can work on the lead guitar playing that subtly plays in the song.

“Best Part”

This one mixes major and minor 7ths in a Imaj7-vmin7-IVmaj7-bVImaj7, so in the key of D, that would be Dmaj7-Am7-Gmaj7-Bbmaj7. This chord sequence gives us a jazzier vibe with the minor V and flat VII, but it is still a slower tempo. Your strumming for this doesn’t have to be overly complicated because, as always, it is the vocal performance that really makes the difference.

H.E.R. songs are all accessible for someone learning how to play guitar; in fact, they are great study for R&B extensions. With this genre of music, the progressions are never too complicated, yet they still capture a strong feeling and sensuous vibe. If you want to write songs on your guitar filled with emotion, heartbreak, and longing, then listen to every song by H.E.R. as she has mastered the process!


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