From the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar | By Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Released as the first single from Ben Harper’s album Both Sides of the Gun, “Better Way” topped the AAA charts in 2006, but the song’s call to stand up for your rights and ideals continues to reverberate. The (Dixie) Chicks have covered “Better Way” as a rocking show finale, as heard on the live album/video DCX MMXVI, and the song remains a mainstay of Harper’s live repertoire.
The original album track is built on a hypnotic drum/percussion and bass groove with a strong Indian flavor, thanks especially to the prominent drone of a tamboura (credited to David Lindley). Harper’s family music store, the Folk Music Center, and its selection of instruments from around the world figure prominently in the official music video. The track’s main guitar presence is a propulsive Weissenborn solo that Harper demonstrates in the exclusive video above. In the Chicks cover, Emily Strayer plays her own take on Harper’s solo on electric lap steel.
Harper has also performed “Better Way” solo with acoustic guitar, in the key of E, and this arrangement is based on that version. If you’d like to play along with the original track, in F, capo at the first fret.
“Better Way” follows the simple classic rock progression E–D–A or I–bVII–IV (as in Van Morrison’s “Gloria” and tons of other songs), and any straight-ahead rock strumming pattern in 4/4 will work. The first measure of tab shows Harper’s main rhythm pattern, with a downstrum on beat one and a percussive scratch on beat two (indicated with Xs). Maintain a continuous down/up motion with your picking hand on the eighth notes even when you are not striking the strings (for instance, you skip over beat one-and as well as beat three).
Measures 2 and 3 show a short intro inspired by what Harper has played live. In measure 2, fret the G note on the sixth string with your fourth finger, and give it a slight pull for a bluesy bend, while still holding the E shape. Then add the blues riff up the neck with an E7 shape on the high strings, move that shape down a fret, and add a quick slide on the second string.
As a bonus, we’ve notated Harper’s lap-slide solo from the original recording, played in E5 tuning raised a half step: F C F F C F. In that tuning, strings 6, 2, and 1 are up a half step; strings 5 and 4 are up one and a half steps; and string 3 is lowered a step. Lighter gauge strings would be advisable for tuning up that much. A simpler and safer method would be to tune to E B E E B E and capo at the first fret, or even to D A D D A D and capo at the third fret. For the D tuning, leave strings 5 and 4 at their standard pitches; tune strings 6, 2, and 1 down a step; and drop string 3 until it’s in unison with string 4.
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While Harper plays this solo lap-style, you could try it in standard bottleneck style. In the solo, play double-stop riffs and occasional power chords on the upper strings, interspersing open strings throughout for the drone of the I chord. Add plenty of vibrato on the slide notes, and touch the strings with your free fretting fingers behind the slide (for instance, your index and middle fingers if you’ve got the slide on your ring finger) to reduce string noise.
Due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to post notation or tablature for this musical work. If you have a digital or physical copy of the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 46.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.