Learn to Play Madison Cunningham’s “Life According to Raechel”

Learn to play the hushed, sparse, gorgeously melodic song that Madison Cunningham wrote in honor of her grandmother.

Right in the middle of Madison Cunningham’s new Grammy-winning album, Revealer, in striking contrast to the percolating beats and layers of instruments on most of the tracks, comes “Life According to Raechel”—a hushed, sparse, gorgeously melodic song that she wrote in honor of her grandmother, who passed away in the early stages of the pandemic. 

Madison Cunningham's album Revealer
Madison Cunningham’s album Revealer

The track centers on Cunningham’s soft fingerstyle guitar, with a string quartet and almost imperceptible bass and percussion. “I wanted it to feel like the eye of the storm,” she says. “Everything else has these more complex arrangements, and that song just needed to be a straight arrow.” 


“Life According to Raechel” showcases the haunting sound of Cunningham’s Silvertone guitar with its rubber bridge, in standard tuning lowered to C. You can play her part with a regular guitar and even in E-to-E standard tuning—though I highly recommend trying C standard, which gives any guitar a very different identity.

The song uses chord shapes in G major, which sound in the key of Eb. For much of the verse, play the hypnotic Gadd4 pattern shown in the example, in which the third- and second-string pitches rub against each other a half step apart. On beats 2 and 4, tap on the soundboard with your pinky—that serves as the song’s pulse. “It’s funny to play the song without that little tap,” she says. “The magic goes away. For whatever reason, it’s foundational.”


Continue a similar picking pattern through much of the verse, before going to a light fingerstyle bass/strum on the chorus, a classic I–vi–IV–V progression. On the last line of the chorus, play a series of D voicings that double the vocal melody on top.

Some of the chord shapes shown, like the Em9, reflect the way Cunningham played this song solo in a recent Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. That performance is well worth watching for a closeup look at her sophisticated style on both acoustic and electric guitars.

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 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine, you will find the music on page 60.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers
Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers, founding editor of Acoustic Guitar, is a grand prize winner of the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and author of The Complete Singer-Songwriter, Beyond Strumming, and other books and videos for musicians. In addition to his ongoing work with AG, he offers live workshops for guitarists and songwriters, plus video lessons, song charts, and tab, on Patreon.

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