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The Last Five Years – Detailed Notes on the Guitar Book

Writer/Composer: Jason Robert Brown
Year: 2002 (Off-Broadway)

The Last Five Years is a book that any committed pit guitarist should play at some point. Sophisticated, varied, complicated, challenging and rewarding in equal measures, physically and mentally demanding to play, it is something of a rite of passage in the sense that you feel like a better musician for having mastered and performed it.

In an earlier article, Playing The Last Five Years – Guitar, I reflected on the show, its score and orchestration, looked at the available cast recordings, described my approach to preparing for and playing the show, and provided a detailed rundown of the equipment I used. I also described my approach to obtaining the variety of guitar tones I wanted from just one acoustic guitar.

In this companion piece I take a deep dive into this epic book. I briefly reexamine the role of the Guitar in the orchestration, and the tones I used and how I obtained them. I look at the book itself, discussing its level of detail, identifying bad page turns and the few errors I am aware of. The bulk of the article comprises a detailed song-by-song review of the book, offering tips on how I approached key areas, and describing any (minor) departures I made from the score. This article will be of most use to guitarists preparing to play the show, who have a copy of the book to refer to. Music directors preparing to rehearse a pit ensemble may also find it useful.

"Still Hurting"

“Still Hurting”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

While the roles of the strings, piano and electric bass in the ensemble are obvious and more or less constant, that of the Guitar is much more fluid. In the poppier up-tempo numbers it acts as a rhythm section (e.g. “Moving Too Fast” and “A Miracle Would Happen”). In other numbers, it fits in with the strings, often doubling Cello 2 (e.g. “Still Hurting”), while in many places it doubles the Piano or acts as a sort of “Piano 2”. There are also several exposed solo sections, in different styles (e.g. “A Summer In Ohio” – jazz, “The Next Ten Minutes” – finger-picked melody, “A Miracle Would Happen” – bluesy lead guitar),.

With this variety in mind I wanted a range of tones, and experimented with several ways of achieving it (I describe the different approaches in my companion article, Playing The Last Five Years – Guitar). I settled on the use of three different picking/strumming styles:

  • Fingers: for softer sounds (especially when doubling strings) and sections requiring finger-picking, I picked with my fingernails, which I coated in nail hardener (Sally Hansen Hard As Nails) to add a little extra definition and clarity to the picked notes.
  • Nails: here I was just using my index finger nail as a pick for strumming. It provides a warmer sound than using any plastic pick and worked well for numbers like the jazzy “A Summer In Ohio”. The nail hardener protected the nail, so I could strum as hard as needed throughout the show without damaging it.
  • Nylon Pick: for the more upbeat rhythmic songs where I wanted a brighter tone (such as #4: Moving Too Fast) I used a Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick. This industry stalwart is pretty flexible so you get a fair amount of pick noise in the sound, which is exactly what I wanted.

In the detailed notes on each song, I identify where I used each technique.

Guitar books for musicals are notoriously vague. This one is generally not. Instead, page 1 of the score includes the following direction:

This is a little like throwing down the gauntlet to most guitarists, who are accustomed to having a lot of flexibility in their approach to a score. However, the use of specific voicings in the book is not as ubiquitous as Brown’s direction might lead you to believe. While slash marks are few, extensive use is made of slash rhythm notation, giving you a lot of freedom to choose appropriate voicings. This turns out to be a mixed blessing, because many of the chords are complicated (Bbm7(b5)/Eb anybody?) and it takes time and experimenting to settle on voicings which sit well within the overall orchestration.

The score also makes very extensive use of compound chords (A/C# etc.). As I worked through the book I found that using voicings where the specified bass note was actually the lowest note in the chord usually added to the mood and texture of the guitar parts, so I used such voicings wherever possible.

Returning to Brown’s edict regarding specific voicings, I did of course try to follow it. But there are a handful of locations in the book where the voicings provided are either impossible or impractical to play, and I made minor adjustments to them for this reason. I identify all such adjustments in my detailed notes below. As far as I can tell, the guitarists on the cast recordings did the same!

This is a difficult book to play; I recommend taking plenty of time to learn and practice it. A lot of the guitar parts are exposed, and in a small ensemble there is nowhere to hide. The middle third of the book is the most technically difficult; I spent the most practice time on #6: “The Schmuel Song” through #8: “The Next Ten Minutes”. Also, as the following detailed notes make clear, keeping control over tempo is important in this show, and requires more care than usual because there is no percussionist.

Although the book is generally very accurate, I have identified a few errors:

#7 – A Summer In Ohio: the D7(b5) chord in m.14 should be Dm7(b5).

#8 – The Next Ten Minutes: the chord name (F#m) is incorrect. It should be F#7. The notes as written are correct.

#10 – Audition Sequence: m.99 is a 12/8 measure but only contains 10 eighth-notes. The rhythm is also incorrect, as shown below. The same error occurs in m.112, 113, 114 and 115.


#12 – I Can Do Better Than That

  • m.23, beat 2: the B should probably be an A.
  • m.66, beat 2, the G# should probably be an A.

#14 – Goodbye Until Tomorrow: in m.78, the A natural should be A# (it’s a tied note from the previous measure).

Page Turns

It is common in musical theatre guitar books to see “Open Three Pages” printed at the top of a number, when there is no fold-out page to open. The original score has a fold-out page to avoid a bad page turn, but they are never replicated in the copies provided by licensing companies. This inevitably results in at least one bad page turn, and often more, since it can throw subsequent page turns out of kilter.

The Last Five Years has four missing fold-outs, in #2: “Shiksa Goddess”, #4: “Moving Too Fast”, #6: “The Schmuel Song” and #8: “The Next 10 Minutes”. This results in the following bad or difficult page turns:

  • #2 – Shiksa Goddess: fast page turn, end of p1.
  • #4 – Moving Too Fast: bad page turn, and of p3.
  • #6 – The Schmuel Song: bad page turn, end of p2.
  • #8 – The Next 10 Minutes: bad page turn, end of p1 (this one is really terrible).
  • #9 – A Miracle Would Happen: fast page turn, end of p1.
  • #12 – I Can Do Better Than That: fast page turn, end of p1.
  • #14 – Goodbye Until Tomorrow: fast page turn, end of p1.

I added the missing fold-out pages and repaginated my score to eliminate all the bad page turns, also adding a fold-out for Goodbye Until Tomorrow, where the page turn was achievable, but tricky.

“Shiksa Goddess”

“Shiksa Goddess”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

The following notes cover every number in the book. They explain my approach to the music and describe some of the choices I made in places where the book is less prescriptive. I identify any minor departures I made from the score and explain why I decided to do so. This is not intended to be an “instruction manual”; rather I hope it will provide some insight into key elements of each song for any guitarist preparing to play the show. The notes will only make sense if you have a copy of the book to refer to.

 #0: Prologue
The show opens with this 20-measure piano solo. Guitar and all other instruments are tacet. It segues into #1: Still Hurting.

#1: Still Hurting
Pick: fingers for arpeggios, nails for chords

The first song in the show is Cathy’s broken-hearted lament after discovering that Jamie has left her. Musically, the strings are very much to the forefront here, with the guitar mostly playing a “Piano 2” role. There’s a Bach feel to the number; specifically it brings to mind “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring”. The tempo is a mostly-steady 9/8, and it’s important to keep the timing precise to preserve the gentle pulse and flow of the rhythm. It’s tempting to count in 3, but I found that counting in 9 at critical points was helpful in this respect.


  • m.13-14 & m.23-24: this brief sequence of rolled chords is the guitar’s signature moment in this number, echoing Cathy’s “I’m Still Hurting”. The melody is the high note of each chord, and the rolls should be timed ever-so-slightly ahead of the beat so that you hit the high notes exactly on the beat. Don’t roll the chords too broadly (slowly) or you disrupt the rhythm. The voicings should be played exactly as written; for the F6/9 voicing you will need to mute the D-string with the finger fretting the low C.
  • m.25-41: this section is mainly arpeggiated eighth notes, and you have flexibility with voicings, which should be fairly low. I mostly used arpeggios on the D, G and B strings, avoiding the bright high E-string.
  • m.31-32: the sustained chord in these two measures is marked “(non-arp.)”. Rather than strumming, I plucked all three strings simultaneously to get a clean, crisp ringing tone, doubling the piano.
  • m.42-57: another section of eighth-note arpeggios, notated mostly as slash marks. For this section I added in the bass notes below the arpeggios throughout, as shown in the example below.


  • m.62-64: this bass melody line is doubled with Cello 2. It’s worth practicing it together a few times to get it tight.
  • m.67-70: more eighth-note arpeggios, to which I added bass notes in a manner similar to the example above.
  • m.71-74: the chord voicings in these measures are tricky. It feels like the chords ought to be rolled, but the voicings require muting of the D and G strings, making that impractical. Instead they are marked “poco arp.”, which I took to mean that you are meant to play the arpeggios quickly enough that they sound like rolled chords. I modified these voicings so that I could play rolled chords, as shown below (this is the first of a few minor departures I made from the score’s specific voicings in the interests of playability, which I hope Mr. Jason Robert Brown will forgive).


  • m.75-76: the sustained chord in these two measures is marked “(non-arp.)”. Rather than strumming, I plucked all three strings simultaneously to get a clean, crisp ringing tone, doubling the piano, similar to m.31-32.
  • m.90: I played the G harmonic at the 5th fret on the G-string.

#2: Shiksa Goddess
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick

The mood shifts abruptly for Jamie’s first song, a giddy Latin pop pastiche. You have five measures of rest to make the page turn and grab a pick. I used a pick for all of the more up-tempo, rhythmic songs in the show, for the reasons described above. This is a straightforward number to play.


  • m.1: there is a direct segue into the start of the song, and an abrupt change of tempo. Keep your eyes closely on the conductor to make the transition clean.
  • m.32-42: I played full, low voicings (1st-2nd fret) for the chords throughout the choruses.
  • m.56-70: you have some freedom with the rhythm in this section, but note the accents on beats 2 and 4 of m.56 (especially beat 4). Observing these accents every other measure will keep the rhythm tight with the bass part.
  • m.105-116 (the “Dreamy” section): I played this section (voicings and fills) pretty closely to what I hear in the 2002 cast recording, as the book does not provide specific voicings. The voicings and fills I used are shown in the excerpt below. The CMaj9 fingering took a little practice before I could nail it every time!


#3: See, I’m Smiling
Pick: Nails (m.1-85, m.103-116), Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick (m.86-102)

Cathy bargains with Jamie (and herself) about the state of their crumbling marriage. The number is mostly a reflective ballad, shifting abruptly to a jagged, discordant march-like feel as Cathy’s frustration with Jamie boils over, and finally returning to a haunting reprise of the ballad theme as Cathy is finally overcome by despair. The final third of the number is some of the most overtly emotional music in the show.

Technically, this is a straightforward number to play. For the ballad section I strummed with my hardened nails, giving me a softer rhythm sound than with a pick, but still with reasonable definition in the strumming. I used a pick for the “angry meltdown” section for a contrasting, brighter sound, then switched back to nails for the final “despair” section.


  • m.1-8: very simple to play, but it’s exposed solo guitar which needs to be articulated cleanly. I used my hardened index finger nail like a pick for this, rather than finger-picking.
  • m.10: play the B and E harmonics at 12th fret here and at the other places where they occur.
  • m.11 onwards: most of this ballad is gentle, steady strumming. You have a little freedom with the rhythm, but I followed the various accents and tenuto marks fairly closely. The verse and underscore sections have lots of compound chords with a droning A as the root so I used voicings with a low A as the bass. It’s easy to rush this song, so take care to keep the tempo steady.
  • m.44-47: this is underscore and should be a little quieter than the preceding measures.
  • m.73-76: another underscore section, which should be quieter than the preceding section.
  • m.77: the underscore ends abruptly on cue, so watch the conductor for the sudden jump into this 1/4 measure, where piano and strings have four 1/16th notes.
  • m.78-102: Cathy unleashes a bitter diatribe at Jamie, who has let her down, again. This section needs to build with Cathy’s vocal, starting with an icy, controlled anger in m.78-85, escalating gradually in volume and intensity from m.86 to uncontrolled fury by m.102. A lot of the chords are quite unusual, so take time to work out the voicings. I chose voicings on the top four strings, starting low, and moving gradually higher towards the middle of the neck through the section.
  • m.78-85: this section is all staccato quarter notes, in unison with the piano. To keep these as crisp as possible I plucked each string with a separate finger, rather than strumming. Pay close attention to the piano so you stay together.
  • m.86-97: at this point I moved the voicings higher and switched to using a pick, gradually increasing the volume and intensity of my strumming, and following the accents and dynamic markings as shown. Keep the tempo steady!
  • m.98-102: the volume drops at m.98, then builds again to a huge finish in m.102. I dropped the voicings back down to 4th and 2nd frets here, and used broader, fuller voicings.
  • m.106-110: back to nails, another solo guitar section.
“See, I’m Smiling”

“See, I’m Smiling”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

#4: Moving Too Fast
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick

Jamie enthuses about the trajectory of both his career and his romance with Cathy. This is a straightforward pop number with a funky groove; I used a pick throughout to get the percussive attack for the driving rhythm. While it isn’t difficult to play, there are a lot of barre chords and I find my hand and forearm ache by the end every time I play it. The guitar is very much in its rhythm section role in this number, and there are no strings until m.46, just guitar, bass and piano.


  • m.7: I played the harmonics at the 12th fret.
  • m.9: in the main riff (A7 to D7 chords) the accented chord change is always on the “and” of beat 2, which is tied to beat 3. However, the tie isn’t always shown, as is the case in m.9, shown below. It is shown in the following two measures. The rhythm also involves lots of percussive muting between the emphasized beats (funky rhythm, right?), which also isn’t shown. I treated the rhythm notation as a guide to the emphasis needed, and just played the rhythm as I felt it.


  • m.17-20: play the octave pair A’s at the 14th fret. This is one of two places in the book where you really need a guitar with a cutaway body.
  • m.39-80: this section of the song is a little quieter and more reflective lyrically. I used lower, broader and fuller voicings, with much less percussive muting, letting the chords ring more.
  • m.64-80: this section is underscore to Cathy’s dialog and should be quieter. The jump out of the end of the vamp at m.79-80 is on cue, so watch the conductor.
  • m.81-89: the riff in this section is in unison with bass and piano, so it needs to be crisp and tight. It’s worth practicing it together several times.
  • m.90-123: the rest of the song is back to the percussive rhythm, building up to a big finish. Loads of barre chords, but a lot of fun to play.

#5: I’m A Part Of That
Pick: fingers (m.1-14 and all other bouncy staccato sections), nails (everywhere else)

Cathy muses on her place in Jamie’s life, as the first seeds of doubt about their marriage are creeping in. This pop song alternates between bouncy, slightly brittle staccato verses and lush, romantic choruses, reflecting Cathy’s uncertainty and lack of confidence.

In the “bouncy staccato” verses, the Guitar doubles with the cellos. To make the chords sound as crisp as possible I used “unison picking” (simultaneously plucking multiple strings) rather than strumming. The choruses are mostly rolled whole note chords. I strummed with my hardened index finger nail for a warmer sound.


  • m.1-11: I played the voicings as written, all on the G, B and E strings, except for the Bb7 in m.8, which I played at the 8th fret on D, G and B strings for easier fingering. The same applies to m.36-42 (second verse).
  • m.12-21: I continued the staccato quarter note chords throughout this section, except for m.15 and m.21, which are strummed. The score gets a bit vague and inconsistent in this section, providing slash rhythm in m.16, slash marks in m.17 then single notes with chord symbols and a comment “(voice-lead)” for m.18-20. I took “voice-lead” to mean that the indicated notes are meant to be the top note of each chord. I played this section as shown below. The same applies to m.36-52 (second verse).


  • m.22-35: for the chorus section I played rolled chords with low voicings, mostly omitting the high E-string. In m.28 I omitted the low C from the specified Cm9 voicing as it’s not practical to play. The same applies to all subsequent chorus sections.
  • m.67-80: for this section I played broadly strummed, low chord voicings.
  • m.81-88: one final “bouncy staccato” section, with more “voice-lead” vagueness. I played this as shown below, all on the G, B and E strings.


#6: The Schmuel Song
Pick: fingers and nails throughout

Jamie tries to cheer up a discouraged Cathy using metaphor, telling her a story of Schmuel, the Tailor of Klimovich. This the most idiosyncratic number in the show; stylistically all over the place and with tempo changes galore, it sounds like a mashup of an outtake from “Fiddler on the Roof” and a folk song, with a bit of a twisted waltz thrown in for good measure. It’s quite difficult to play, and where there is vagueness in the chart you need to work out exactly what you’re going to play beforehand – this is not a number to try and read down. Let’s get into the details…


  • m.1-14: the intro and first verse of the song comprise mainly tremolo and staccato eighth-notes, which are meant to be played “quasi mandolin”. To make the part sound bright and light I played everything on the B and high E strings. To make it as crisp as possible, I picked the strings using my index and middle fingers simultaneously (index for the B string, middle for the E), acting as a sort of “double-headed pick”. This gives a cleaner sound than trying to use one finger to strum the two strings. I played the tremolo notes as triplets. The excerpt below shows how I played the part, and (in a first for this blog!) I include a video clip to illustrate my picking approach more effectively, at a slowed-down tempo. The same approach can be used for the other verses (m.32-44 and m.115-126).


#6 – The Schmuel Song: picking style for verses
  • m.15-18: this is a section of finger picked eighth-note arpeggios, where chord names and note stems are provided, but no actual notes, giving you some flexibility with the voicings. I played 2nd fret voicings ascending then descending, mostly on the G, B and high E strings, as shown below.


  • m.19: I used a D B F# E voicing for Dm6 chord in this measure and everywhere else it occurs in the number (4th fret).
  • m.24-29: for the chorus section I played low voicings with a percussive rhythm, using some muting but following the accenting shown in the score, as shown in the excerpt below.


  • m.71-75: I played low voicings at the 1st and 3rd frets, continuing the rhythm given in m.71 through to the end of m.75.
  • m.81-89: this section is in 6/8 but feels like a fast waltz. The book calls for arpeggios but gives mostly stems with no notes. I played it as shown in the excerpt below.


  • m.98-103: the fingering for this section is a little tricky. I provide my suggestion in tab notation in the excerpt below.


  • m.112: I used an 8th fret voicing for the DbMaj7 chord.
  • m.128-131: this is another arpeggiated section similar to m.15-18 (see notes above), but note that this time you are supposed to roll each chord on the first eighth note of the arpeggio.
  • m.143-145: this section is a little tricky, but can be played as written. I played it mostly on the G and D strings, picking each string – no strumming, as shown below.


  • m.156: I used a A E A C# A (0 2 2 2 5) voicing for the final rolled A chord.

#7: A Summer In Ohio
Pick: strum with nails throughout

Kathy laments her summer of repertory theatre in Ohio, but is giddy about her recent marriage to Jamie (although her pervasive self-doubt creeps in even here). This is a lovely jazz shuffle with something of a cabaret feel about it. I used my hardened nails rather than a pick, to get a warm strummed sound, rather than the bright attack of a pick. As the chart says, think Freddie Greene.


  • Notation and chord voicings: almost the entire chart is slash rhythm notation, and as the song progresses the chords become increasingly outlandish. I recommend working out voicings for the entire song in advance. Once you have your voicings worked out, you can just lay back and strum your way through the song. I recommend following the rhythm patterns provided pretty closely throughout.
  • m.1-20 (Intro & 1st verse): the Guitar plays solo under the vocal for almost all of this section, other than a few piano flourishes. It’s very exposed and needs to be played cleanly. For the verses I used low voicings, as shown in the excerpt below.


  • m.14: the D7(b5) chord in should be Dm7(b5). This is an error in the score.
  • m.48: at this point the rhythm falls apart briefly, before picking up again in m.49. The score calls for a “bad fill, out of time, twangy, clumsy”. Here’s you just need to work out what the Music Director wants to suit the moment. In one production, the piano did the fill and I just held the D/E chord over for the first two beats of m.48.
  • m.69: very fast page turn – be ready for this!
“The Next Ten Minutes"

“The Next Ten Minutes”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

#8: The Next Ten Minutes
Pick: fingers throughout

Jamie and Kathleen appear together for the only time as they get married. This beautiful song is the centerpiece of the show, quite literally. It has a hazy, hypnotic, gently euphoric and other-worldly feel, as if the lovers, consumed with joy, exist in their own world for this brief moment. It also conveys a sense of momentary stillness and liminality, as the opposing timelines cross and the relative trajectories of their relationship change direction. It is a fabulous piece of music and a joy to play (and although it’s not quite ten minutes, it isn’t far short!). The Guitar part presents two particular challenges: keeping time, and a long, exposed, delicate solo section, which can also be regarded as a treat, depending on your perspective.

Keeping time
Most of the song is in 12/8 time, and for about half of it, the guitar and strings play eighth-note triplet patterns, with the strings playing the first two and the guitar playing the third note of each triplet and holding it over the next. Keeping it together requires concentration and precision from all players. The figure below shows two typical measures to illustrate what’s going on.


The guitar’s role in this is to maintain this steady off-beat pulse on the A and keep locked in with the strings (and of course the piano, which has both parts). Because the guitar pulse is off-beat it is easy for tempo to drift, and the repetitive pattern makes it easy to lose track of where you are in the score. I mentally counted in 12 rather than 4 to help maintain focus, and read the score every time, even when I knew the material very well.


  • m.1-11: in this first section, Guitar plays the off-beats as described above, but not in a regular pattern, and there are three time changes which add to the complexity. Count really carefully, and listen to the strings (listening to the vocals won’t help here). In m.11 watch the conductor for the cutoff, then the pickup cue leading into the steady tempo at m.12.
  • m.43-59: guitar solo: this is a beautiful, delicate passage for the guitar, all melodic finger picking under Kathy’s vocal. There are no strings for m.43-50; the piano doubles quietly but may drop out (if you play it nicely enough!), making this an exposed guitar solo. There are a few ways to play this passage, but I settled on fingerings which avoid awkward chord changes and allow the notes to ring clearly throughout. Precise and accurate articulation is important. The excerpt below illustrates my approach, and I have included a short video of my playing it at reduced tempo. The precise fingerings I use allow me to make the necessary moves on the fretboard cleanly without muting the last notes played. I recommend listening to the film soundtrack recording of this passage as a reference; the guitar is easier to hear clearly than in the other two recordings.


#8 – The Next Ten Minutes: fingering for m.43-50
  • m.60-69: the score is vague here, providing mostly slash notation and chord names. The excerpt below shows my approach to playing it.


  • m.93-112: this short waltz section is deceptively tricky, as the fingerings change constantly and some are quite awkward to articulate cleanly. It is best to practice and memorize the whole section. There is an error in m.103, where the chord name is given as F#m and should be F#7; however the notes as written are correct. I found a few of the voicings unplayable and made the following adjustments:
    • m.104: I omitted the F# from beats 2 and 3.
    • m.107: I omitted the A from beats 2 and 3.
    • m.111: I omitted the A from beats 2 and 3.
  • m.113-131: the number concludes by returning to the original 12/8 melody with the guitar back to the off-beat pulse on A. Watch for the time changes from 12/8 to 9/8 and back to 12/8. Once again counting (and total focus) is crucial.

#9: A Miracle Would Happen
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick

Jamie frets about both the temptations inherent in his jet set lifestyle and the constraints of a monogamous marriage in this funky little number, which includes a couple of lovely guitar solos. Much of the song is funky 16th-note rhythm playing and while you don’t have to stick exactly to the written rhythm, it is important to hit the accented notes to keep the intended feel. The solos are not written out so I went to the recordings for guidance and modeled my performance closely on Gary Sieger’s work on the 2002 recording. Sieger has been (and remains) Jason Robert Brown’s go-to guitarist for many years and his solos on this number are outstanding; they are elegant, bluesy, stylish and (like all the best guitar solos) hummable, which makes them memorable.


  • m.5-26 (first solo): after a brief piano intro, the guitar solo is at m.5-8, with the vocals coming in at m.9. The guitar continues playing lead licks through the whole of the first verse, to m.26. As noted above, I played something very close to Gary Sieger’s 2002 solo, and I provide a transcription of this section here.
  • m.27-38 (chorus): I played low voicings throughout the chorus (and all the other chorus sections in the song).
  • m.38-42 (second solo): once again I imitated Gary Sieger’s lovely solo, as transcribed below.


  • m.52: I played a 10th fret voicing for the G7 chord (again, listen to the 2002 recording).
  • m.73-76: I played high (8th and 10th fret) voicings for the A7 and D7 chords, using a 16th-note funky strum, and landing on a 7th fret voicing for G/A in m.76.
  • m.109-120: I played broad, low voicings for the whole note chords, slightly rolled. For m.116 I departed from the rhythm pattern shown in the score and used Gary Sieger’s version from the 2002 recording, as shown in the excerpt below.


  • m.143-148: this section needs to build in volume and intensity throughout. The chart shows staccato quarter-notes throughout, but I started to speed up the rhythm from m.145 onwards, as shown below.


“Audition Sequence”

“Audition Sequence”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

#10: Audition Sequence
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick

Kathy’s inner monologue of self-conscious doubt and anxiety plays out to a vaguely Irish jig and a truly hilarious piano and vocal audition section. This is one of the more straightforward numbers for the guitar, all strummed chords.

The chart uses mostly slash notation, and not all of the chords are obvious, so it’s a good idea to work out the voicings you plan to use in advance. I used full, low voicings throughout. The rhythm patterns should be followed precisely as written for this number.

Errors: this is one of the few charts containing errors. m.99 is a 12/8 measure but the chart only contains 10 eighth-notes. The rhythm is also incorrect, as shown below. The same error occurs in m.112, 113, 114 and 115.


 #11: If I Didn’t Believe In You
Pick: Fingers and nails (m.1-26, m.63-76), Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick (m.27-62)

Following an argument, Jamie addresses Kathy’s self-doubt, but alternates between trying to be encouraging and indirectly hinting that their marriage is not working. Musically and lyrically this song feels like a response to the previous number, even though it occurs at a very different place in the timeline. It’s another 12/8 time signature and another folk feel, although its gentle and lilting feel contrasts markedly with the aggressive, frustrated feel of Kathy’s “Audition Sequence”. This is just one of the many ways in which Brown cleverly shows how the things which ultimately undo the marriage were baked in from the outset.

Like the previous number, I followed the slash rhythm notation quite closely, and again I recommend working out the chord voicings well in advance, because there are some quite unusual, dissonant chords in this song. Generally I used full, low voicings for the strummed sections. I also switched between finger picking for the quiet sections and a pick for the rhythmic section.


  • m.1-8: this section is all whole note chords, which I rolled slightly. The voicings cannot be played as written without using a capo (which the book does not indicate). A capo at the first fret allows them all to be played easily. Keep the capo on until m.16.
  • m.15-16: more rolled chords which are much easier with the capo, but this time no voicings are provided. My suggestions are shown in the excerpt below. Remove the capo after playing m.16.


  • m.23-26: more slightly rolled chords for which no voicings are provided. I provide my suggestions below. I switched from fingers to a pick after m.26.


  • m.58-61: I played the spelt-out chord voicings exactly as written, rolling them slightly. All can be played at the 6th fret except for the C(add 11) in m.59, which has to be played at the 10th fret. For the chords in m.60-61 where no voicings are provided. I played full voicings, all at the first fret. After m.61 I switched back to finger picking for the rest of the number.

#12: I Can Do Better Than That
Pick: fingers and nails throughout

Kathy compares her ambitions with the humdrum lives of her contemporaries as she takes Jamie to meet her parents and invites her to move in with him. Taken in isolation this is a perky, upbeat pop number with a slight reggae-ish feel. But of course we are now near the end of the show and we know how it all worked out, which casts the lyrics in a very different, bitterly ironic light, and makes Kathy’s optimism seem very hollow indeed.

I used fingers and nails rather than a pick for this number, because there were places where I wanted to pluck the chords, rather than strumming them, to get a really tight, crisp sound. The tempo is steady throughout, and it’s important to keep tight with the piano in the rhythmic sections. It is easy to rush this song, so focus on laying back on the beat slightly.


  • m.15-16: I played the melodic motif as written, but the high open E string over the top is a little tricky to articulate. If you can’t keep it clean, omit it in favor of articulating the lower notes cleanly. The same applies at m.23-24, m.58-59 and m.66-67.
  • m.23: there is an error in the score. The B+E chord on beat 2 should be A+E.
  • m.66: a similar error occurs. The G#+E chord on beat 2 should be A+E.
  • m.133-140: the spelt-out 5 and 6-note voicings are very full and I found that they ended up sounding muddy. I omitted the bottom two notes from each chord to keep the sound clean and crisp.
  • m.149-160: all of the chords in this section have an A in the middle of the voicings which makes them difficult or impossible to play. I omitted the A from all of these chords except the A2 in m.153-155.
“Nobody Needs To Know”

“Nobody Needs To Know”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

#13: Nobody Needs To Know
Pick: fingers and nails throughout

Jamie cheats on Kathy and reflects on the state of their relationship. By now he has checked out – he knows it’s over. This long, slow number has a positively funereal atmosphere, but is also tense and tightly wound, as if something is about to break…which of course it is. This may not be quite the saddest song in the show (there is stiff competition for that title), but it is probably the grimmest and darkest.

The song is in a slow, steady 3/4 time, and the guitar has a prominent exposed role for most of it, playing a picked 4-measure eighth-note pattern over and over through the verses. It is easy to rush but absolutely essential not to do so. Count, count, count. A capo at the first fret is required for the whole song. The chart is written in G but the concert pitch is A-flat.

Rather than finger picking I used my hardened index finger nail like a plectrum for most of this number. This gave a crisp, well-defined attack for the eighth-note patterns, but without the brightness of the nylon pick; warmer and darker.


  • m.43-53: while the verses are eighth-note patterns, the refrains are rolled dotted half-notes, for which only slash notation is provided. I provide my suggestions for voicings below. The same voicings apply to the other choruses at m.81-91 and m.159-167.


  • m.100-105: slash notation only is provided for these rolled chords. I provide my suggested voicings (as low as I could make them – the song is getting extra doom-laden here) below.


  • m.122: here the eighth-note pattern begins with a rolled G chord. Make a big, broad and a little louder than the rest of the pattern. The same applies to m.126, m.130 and m.134.
  • m.140-146: more big rolled chords, growing in volume and intensity throughout. For each chord you need to mute the A-string.
  • m.203: the score says to remove the capo at this point. I suggest leaving it on, because (unlike the score) I recommend using a capo for the following number. So, leave the capo in place until the end of the number then move it to the second fret for #14: Goodbye Until Tomorrow (or remove it if that’s your preference).
  • m.207-209: this little refrain of the “Nobody Needs to Know” melody is an exposed solo guitar moment, so getting it right is important. It’s also one of the two places in the score that really call for a guitar with a cutaway body, as you need to reach the 18th fret.
“I Could Never Rescue You”

“I Could Never Rescue You”. Image courtesy of SecondStory Repertory / © 2016 Michael Brunk,

#14: Goodbye Until Tomorrow / I Could Never Rescue You
Pick: Dunlop 0.46mm nylon pick (m.1-78, m.171-193), fingers (m.97-167, m.201-207)

The ends of the timelines are reached. Kathy sings euphorically about her first date with Jamie (Goodbye Until Tomorrow), while a despondent Jamie writes his “goodbye for ever”note to Kathy (I Could Never Rescue You), which she will find at the start of the show (Still Hurting). The contrast between the two sections of the song is brutal, but of course that’s the point.

The Kathy section of the song is upbeat, rhythmic and poppy, in B Major and D-flat Major. It is much easier to play (and sounds better) if you use a capo at the second fret, although this isn’t indicated in the score and I don’t think any of the recorded versions used this approach. With the capo, you can play a lot of lovely open-string voicings, let them ring and really dig into the rhythm. It also makes the percussive muting required easier to manage. The capo should be removed at the end of Kathy’s section (after m.78).


  • m.4-78: only slash rhythm notation is provided. As ever, there are some interesting chords in this section, and I recommend working out all the voicings you plan to use in advance. In general I used full and low voicings. If you plan to use a capo it’s also worth marking in the transposed chord names (B becomes A and so forth), for ease of reading.
  • m.77-78: the E7(#11) voicing shown is almost impossible to play. If not using a capo, I suggest dropping the high A# from the chord, and if using a capo you have to drop the low E. There is an error in m.78, which shows a high A natural at the top of the chord; it should be an A# carried over from the previous measure.
  • m.79: remove the capo, if you are using one.
  • m.117-124: I played low voicings on the D, G, B and E strings for the rolled chords in this section.
  • m.125-132: I broadened the chord voicings: still low but using the low E and A strings more.
  • m.171-193: this is the finale of the show (inasmuch as it has one). I used a pick to strum big, broad low voiced chords. Note the accenting on beats 1 and 4 of each measure. It’s in 6/4 but feels a little like 3/4 .
  • m.201-207: I switched back to fingers for a warmer sound on these last few notes.

Playing The Last Five Years –Guitar

Note: all links were valid at the time this article was published.

The Last Five Years Wikipedia entry
The Last Five Years (movie) Wikipedia entry
Jason Robert Brown homepage and Twitter
2002 Original Cast Recording CD and YouTube playlist
2013 Off-Broadway Cast Recording and YouTube playlist
2014 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD and YouTube playlist
Sally Hansen Hard As Nails (Nail Hardener)

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Thank you for these parts


    August 30, 2022

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