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Get a complete FREE video lesson download (Love in Vain by Robert Johnson)
The perfect format for learning the tricks used by the original blues men.
- 11 hours of detailed tuition
- Download, online and disk
- Instant download link after payment
- 36 lessons covering the major blues picking styles
- Separate tablature files for printing out.
- Slow motion close ups of both hands
- On-screen chord diagrams & blues guitar tabs for quick reference.
- Delta blues
- Open tunings
- BONUS GIFT #2 Jim's MP3 album 'Metro'.
- BONUS GIFT #2 Acoustic Blues Travelers MP3 album 'Wake Up, Walk Out.'
Jim Bruce Blues Guitar Lessons
It's difficult to adequately define the blues in general, even when we narrow the genre down to just 'guitar'. Within the category of 'blues guitar', there are many other sub categories (once we separate electric from acoustic.)
In the States, variations of style appeared depending on the region, which also depended on the local influences of the leading musicians in that area.
Broadly speaking, we could say that the two extremes of early acoustic blues guitar are the sombre tones of the delta blues and the happy dance sounds of Piedmont style ragtime blues. Of course, there are other important styles between these two examples. We need to explore all styles when we decide to learn how to play blues guitar.
Delta Style Blues
Just one step up from the field holler, basic bottleneck delta blues style is like a tortuous cry from the soul. Maybe this style developed first, as it reduced the need to use many chords.
Often, the guitars were tuned down - to G, D and sometimes C. For sure, it produces a plaintive sound when done properly, and some exponents such as Johnny Shines, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson used this way of playing to great effect.
It may also be that a a tuned down guitar was easier to keep in tune in the humid swelter of the Mississippi, where this blues music was born.
One famous delta blues artist was anything but delicate in his technique, but the power and emotion of Son House ensures him a place at the head of the blues table when listing the masters we need to study when wanting to learn how to play blues.
The search for technical complexity can become the Holy Grail for guitarists, but it's a mistake. Few guitarists can match the power of the old blues masters, simply because the basic techniques are not solid enough.
There are no short cuts to the power of the blues. Listen to the bass lines of guitarists like Gary Davis, Big Bill Broonzy and Lightnin Hopkins. Hopkins could play just one bass note and send a shiver up your spine. It isn't the complex technique tha makes the blues, but the feeling and power behind it.
In the video below Jim discusses and
demonstrates the acoustic blues style of Lightnin' Hopkins
Blind Boy Fuller
Learning Other Styles
Generally, artists tended to stick within their own regional style, sometimes adding songs in other styles to 'round out' their repertoire and keep audiences interested. Some blues guitarists, however, crossed all the boundaries and learned how to play blues guitar in any style, such as Reverend Gary Davis and Big Bill Broonzy
The Reverend was taught in part by Willie Walker, an incredibly fast and accurate ragtime guitarists from Carolina. Gary Davis could play in any key and in any style, with any kind of blues guitar chords but favored Gospel guitar in his later years.
Broonzy came from the South, but ended up as a celebrity 'rock star' in Chicago, where he developed a particular style of swinging guitar blues characterized by his monotonic thumb action on the bass strings. He was also very fast and accurate, and very few modern day players can copy his technique effectively. Some of his pieces tended towards ragtime and he could also incorporate pop songs from the 'tin pan alley' of his day.
Blues Guitar Lessons 36 Video Pack
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Towards Ragtime Fingerpicking
Ragtime blues could be considered to be the more complex technique within the genre 'acoustic blues guitar'. The music of Lightnin' Hopkins was definitely bluesy and often appeared in the keys of E and A. In fact, many of his pieces in the same key were very similar. However, his ability to up-beat the temp and mix techniques places him in a class of his own - acoustic Texas Blues. He can't be glossed over in our study, if we seriously want to learn blues guitar.
It's interesting that some great talent who could really knew how to play blues also came out of Carolina, such as Pink Anderson, Floyd Council and Scrapper Blackwell. Pink was a fast player in the Piedmont guitar style and honed his craft playing behind the good Doctor Kerr in a traveling medicine show.
Floyd Council made few records in his own right, but can be heard backing Blind Boy Fuller on several tracks cut in 1940s. Their use of blues guitar chords and styles were very similar. He was known as the 'Devil's Daddy In-Law', but it's not certain why that is.
Scrapper Blackwell was an extremely influential artists who produced several blues guitar classics, like 'Blues Before Sunrise, Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out' and 'Kokomo Blues'. The latter was taken by Robert Johnson, who re-worked it and called it Sweet Home Chicago.
In passing, it's worth mentioning that a separate branch of picking developed called 'Travis' picking (see Guitar Rag Merle Travis), which has a ragtime feel and muted alternating bass lines. Doc Watson shows us how to play the blues in this style in his great classic song 'Deep River Blues.)
Reverend Gary Davis was an exponent of ragtime guitar par excellence. He played a Gibson J200 guitar, which had a prodigious sound when played with finger picks, as Davis did.
Rev Gary Davis was a giant of ragtime blues guitar, but there were other very notable exponents of this wonderfully complex style of playing a guitar.
Blind Wille McTell played syncopated rhythms on a 12 string guitar, creating classics such as 'Statesboro Blues'. Blind Boy Fuller was perhaps the most commercially successful of the ragtime guitarists, and his style was heavily influenced by Gary Davis, who taught him in his early years.
Blind Blake cut over 100 sides for Paramount and was very prolific. His complex fingerpicking guitar technique was characterized by a complicated double-thumb beat syncopation, rapid triplets executed by his fingers and lightning fast single strings runs.
The Roots Of The Blues
Learning blues guitar in today's world is a curious thing to go for. Even the least well off in Western countries are so much richer than the early blues legends who first invented the wonderful music that was the corner stone of all the various musical styles of our times. Even making use of the best blues guitar tabs, it's difficult for students to identify with the authentic spirit.
The first beat quite obviously was handed down from the people's roots in Africa, but modern African music is much more rich in rhythmic differences and more complex, so how did this happen? It's known that early 'guitars' were basic instruments with a single string, cobbled together from a large wooden cigar box, or similar box. It wasn't practically feasible to produce musical sounds of a very intricate form, and possibly made a short lived 'damped sound', with small difference in tune quality.
Also, for a lengthy time in southern America, traditional drums were outlawed, as were other cultural things that enhanced the inner strength of the black people and instilled principles of self determination or freedom from slavery. Maybe the hypnotic feel of the primordial blues guitar chords were intended to be drum like, possibly explaining why the single string thumb strike style of plucking was amongst the first to be used. In that technique of playing guitar, the rhythmic pattern was basically simpler and the thumb picking stroke was made to sound like a drum's beat. In those tough decades, a dedicated guitarist would pluck a monotonous bass pattern which frequently was at the same timing as a beating heart. This made sure that the beat has an emotional contact and it wasn't that important for the music to be analyzed, or be musically over structured.
Yet another possibility is in relation to the jobs that negro laborers were forced to apply themselves to. Most variations of tough work implies rhythmic repeated actions, such as hammering, cutting down cereal grass, digging turf with a hoe, hitting with a hammer or levering over steel rails for train tracks. You can find examples of the work in restored film archives of the time, where a line of workers with strong iron bars holler a repeating work song and synchronize their work motion such that the massive steel rail is eased over a short distance at the finish of a line of verse or perhaps the chorus. More often than not the work song was split up and an answer sung by designated parts of the work crew. This successful application of question and answer was utilized in many blues songs when sung by a couple of singers, and was a mainstay in church blues music.
Even though it's a fact that modern day music has been developed with complicated musical patterns and interesting rhythmic variations, the fundamental rhythms are detected - the elemental guitar boogie is unmistakable in a huge number of rock classics in the past 50 years and the style extended the traditional blues guitar chords. The more varied syncopation of ragtime guitar became the foundation of the first attempts at jazz.
When first starting to search for those ideal lessons for guitar, many people used to go to the great 'G', and 'Google it'. More and more searches for everything imaginable are made on Youtube, as a matter of fact it's the second most favorite search engine after Google itself. Like Google, the number of items returned for a search such as 'blues guitar lessons' is formidable - how to determine the instruction that's best for you and how to play blues guitar in the authentic style? Youtube guitar lessons feature all manner of styles and teaching levels, both paid and for free.
Blues guitar tabs are the basis of the best guitar lessons. It doesn't have to be incredibly complex at all, with just elementary notation indicating finger movements and blues guitar chords. Some blues tabs go into too much detail, trying to capture the feel and ambiance of authentic blues playing, which just isn't possible! This points us to the second characteristic of good blues guitar lessons - the teacher must be able to play the music very well (and the tablature should precisely represent what he is playing.)
Guitar tablature itself isn't enough to translate that delicate pause, or the thumb strike that is a little off-beat when needed to complement the words. Sure, the tab can show that a single thumb stroke should be damped with the palm of the hand, but can't indicate that this damping movement itself isn't continuous, but varies in sound as the force of the palm on the strings is continually being changed according to the flow of the song.
Take your time when looking for any instruction, of any kind. The Chinese have a saying 'a year or two spent doing nothing but locating the right instructor is very well spent'. This is a good observation. You don't need to take a year for your search, but choose carefully and ignore the hype. Don't expect to improve in two weeks, take it easy, don't beat yourself up and above all, enjoy the music and the travel.
The Vital Features Of Great Video Guitar Lessons
A search on the internet for guitar instruction in video format can turn out to be a daunting activity, particularly for the fledgling student with little experience. What are the best features of the most effective packages on offer? As you might imagine, we can identify common components that might help us choose the right tuition.
Tuition should be Easy To Follow
Although it almost goes without saying, any lesson for whatever subject needs to flow in a logical way and be simple to take in. First steps need to be clearly described, and grow into further lessons. Musical theory is important, but a student guitar player is basically impatient to start learning - he would like to play! This must be the first step, presenting the basic things that can be put into practice straight away. When all said and done, a thorough understanding of the first concepts will bring huge advantages later on in the instruction.
Musical Notation versus Tablature
Traditionally, guitarists in the classical style learned to read musical notation and followed the written notes
when performing or composing new music. Inevitably, this means a progress that is often perceived as too slow in today's fast moving world. During the 60s, blues guitar master Stephan Grossman and others,
created a method of guitar tablature that represented the frets and strings of the guitar neck. This abbreviated 'musical' notation was quickly assimilated and is an effective tool for learning blues guitar, for example. A grid of six strings is numbered from the bottom bass string (1) to the top E string (6) and a number written on a string shows which fret finger should be placed above. A straight line at the side of the number denotes that the thumb or finger is employed.
Image Presentation - Guitar Tablature - What Should Be Displayed On The Video Screen
There are many variations for this theme, but we can identify important features of this vital visual aid to guitar tuition. The student should be made aware right at the beginning what the purpose of that instruction may be. If he is to learn a complete song, then that song needs to be played in exactly the same as the detailed tuition demonstrated throughout the complete lesson. Before the detailed tuition, any difficult techniques can be discussed and valuable tips given. A close up of both hands are invaluable, and would be best shown seperately. Blues guitar chords and tab may be overlaid on the screen, so that students can follow the finger movements at the same time.
More Desirable Attributes Of Blues Guitar Tuition
When being taught a song, it's good to have the words at hand and a short discussion covering singing whilst playing. This might seem obvious, but it's quite tricky for a new student to do both together! The complete tablature and words could be provided as a separate Word or PDF file, which can be printed and referred to at the student's leisure. A Wave audio file could additionally be provided, in this way the instruction could be referred to casually at all times. However, if the video file is in the right format, it could be watched on an iPhone or iPad.
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I know that it's often very difficult to get enough practice time in, particularly if you have a family and job commitments. We often start out as youngsters playing blues guitar avidly and then it tends to tail off as we get involved romantically, or take a demanding career path - and later on balancing a relationship, kids and job all at the same time! It's no wonder that playing guitar takes last place.
This exact thing happened to me. I was playing at pro level in my twenties and then got married. Of course, I needed a good job to support a family, which demands time. Basically, I stopped playing at all for about 5 years, which was not a good idea. I thought that I would just pick it up when I was ready and carry on where I left off - wrong! Years of 'no practice' left a big hole, which I recovered after about a year's hard work. However, for some reason, I never recovered the slickness that I had previously.
Judging from my emails, there are many men between 50 and 60 years of age coming back learn guitar after years of inactivity, and finding it tough even if they played really well in their youth. My advice is always the same - make time every day for a little playing, even if it's 10 minutes. It really does work wonders and keeps those muscle memories active.
I'd really welcome any comments you might have, or any questions ... Cheers, Jim