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Acoustic Blues Guitar Picking - Learning Blues Guitar

Well, How Hard Can It Be To Play 
Acoustic  Blues Guitar Like The Old Guys?

It almost goes without saying that elementary finger picking is quite easy – you strike one string with the thumb and the following one with a finger, or pluck two or 3 strings in unison with thumb and finger(s)! Got it ? Of course, it’s how we apply our thumb and fingers which can generate an exciting effect. Acoustic Blues Picking is a little different. It’s rather tricky to play blues finger picking easily so that it flows.

I’ve noticed that a lot of,old school guitar masters simply applied one finger on their right hand– Doc Watson, Reverend Gary Davis, Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Boy Fuller, Floyd Council, Big Bill Broonzy, and the list goes on and on. We are really lucky to have old film clips of blues men similar to Broonzy and we can get an idea how these folks developed these fantastic sounds. Big Bill Broonzy Guitar Shuffle Tab

The right hand thumb can travel over to the treble strings to help out, which adds to the syncopation. We start to see that the right thumb is the driving force behind the greatest acoustic blues. It can double the beat to reproduce the heartbeat, strike off the beat , pluck two or more strings at a time and create single string runs when used together with one of the fingers (typically the index.) Reverend Gary Davis was a main exponent of this fashion of picking .

Davis might perform with picks or naked fingers, but preferred to use  a large plastic thumb pick and a steel finger pick steel pick on his index finger. It creates a strong, penetrating effect which permitted his blues sound to be heard over traffic din in Harlem when he sang and performed on the busy street . His stunningly rapid individual string runs picked with thumb and finger are really tricky to replicate faithfully . Davis was widely revered as a excellent blues guitar teacher. For the student keen to learn the blues, the Reverend was sent from heaven.

Other great players such as Doc Watson and Chet Atkins, had a clipped, economical way of picking, but Doc utilizes a plastic thumb and finger pick, whilst Chet used a plastic thumb-pick and bare finger nails. Doc utilizes one finger of his picking hand, and Chet employed three (at least).

In the late 50s and beginning of the sixties , youthful students looked for the old blues guitarists and quite a few of the old players started to play their guitars one more time, either as performers or instructors . As the years pass, they are now thin on the ground , so it becomes far more hard to locate a real original blues guitar picker who can play in the old way.

Over the last 5 years, the sources accessible for the student guitarist interested in finger picking the blues are incredibly varied . However, this can additionally slow us up a little.

acoustic blues guitar lesson sright hand close upHow to begin? Where to locate a master of the old style ? What technique to follow,  blues from the delta or Piedmont ragtime blues ? Modern acoustic guitar lessons can be a little over-complicated and it seems that the formula " Fantastically Complex = Far better" even now holds true in a lot of quarters quarters. Fortunately, some guitarists are searching a lot more in direction of the roots again in current years and more fans are looking for the authentic sound of acoustic blues guitar . Going back to the roots is the best way to learn how to play the blues.

Which is not to say that these original blues guys couldn’t make some incredibly complex sounds, but the sensation powering the fingers is what it’s all about really. A Texan blues legend, Lightnin’ (Sam) Hopkins frequently performed a easy pattern in E, let’s say , with a sturdy monotonic bass rhythm . At times he would double the beat and the bass sound grew to become a heart beat.

 Is there A Fast Track Method for Learning Blues Guitar?

I'll skip the obvious answers, like practicing 5 hours a day and wanting it so bad for most of the time its all you have in your mind - if you are really motivated, you'll be dreaming about the guitar as well! Most people aren't in this category, but want  to play some stuff reasonable well and have a good time.

A couple of things come to mind when  thinking about progress on guitar. Such progress comes in spurts after you get to a certain level. Often it seems as though you are just stuck. A good way of breaking through these times is to just let it go! That's right - just let it be. Don't play for some days (or weeks).

Whatever you fear, you won't suddenly 'lose it' if you don't touch a guitar for day or so! When you get back to it, you'll find you have new ideas and extra energy for exploring the next steps. Someimes it's good to go backwards as well, simplifying what you are trying to do and search for that elusive blues feeling you're so crazy about.

The psychological aspects of guitar learning are also often overlooked. The focus of the mind is very powerful and actually produces physical results. Try it for a few weeks - see yourself playing a tricky piece perfectly as many times throughout the day as you can. Last thing at night, focus on the piece - see and feel your fingers making the sounds - imagine the original blues man playing the piece. How did he feel about the song, about playing in public, about his life, his loves and his destiny? Try it and you'll be amazed!

Piedmont and Ragtime Blues Guitar Picking

I get a bit confused about the difference between these two genres (if they are two different genres!) I suppose I associate Piedmont with the lazy alternating fingerstyle of Elizabeth Cotton, where you can hear syncopation, but it's not far removed from our modern folk style of playing. Blind Blake could be called a true ragtime guitarist, whereas Reverend Gary Davis was a master of any style, and Blind Boy Fuller's techniques were more limited than either of them. 

floyd council south carolina piedmont guiar playerThere's a whole group of South Carolina players that were a force in their own right and created music that was peculiar to the region. (Blake was from Florida, and ended up in Chicago where he made his fame.) From the recollections of Gary Davis, it seems that Blind Willie Walker was the great grand-daddy of ragtime guitar and in fact any style at all. The Reverend picked up a lot from Walker and said that he was the "best that ever done it". 

In this way the tradition is passed on - Davis passed some of his techniques to BB Fuller, which we can clearly hear on his recordings. Floyd Council was also in this group, and often played second guitar to Fuller. However, he only cut 6 sides under his own name and his guitar technique was remarkably similar to Fuller's. It's not sure where or from whom he learned to play guitar.

Jim plays Betty and Dupree by Willie Walker below:

dupree-and-betty.mp3