Gettin’ The Blues
In the last issue, I put together a version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison” in a Chet Atkins-inspired manner. Given that it was challenging, I may have sidelined a few readers who are still getting their fingers around finger picking. So, today I wanted to do a simple, yet effective little tune that will push your technique a little more gently!
All exercises presented were recorded at 120 beats per minute (bpm) for learning purposes.
If you’re attempting this piece, I’m hoping you have a grasp of the E, A and B7 chords listed. That would be a good starting point, so with that suggested, let’s get our fingers dirty.
Holding an E chord using the correct second, third and first finger method, Exercise #1 doesn’t require any more input from the left hand. First, we will develop our right-hand pattern ability. This is technically the style Merle Travis used to play more stringent bass patterns, but we are going to roll with a slightly more complex bass pattern. In the first bar of the exercise, we simply pinch the first string as we play each bass note on each beat of the bar. You can use your third finger on your right hand to pluck the first string while your thumb plays the notes at the bottom. Think of these as ‘pinches’.
In the second bar, we will be playing on the beat with the thumb and off the beat with the finger. I like to think of the beat as a ‘thumb’, and the off beat as ‘pluck’ – light finger plucks of the higher string after the thumb plays the lower string on the beat. So for this exercise, I’ll think, “Thumb, pluck, thumb, pluck.”
In the third bar, we combine the ideas, resulting in a pattern that reads, “Pinch, thumb, pluck, thumb, pinch.” If that doesn’t make sense, work through it slowly and listen to the track so you can hear the rhythmic placement of the ‘pinch’, ‘thumb’ and ‘pluck’.
Try to play the whole four bars without stopping once you’ve nailed each one individually.
So admittedly, I am dropping you in the deep end again. You’ll notice straight away in that there’s more going on here. Rhythmically, you wont be facing any new challenges, and it’s not too complicated if you take your time. What we are doing here is using the left hand to hold a chord and play a little melody. It’s still ‘pinches’, ‘thumbs’ and ‘plucks’, only now we’re incorporating various strings and adding the spare fretting finger to create that melody.
Take it one beat at a time, and don’t try to play the bassline and add the melody – rather, construct it all together. I use my third finger to pluck the first string, my second finger on the second string and my first finger on the third string religiously for this piece of music. Stick to those guidelines, and you’ll find it doesn’t take too much energy to play this piece.
For example, in the first and (similarly) third bars, the right hand pattern is, “Pinch, pinch, pinch” on the required strings, followed by a ‘thumb’ and a ‘pluck’! Easy! Use your pinky to play the second fret on the second string in each example, and lift it where it’s not needed. The only other particular challenge here is the B7. We need to alternate the bassline, so play this chord with the following fingers in ascending order on the strings (from low A to high E): second, first, third, open on the second string and pinky on the first. This allows us to alternate the second finger to the sixth string on the third beat of the bars containing B7. Returning to the E with a ‘pinch’ and a repeat of the initial pattern will close the piece.
If you are really determined to get this style of playing down, take this piece one bar at a time, one note at a time and just spend a little bit of time each day on a little bit of music. If you do that, I am positive you can achieve your fingerstyle goal!