RAG­TIME GUI­TAR

Mas­ter the style!

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Tris­tan Seume shows you how to play one of the most popular, en­dur­ing and chal­leng­ing acous­tic blues styles on gui­tar.

Rag­time mu­sic oRig­i­nated in ur­ban african-amer­i­can cities such as new or­leans and st. Louis around the turn of the 20th cen­tury. es­sen­tially, it was a dance style per­formed on the pi­ano, characterised by jaunty melodies set against leap­ing bass to cre­ate strongly syn­co­pated rhythms with an up­beat feel. it is ar­guably a fu­sion of tra­di­tional african rhythms and clas­si­cal or march id­ioms, and although it gave way in pop­u­lar­ity to jazz in the early 20th cen­tury it was also a no­table in­flu­ence on it.

the mu­sic of scott Jo­plin re­mains the most fa­mous and recog­nis­able of the rag­time mu­si­cians, with the en­ter­tainer and maple Leaf Rag be­ing the hits of their day. in­deed, this hum­ble scribe fondly re­mem­bers wrestling with an ar­range­ment of the for­mer as con­cocted by the great eric Roche in th­ese very pages many years ago!

although pri­mar­ily writ­ten for pi­ano, many early blues gui­tarists at­tempted to cap­ture the stride pi­ano feel on the gui­tar by us­ing an al­ter­nat­ing bass tech­nique on the beats and off­set­ting it with a ‘ragged’ (syn­co­pated) melody. this ap­proach in­formed a play­ing style known as Pied­mont blues which was gen­er­ally lighter-hearted in feel and a more tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing than the prim­i­tive delta Blues of, say, Robert John­son or charley Pat­ton. no­table Pied­mont blues fig­ures in­cluded Rev Gary Davis, el­iz­a­beth cot­ton, Blind Lemon Jef­fer­son and the king of rag­time gui­tar, Blind Blake. although more com­plex in tech­nique, many of th­ese play­ers fin­ger­picked with only the thumb and fore­fin­ger; an ap­proach later adopted coun­try and west­ern star, merle travis, whose pieces such as cannonball Rag re­main sta­ples of fin­ger­pick­ers to­day.

although rag­time fell out of main­stream favour as jazz took a hold, a younger gen­er­a­tion of folk, blues and rag­time re­vival­ists such as ste­fan gross­man, tommy em­manuel, Woody mann and John James kept the torch alight with the mas­tery of mod­ern vir­tu­os­ity.

Blind Blake’s play­ing in par­tic­u­lar stands out to this day as some of the most chal­leng­ing to em­u­late, due to his speed, dex­ter­ity and quirky tech­niques. un­like other rag­time play­ers he would sub­vert the struc­ture of play­ing bass notes on the beats by in­stead an­tic­i­pat­ing chord changes with a bass note on the four-and (last 8th note of the bar). this cre­ated a bounce and move­ment that other play­ers lacked (see ex. 6 for how to do this).

I hope you find the fol­low­ing ex­er­cises in­for­ma­tive and help­ful to your fin­ger­pick­ing tech­nique. Once you are con­fi­dent with each one, have a go at the piece i’ve writ­ten at the end of the fea­ture, which pulls to­gether all the el­e­ments you will have worked on. Rag­time gui­tar is a fan­tas­tic style to try, as it can re­ally hone your tech­nique - plus ev­ery­one loves it. Have fun, per­se­vere and i’ll see you soon!

Blind Blake’s play­ing stands out as some of the most chal­leng­ing to em­u­late due to his speed, dex­ter­ity and quirky tech­niques.

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