ThouGh Blues Headlines looks mostly at electric blues soloing styles, I thought it might make a nice change to turn the clock back and check out some acoustic styles. Think Robert Johnson, Rev Gary Davis, Elizabeth Cotten – even encompassing a country or ragtime feel such as Jerry Reed or Stefan Grossman. Not that these examples are anywhere near as challenging as some of those players’ finest moments, but they should nevertheless put you on the right road if you’re interested in exploring this direction.
Using a ‘standard’ 12-bar blues sequence in E as a basic framework, the four exercises are cut from a single performance, so as to get you more comfortable with the techniques involved. It’s an easy job to put them back together and make it a complete piece again.
To get a consistent tone on the recording, I opted for hybrid picking, giving louder, hardersounding muted bass notes combined with middle and third fingers to play the ringing top notes. Muting the bottom notes while letting the high ones ring is a key part of how players such as Chet Atkins managed to give the illusion of two guitars playing at once. Having the pick ready also makes it easier to switch to strumming without a drastic tone change.
Having said this, you may find you prefer using more traditional fingerpicking (‘clawhammer’ technique) or even a thumbpick, which would free up your index finger for melodic duties. Trying different approaches like this is an important part of the learning process. Whichever way you choose, the thumb/pick’s job is to play the bass line, while the fingers play the ‘top line’. Hope you enjoy this and see you next time!
Stefan Grossman’s How To Play Ragtime Guitar is an education in unplugged blues playing