Get­tin’ The Blues

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

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!

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