Blues Guitar Lessons - From Texas To Carolina
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Guitar lesson videos showing how to play complete songs by acoustic blues guitar players from Texas (Lightnin Hopkins, Mance Lipscombe) and Carolina guitar men (Blind Boy Fuller, Floyd Council).
Each video lesson presents descriptions and demonstrations of technique, chord structure and slow motion demonstration with on-screen guitar tablature. The guitar tabs are also provided as pdf downloads for ease of practice.
The videos are between 15 and 25 minutes long and contain all you need to know to play the songs. This course is ideal for guitar players wanting to explore the world of acoustic blues guitar and also improve their finger picking skills.
Jim Bruce was voted N°2 Internet Guitar Instructor by Truefire in 2013.
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The guitar lessons in this module focus on the styles of four great guitar players that were very influential in their day. Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscombe were experts in their field, playing both slow and fast blues songs with a ppredominant monotonic bass pattern.
The Carolina blues guitar players, Floyd Council and Blind Boy Fuller mostly played a more syncopated style of guitar music known as Piedmont, which generally used an alternating bass pattern.
Both guitar styles have their appeal and different challenges, offering two different approaches to blues music.
|Section 1: Texas Acoustic Blues - Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscombe|
Every now and again you come across something that's so cool, that so encapsulates the genius of the best blues guitar players that it just leaves you full of wonder and admiration. I was browsing around Youtube blues guitar videos a few years back and I came across an old TV film of Texas blues man Mance Lipscombe. he played two or three songs - one 'hokum' bit of nonsense, typical of the lighter entertainment blues men gathered in their traveling minstrel days, another one he wrote and lastly Goin' Down Slow. This song was also performed in a slower, different style by fellow Texas blues guitar player Lightnin' Hopkins. They both played the monotonic bass style of thumb strike, but their approach was a little different.
Other blues guitar players used the monotonic bass thumb strike to good effect, like Broonzy for example, but even Broonzy fretted the bass note with certain chords. Mance plays Goin' Down slow without fretting a bass note at all, and it does'nt seem strange to the ears. All the blues men's guitar techniques are slightly different from each other and Lipscombe's is no exception - his style is full of personal tricks and acquired habits, which makes it tough to copy at times. To make this happen, its important to damp down the guitar strings using mostly the palm of the picking hand, but also sometimes we use the fretting hand as well.
With the palm technique, we simply hold the palm very close to the bassguitar strings, or even hold it lightly on them the whole time. When the string is hit, we can detect the note, but it mostly sounds like a heavy 'thud', more like a drum beat, which is exactly the effect the old blues guys were looking for. The left hand technique is notably different, and isn't used with Lipscombe's style as he doesn't ever fret any bass notes - Broonzy does this from time to time. After hitting a bass note that's fretted, lift the finger slightly immediately after the strike and the note is cut off. I use this technique a lot, and generally my playing in any style incorporates the two techniques, depending on the kind of music I'm playing and what effect I want to pass over.
Baby Please was recorded by many legendary blues guitar players, including Big Bill, Big Joe Williams, Brownie McGhee and others. Hopkins gives it a great twist here. He follows the basic blues in E structure, but adds some unique techniques, such as a syncopated thumb beat in the instrumental break. Although it looks a piece of cake on paper, getting that guitar rhythm down takes some practice, if we want it to hit the mark.
Hopkins might hit one string and let it ring while moving on to the treble strings. Perhaps he would damp the string with the palm of his picking hand now and again to change the mood, or double up on the tempo delivering two beats instead of one. He called this his 'heartbeat' sound, which had a powerful appeal directly to the emotions.
Often there's not a lot happening but the feeling is solid blues guitar and difficult to copy. This kind of feeling is exactly what guitar players mean when they say that what you leave out is just as important as what you put in!
Listening to blues guitar, we can feel that it's very closely related to modern rock. If you want to start playing the blues in E, just form that basic E chord and experiment. Don't forget to have fun and practice some guitar every single day.
The famous Texas blues guitar player Lightnin' Hopkins was the Mr Cool of the blues and had a massive influence on a lot of guitarists. His guitar technique could be simply structured or quite complicated, but never appeared to be strained or out of place. He perfected the monotonic bass way of guitar picking, just like Big Bill Broonzy, and other such as fellow Texan Mance Lipscomb, often favoring the key of E. In his rendition of 'Baby Please Don't Go' the melody played on the treble strings mostly follows his vocals, which is normally not a good idea, but naturally, Hopkins makes it work!
His acoustic guitar was often tuned down one or two steps, which suited the level of his low voice. A pulsating driving bass pattern pushed the music along and the resulting effect was magical. Expert in slow guitar blues in the keys of E and A, he often demonstrated his total control of his picking thumb by putting together syncopated patterns while singing simultaneously. (Listen to his song Mojo Hand and have a go - good luck!) my advice for Hopkins style guitar playing is take it slowly and try to keep it authentic.
If we talk about blues, we often think of a guitar blues from the Mississippi delta in the key of E, the thin and whining higher notes supported by the rhythmic bass pattern of the picking thumb beat.
It's always possible to make the blues as complicated as we can, but the fact is that the most appealing blues songs are often very simple – it's the style and touch that sets them apart. A guitar master like Texas blues master Lightnin Hopkins, could create syncopated arrangements, but was also unparalleled in creating music with that almost undefinable 'bluesy' feel.
I transcribed 'Mary' from an old documentary film called 'The Blues According To Lightnin' Hopkins' - check it out on Youtube. I tried to get his licks down, but getting the feeling is the major challenge here. Take it nice and slow with feeling any questions, you know where I am!
Many blues guitar players recorded Goin' Down Slow, written by St. Louis Jimmy Oden, and it is one of the most enduring and successful 12 bar blues. I chose Mance's rendition over Lightnin's as it's unusual. It's a bit faster than many versions and there's some mysterious things going on there with Mance's fingers on that old guitar of his!
I've transcribed it with a straight monotonic bass, but if you listen to the original you'll hear something else going on there which is hard to pin down, a bit like a quick shuffle on the basses at the end of the lines. I didn't want to try and guess at it, so preferred to play it with the straight bass line, taking care to try and retain the power and the feeling of the original.
This is often played in open D, but I'm not sure that Mance tuned his guitar in this way. As far as I can see, he didn't fret any bass notes throughout the song, which makes it easier for our fretting hand (not that any of the chords are difficult) as there's less to think about. It never sounds strange without the basses fretted due to the heavy palm damping that's applied. remember to watch the string damping. If it gets loose, in some sections it can sound quite strange.
|Section 2: Carolina Acoustic Blues - Blind Boy Fuller and Floyd Council|
Like Weeping Willow, Careless Love is a traditional song given the bluesy work over in the Carolina Style.
It's use of Am and suspended guitar chords makes it very unusual in the genre. I find it particularly sad listening to the sentiment and the words delivered by Fuller's slurred words, obviously affected by his alcoholism towards the middle and end of his career. Although very successful commercially, he never lost the edge that gave him his strong appeal. His guitar picking style was very accurate and sharp, mostly delivered on a National Steel - a habit probably adopted from his days playing on the street or in noisy bars.
Willie Walker. the South Carolina style is an interesting mixture of techniques. It's feel is definitely ragtime guitar, but it's not light. It's solid deliver and slower timing (mostly) gives it a more 'serious' feel than the ragtime guitar of someone like Blake for example.It's less based in a definite alternating bass finger picking pattern, and the thumb can switch to a monotonic bass deliver or jump along to the treble strings from time to time, depending on the needs of the song.
Fuller's picking can be grouped into ragtime songs in C and G, and wistful songs, mostly traditional, using minor chords to give a feeling of sadness, which always works whatever the music you play. The use of traditional and minstrel type songs is a spin-off from the days when playing on the street and for parties, when it was necessary to vary the repertoire to attract different kinds of audience and appeal to the greatest number.
Before his recording career, it must have been incredibly difficult to make a living playing the blues guitar on the street (I know, because I do it!) Most blues men started out poor and stayed poor, there wasn't too much about it that was very romantic, although we made it seem romantic during the folk-blues revival of the 60s.
Even guitar players such as Mance Lipscombe and Big Bill Broonzy stayed poor, even though they found some measure of later success playing to new young audiences. Others, like Fuller's guitar teacher, Reverend Gary Davis did find some financial security and Davis was able to buy a house for his retirement in the West Indies.
Blind Boy Fuller was something of a recording super star in his day and cut around 120 tracks during his career. He had different partners at different times, such as Sonny Terry and Bull City Red. Of course, we all know of Sonny's work with Brownie McGhee, and he also had a very stable solo career, playing harmonica, whooping and singing almost at the same time! Sonny's voice was really good and very bluesy.
It's a great shame that Davis never received the same accolades and financial rewards that Fuller enjoyed. Davis was clearly the better guita player - his range and repertoire covered everything from gospel to country to ragtime to delta type blues. Of course, Fuller was no slouch either. His picking style was not as complicated as the older man's, but his finger picking technique was slick, accurate and had a great appeal. Add his bluesy, matter of fact voice and it became a recipe for success with records buyers in the 20s.
It was quite obvious in Fuller's later recordings that he was affected by drinking - his voice was slurred and it is probable that, like most alcoholics, he started drinking in the morning and carried it on through the day. However, throughout his career, he laid down some classic songs that can be considered standards.
This is an old standard given the Fuller blues guitar treatment and comes across as quite poetic, which is of course it's traditional flavor. I like the interesting variations that are introduced, starting in A and then moving to Dm which immediately gives it a sad and wistful feel.
At time the basses are alternated, but sometimes not - thumb control is just one of the challenges with this piece. We can also hear a thumb roll from one string to the next, which a trademark of Blind Blake and was probably taught to Fuller by Reverend Gary Davis.
The chord sequence is unusual for a blues in A , namely A-Dm-A-Dm-A-E7-D7-A but also the turnaround between verses is quite remarkable and definitely a Davis trick - it appears in many of his creations.
As is often the case, the verses are broken up by an instrumental break to add variation and interest. It's not difficult to figure out, but pay attention to the thumb movements and timing. Once again, we find that with master guitar players the Thumb is King!
Floyd Council - Carolina Blues Man
If you search authoritative web sites for "Floyd Council", you often get references to Pink Floyd, the 1970s mega-group. It's said that Sid Barrett used the names of Floyd Council and Pink Anderson, another 'minor' blues man, for the name of their new group. Floyd Council (September 2, 1911 – May 9, 1976) was an American blues guitar player, mandolin player, and singer. He became a well-known practitioner of the Piedmont blues sound from that area, popular throughout the southeastern region of the US in the 1930s.
There aren't any records out there which just feature Floyd Council's guitar prowess. There is a CD however, called Carolina Blues, which contains six of his songs: "Lookin' For My Baby", "I'm Grievin' and I'm Worryin", "I'm Broke and I Ain't Got a Dime", "Working Man Blues", "Runaway Man Blues" and "I Don't Want No Hungry Woman".When he was interviewed in 1969, Floyd said he cut twenty seven songs throughout his playing career, and seven of these were as second guitar to the legendary Blind Boy Fuller. Fuller's set of Complete Recorded Works features many pieces featuring the blues guitar of Council.
Fuller did take the Trice Brothers to recording sessions sometimes but didn't either one to record with him - Floyd played second guitar to Fuller on seven tracks on songs like Oozin' You Off My Mind and Boots and Shoes. Both Fuller and Reverend Gary Davis had a lot of respect for his guitar technique.
Acoustic blues guitarist Jim Bruce was voted Number 2 top guitar instructor on Truefire in 2013 (Number 1 for acoustic blues). Jim still plays blues guitar on the street in Europe and also gives concerts - plus teaching old style finger picking wherever he goes!
Now online students can benefit from over 40 years of real experience playing blues guitar in the authentic way. If you want to play real blues guitar just like the old blues men, then is where you come to find out how. Keep it real with Jim Bruce and play blues guitar like it was originally played.
A word from Jim - " My playing career goes way back, to the folk clubs on the UK in the sixties, clubs pubs and bars in six countries, and on the city streets of Europe. This is how I learned my trade.
One day someone asked me to slow down a lick to show them exactly what I was doing with my hands. As I tried to do this, I found that I was doing much, much more than I realized. It was these tiny hand movements that make acoustic blues so exciting when it's performed properly. This is the main focus of my lessons - to show students exactly how to play the blues in great detail. "
Peace, Jim Bruce
Jim's guitar lessons follow a well proven and award-winning formula guaranteed to have you playing the blues in the shortest time possible.