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.
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.
A Guitar Legend
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.
What really freaked me out about Mance's guitar playing was the fact that he had a huge bandage wrapped around the third finger of his picking hand! It didn't seem to bother his technique much and I was full of admiration. This was the real blues played by a real blues man, and little niceties didn't really have any part to play here. During my own travels I met guitar players who were very careful about their manicures, talking about angle of attack and such stuff. I was the same in my younger days. We never realized that it doesn't matter - nor does it matter if you have a cheap guitar, just pick it up and play it, that's what it's all about.
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.
There's other stuff going on in this piece, and some of it I haven't been able to pin down, like the strange 'double shuffle' at the end of many musical phrases, so I've been content to focus on the heavy beat and trying to get the overall flavor, instead of trying to copy everything faithfully. This is a good guideline for all our blues guitar copies - if we can't get every thing as it was played (for this is our goal) then at least we can go for the authentic flavor - so if we simplify at all, we should be careful not to lose the feeling, the flavor of old blues guitar.
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.
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.
Floyd Council played second guitar on several of Fuller's tracks and the sound of the two National steel guitars was cutting and exciting, as their styles were very similar and steeped in the licks and riffs of the Carolina style handed down from the likes of Reverend Gary Davis and
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.
Careless Love uses a combination of picking styles and is a testimony to Fuller's skill when interpreting traditional songs. It starts in Am and then follow the standard chord progression of A-E7-D7, always moving back to the minor at the start of each verse in order to maintain the sadness. His clever use of a suspended chord in the verse adds variety and demonstrates considerable skill, as he cross picks with his thumb and forefinger while singing at the same time - a good trick if you can do it! When I play it, I tend to play a single string melody at the beginning that matches the singing melody linen bending the guitar strings slightly for effect, and then passing on to the finger picking pattern for the rest of the song.
There isn't really a guitar break, although Fuller plays through the verse without singing and adds some picking variations. Such variations include half-steps bends while pinching the last two treble strings and timing changes, accentuating the initial notes. These are all powerful tools to engage the audience - one of the worst things you can do as a musician is to bore people, which can be difficult due to the limited musical scope of blues guitar chords.
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.
Bull City Red can also be heard singing on a few tracks on which Gary Davis plays guitar (I Saw The Light) and gives us a hint and some insight into the scene around South Carolina in those times. Fuller and Davis had other links besides the fact that Bull City Red performed with them both. Gary Davis took Fuller under his wing musically and taught the younger man many guitar tricks and techniques, which he in turn learned from Blind Willie Walker - the best there ever was, by all accounts.
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.
Story goes that Davis did have some recording sessions at the same time, but maintained that he was cheated by the record company, so parted company with them. At that time, it was common for blues guitar palyers to get paid for each session and then get nothing for record sales afterwards. Perhaps he wasn't paid for a session, and that soured his attitude to making records. Pretty soon he was ordained as a minister and refused to play anything but Gospel guitar, which he performed on the street in Harlem where he lived. the money he made became of little interest, as long as he had enough to eat and put a roof over his head.
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.
Often, he would interpret old traditional standards, such as Weeping Willow, and give it a particular Piedmont guitar flavor that was quite unique. His song 'Truckin' Little Baby' has been performed in many forms by many ragtime guitar players, but with the exception of 'Diddie Wah Diddie' by Blind Blake, it hasn't really been beat as an example of that style of ragtime picking in the key pf C.
Untrue Blues is challenging because of the asynchronous timing that Fuller brings to the piece, and also, the picking pattern is not typically Piedmont. His thumb is especially inventive in this song, and it carries on it's tricks while he sings the lyrics, which is tough to copy - it's to sing and play as though the guitar timing is asynchronous to the melody of the lyrics. The song starts with a long A, that is, using the forefinger as a bar and the pinky holding down the high E string on the 5th Fret, and follows the standard chord progression of A-E/E7-D7-A-E/E7-A , but and inversion is used for the D7, which is basically the C7 shape with the root on the 5th fret.
It's not the left hand that is so difficult, but the way that the right hand picks the pattern that brings this song it's special flavor. Be very careful with the way in which the thumb and forefinger pick the bass strings as they really help to syncopate the rhythm. If it feels tricky, play it really slowly and get that style under your belt before you
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.
Born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States, to Harrie and Lizzie Council, Floyd began his musical career on the streets of Chapel Hill in the 1920s, playing guitar with two brothers, Leo and Thomas Strowd as "The Chapel Hillbillies". In the late 1920s and early 1930s he and Blind Boy Fuller busked in the Chapel Hill area.He recorded twice for ARC at sessions with Fuller in the mid-thirties, all examples of the Piedmont style.
Council suffered a stroke in the late 1960s which partially paralyzed his throat muscles and slowed his motor skills, but did not significantly damage his cognitive abilities. Folklorist Peter B. Lowry attempted to record him one afternoon in 1970, but he never regained his singing or guitar playing abilities. Accounts say that he remained "quite sharp in mind".
Council died in 1976 of a heart attack, after moving to Sanford, North Carolina. He was buried at White Oak AME Zion Cemetery in Sanford.
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.