Acoustic Blues Guitar Lessons - Broonzy & McGhee

Acoustic Blues Guitar lessons in the style of Bill Broonzy & Brownie McGhee. FREE swing acoustic blues guitar lessons.
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Instructed by Jim Bruce Music / Instruments
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  • Lectures 6
  • Length 1.5 hours
  • Skill Level Intermediate Level
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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About This Course

Published 11/2013 English

Course Description

Acoustic blues guitar lessons cover many genres inside this musical form. The Blues that developed form the African-American community can be sad in the Delta style from the deep South, or happy in the Piedmont ragtime guitar style of playing which is evident in all forms of modern jazz, rhythm & blues. Between the two there are a group of acoustic blues guitar players who used many standard chord progressions to play with a definite swing, sill using blues notes, but a step up from the standard twelve bar blues.

Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGhee are two great examples of blues men who excelled at adapting traditional blues verses, using shuffles, walking basses and all the usual tricks but giving it that certain 'groove'; almost like rock and roll. The five lessons in this course take a look at just one of McGhee's songs - Livin With The Blues, and four of Broonzy's.

If you can play one of Brownie's songs, you can just about play them all! Both men were country blues singers originally, further developing what was basically the music of Africa evolving through field hollers and spirituals, particularly after the ending of slavery. Their swinging style of blues became a firm favorite in juke joints, together with Delta blues and the appealing Piedmont (ragtime blues.)

What You Will Learn in these acoustic blues guitar lessons:

  1. How to finger pick the guitar in the distinctive swing style.
  2. Palm damping techniques to ensure that the sound is 'tight'!
  3. The chord structure of swing blues in the keys of E, A and C
  4. How to reproduce that elusive 'old blues guitar' feeling.

Broonzy's style was much broader and we take a look at several of his songs in some detail.

Both men use a thumb style called 'monotonic bass', which means that the thumb strikes just one bass guitar string every beat, instead of alternating between two or three strings.

It's less complicated than the alternating bass style, but that's not to say the guitar sound produced isn't as rich or musical. Both men were very inventive in their treatment of the blues, and the bass action helped drive the music forward in a very definite and unique way.

Each lesson is between 20 mins and 30 mins long and provides everything you need to play the songs presented, including slow close up demos of both hands, tips on singing and printable guitar tab files. Acoustic blues guitar lessons in the swing style just got easy!

What are the requirements?

  • You should be an intermediate guitar player, with some experience of finger picking guitar in any style.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • By the end of the course you will understand more about the acoustic blues guitar picking style of Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGhee.
  • You will learn to play Glory Of Love by Big Bill Broonzy
  • You will learn to play Hey Hey by Big Bill Broonzy
  • You will learn to play Key To The Highway by Big Bill Broonzy
  • You will learn how to play Living With The Blues by Brownie McGhee
  • You will learn to play Worryin You Off My Mind by Big Bill Broonzy

What is the target audience?

  • If you already play some acoustic blues guitar and want to expand your techniques, then this course is for you.

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

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Lifetime access.

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Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.

Curriculum

Section 1: The Swing Guitar Style Of Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGhee
21:43

Although not the King of Swing like Big Bill, Brownie McGhee was a very important blues guitar player who created many standards, such as Born With The Blues, and this variation, Livin' With Blues. Of course, with Sonny Terry on harmonica he helped form one of the most successful and enduring blues duos well into the 80s.

Sonny Terry can be heard backing Blind Boy Fuller, Rev Gary Davis and several other blues men in his hey day, and all by himself was a potent force in the blues world.

McGhee's guitar style was very attractive and suffered from one drawback - all his songs sounded very similar. This is a problem for many of us. We develop a certain way of playing, with certain riffs and personal 'quirks' and they tend to appear everywhere in our playing. However, with Brownie it was a fact that his output wasn't that varied.

He acknowledges this fact in a radio special hosted by Studs Terkel, stating that he plays basically the same kind of thing either fast or slow, and different words! Not knocking it at all - this version of Livin' With The Blues was my finishing song for live performances for some years, particularly when performing with a harmonica player.

Try and listen to the Studs Terkel show and compare Brownie's guitar prowess against that of Big Bill, who also appears on the show. Broonzy's guitar work is a step above McGhee, and they both know it. For one thing, Broonzy's repertoire was huge, covering down home blues, folk ballads, swinging blues, ragtime pieces and popular songs from Tin Pan Alley.

Livin' is a blues in the key of E, but has some great chords and an unusual structure. It's quite modern in it's feel, as it has a verse and then a kind of chorus which appears after every one. Early blues in E just didn't have a chorus - just verses with an occasional instrumental break. You should have a lot of fun with this one - I love playing it.

(Please download the PDF file from the resources and you'll find a very special offer for my main course from Texas To The Delta - the Ultimate Acoustic Blues Guitar Course!)

15:12

Of course, Big Bill Boonzy is one of the big names in acoustic blues guitar and rightly so. His swinging finger picking style laid the groundwork for much of the important Chicago blues scene that followed. People that new him described him as a bit of a story teller, perhaps leaning towards downright fantasy towards the end of his career, which he re-invented as a blues-folk performer, which he never really was – he just played the old songs he gathered in his younger days.

He didn’t write ‘Key to the Highway’ – there were several versions around – but he certainly made it his own. (Black Jack Gingham said that without Bill, there’s no Highway!) Bill moved up to Chicago from the South and honed his swinging finger style guitar playing rapidly, becoming well known and sought after in the live music scene. He probably started out playing small joints, perhaps solo or with one or two other musicians. At that time is was common for struggling musicians to hold 'rent parties', where folks payed a dollar to enter and listen to the blues - it payed the rent!

There are many recordings of Bill playing with other musicians as his swinging guitar style was great for dancing, and he was also a really good singer with a good range and emotional appeal. In the days before electric guitar, small bands would 'stomp' out there tunes to make themselves heard and Bill's technique was perfect for this. However, his fortunes declines, as does every musician, but in his heyday Bill was a superstar, wearing snappy suits and wowing audiences everywhere.

It was during this decline that Broonzy revived his career. While looking for Robert Johnson to play a concert in New York, the promoter heard that he was dead and Broonzy was asked to step in and played to thousands of people. Bill played a series of acoustic folk type blues and the audience adored it - his new career was born! He found a new home in the 50s folk boom and started to tour again, visiting Europe for the first time where he was hailed as the real thing. Some old film exists of him playing in Germany, but he also visited UK and other countries.

His appeal was instant and exotic. Being about 6 feet 4, which meant around 6 feet 8 with his hat on, he must have been a striking figure - more like a boxer than a blues singer. He resurrected his old songs for his new young audiences who taste the real blues for the first time. At last Broonzy had the key to the highway. He died in the late fifties of throat cancer - a lifetime of smoking, we can imagine. RIP Bill and thanks for the legacy.

As with many of the master blues men, it's mostly quite easy to work out where they put there finger, which is the first step to learning this music, but the hard part is copying their style. All guitar players have a particular way of holding their hands and fingers which contribute to their sound. Luckily these techniques tend to be shared by groups of guitar players withing a particular region, but Bill's style was mostly peculiar to him alone. Although he used a monotonic bass, as did many classic blues players, he was very flexible in his approach
and would strum his thumb across the bass strings rather than hit just one.

His playing was very fluid and just moved along with this 'swing' which is incredibly hard to do. He said it was like riding a horse - you can move along at the same speed, but either ride on the front or the back. His thumb beat lagged being the exact timing a little, producing a swing feel - this is what he meant buy riding on the back of the horse. When a journalist asked him 'what are the blues?', he replied - "If you have to ask son, you'll never know ...)

(Please download the PDF file from the resources and you'll find a very special offer for my main course from Texas To The Delta - the Ultimate Acoustic Blues Guitar Course!)

21:18

Although the style of Big Bill Broonzy's swinging guitar style has some points in common with many blues men, the differences make it very special indeed.

Hey Hey is the perfect example of this - apart from his thumping bass swing technique, he uses riffs and chord shapes that I haven't found in any other blues guitar player's repertoire, which is particularly interesting because it means that Big Bill created the progressions and the distinct sound.

Broonzy was very popular in the 20s and 30s, putting out hundreds of records for various record companies (Paramount,Vocalion, Chess, Verve, and Folkways) and wrote around 300 songs. Some of his songs were truly unique and became blues standards, such as Key to the Highway and Romance With No Finance. Of course, with over 300 songs under his belt, many of them were almost straight copies of his previous work, or thinly disguised covers of traditional blues, but his style was extended to cover swing blues fronting an orchestra, to ragtime breakdowns, to simple folk ballads and stories.

His swinging guitar style actually fused blues guitar with a jazzy influence and was to influence up and coming youngsters such as Muddy Waters in their change over to electric Chicago blues. Imagine what Bill could have produced if electric guitars were available in his day! Broonzy was the link between rural acoustic blues guitar and the hard driving electric blues guitar - his own style was mostly dance music and his thumb provided the rhythm.

Many people play Hey Hey with Broonzy's characteristic monotonic thumb stroke pattern (Clapton, et al) but it's mostly hit too cleanly. His proper technique was his thumb brushing across two or three bass notes - quite a tough thing to do while the fingers are plucking the treble strings. This produced a lag in the timing and also a fuller sound. Sometimes he would damp the strings hard with the palm of his picking hand, and sometimes not - often he wouldn't bother to even fret the bass notes of a chord. The result was a heavy 'thud' rather than a clear musical note which took the place of a drum beat.

At that time in the Southern states, drums were made illegal for black folk, and so a heavy guitar thumb beat took it's place. It was also less complicated to play, so more effort could be place on making an interesting melody with the fingers on the treble strings. Some blues guitar men, such as Mance Lipscombe, took the monotonic bass style even further - for example in Gong Down Slow he frets no basses at all, but it sounds just great!

Hey Hey is played in E but doesn't follow the standard chord progressions for a blues song in E, just one of the things that makes it so exciting and interesting. The first thing that strikes you is that the sound is so big! Even when we play the right notes and fret the same strings in the right place, it doesn't sound quite like Bill's rendition. Worse still it's not really possible to describe how he did it.

Normally, I learn a Broonzy song and then practice by playing along to his original version. A common mistake is to play Broonzy just too fast. his music seems to go at a fast pace, but it's just his swingy technique. One way to keep the pace down is to try and play it just like he did, which is with one finger. Many guitarists played in this way (Rev Gary Davis,Doc Watson, Lightnin Hopkins,Johnny Shines). It's tough to get the forefinger moving fast enough, but when you succeed it gives the music a particular flavor that just can't be achieved when using two or three fingers. It gets just too 'pretty' and clean. Play it heavy and hard. Don't worry if you miss notes here and there, but make sure it swings!

(Please download the PDF file from the resources and you'll find a very special offer for my main course from Texas To The Delta - the Ultimate Acoustic Blues Guitar Course!)

19:04

Worryin' You Off My Mind is typical of a Big Bill Broonzy song played in the key of E

The left hand fingering is basic and follow the standard chord progressions that most blues guitar players perform, but there's something else going on here. There's a couple of things we notice when hearing Broonzy music - that pounding bass rhythm and the feeling that the music is just swingin' along. It's very appealing and infectious. These two characteristics are the backbone of Bill's style and have to be studied carefully if you want to play something like Big Bill.

The Almighty Thumb Of Big Bill Broonzy

It sounds as though he really pounds those bass strings, but it's not strictly true. He uses a couple fo tricks to augment the sound. First of all, he damps the bass string he has just picked with the palm of his picking hand, so the sound is a combination of the note and a 'thud'. As well as giving a drum beat effect to the melody line, this technique also frees up the need to play the bass notes for any particular chord shape.

Other blues men such as Mance Lipscombe, make great use of this technique. You might think that it would be limiting musically, but it doesn't work out that way if you do it right. Control is the key. His thumb also brushes across two or three strings, instead of just banging way on one. Many modern blues men play Broonzy style hitting just one bass string - it's not like that! It creates a much bigger sound that's hard to master - listen to Hey hey.

Swinging Chicago Blues

So how does Big Bill make his sound swing like that? A journalist once asked him that same question, to which he replied 'when playing a guitar, you can play with the beat at the exact time, a little in front of the beat or a little behind. You don't speed up or slow down. It's like riding a horse, you can either ride on the fron of the horse or the back, but you still go at the same speed. My thumb beat rides on the back of the horse.'

This is a big ârt of the reason his music swings along like that - there's a subtle syncopation, or gap between the real beat and Broonzy's thumb strike. This treble work also adds to the effect. Watching the films of Big Bill, I get the impression that he played mostly with his forefinger, sometimes slipping in a strike with his second finger if need. While his forefinger plays the real melody, it also jumps back and forwards on adjacent strings, which fills out the gaps in the music making it swing even more.


Ernie Hawkins calls these extra notes, often not even tabbed, as 'grace notes' and have a powerful effect on the sound. If you miss them out, we can hear that something's not quite right with the sound, but it's difficult to identify what it is. Many guitar players leave some of these subtle things out and feel frustrated why their copy doesn't sound like Big Bill.

The fact is that there is more to his technique than meets the eye and we need to go back and listen to the originals again and again. For me, it's not paying homage to these old blues guys if we just copy their notes and fingering without going deeper into it and really understanding what they did.

(Please download the PDF file from the resources and you'll find a very special offer for my main course from Texas To The Delta - the Ultimate Acoustic Blues Guitar Course!)

20:40

Glory of Love by Big Bill Broonzy - Swing Blues Guitar At It's Best

Big Bill was incredibly prolific in the 30s and 40s and he almost single handedly invented the acoustic blues swing guitar style that pave the way for electric Chicago blues. Like Blind Blake, his guitar technique is much admired and copied, but rarely are the copies true to his original guitar finger picking technique. Broonzy's repertoire was enormous. he wrote over 300 songs - good time swing blues, ragtime pieces, down home blues and popular songs from Tin Pan Alley.

More than a blues man, he was an entertainer and able to sing and play just about anything for anybody. In his early career he was part of the group 'The Hokum Boys', a traveling string band. Groups of this kind developed a very varied repertoire to engage audiences of every type.

Glory of Love Chord Progression

Glory of Love was a very popular standard 'Pop' song of it's day - one of the many churned out by writers for 'Tin Pan Alley'. Big Bill gave it the celebrated Broonzy work over and added his individual guitar finger picking style to this song played in the key of C, which lends itself to a ragtime swing style guitar treatment. The chord progression was very simple - C-G7-C-F-C-G7 for the verse and for the refrain F-C-F-C-G7. Not complex at all, but it's the special picking that gives this song some magic. So how did he do it?

What set Bill's style apart was the fact that he didn't just hit one string but two or three at the same time, like a thumb brush or strum before damping them down. This really filled out the sound and it's tough to do it effectively like he did it, particularly when playing the trebles at the same time!

Bill's One Finger Guitar Style

Most people copy his finger picking style by using two fingers for the treble strings, which doesn't give the right feel at all. How can it, if Broonzy didn't play that way. He just used his forefinger, which was very dexterous, accurate and fast - like Doc Watson and Reverend Gary Davis. Of course, we need to use every trick we can to get over the fact that this stuff is hard to play, but using two fingers to play Broonzy and Davis often changes the timing and the flavor too much, making the music too modern and slick - Big Bill missed notes and you can too!

How To Get That Broonzy Blues Guitar Swing

There's something else happening when Broonzy plays guitar and it's difficult to pin it down. The swing effect is due to the fact that his bass strikes are not exactly on the beat, but lag just behind it. Swing bands of the time also used this technique to make the big band swing sound. Broonzy said 'You can either ride on the front of the horse, or the back of it - you're still going at the same speed.' Big Bill rode on the back of it, which gave his music a laid back swing sound that was very appealing, which was one of the reasons he was so popular.

(Please download the PDF file from the resources and you'll find a very special offer for my main course from Texas To The Delta - the Ultimate Acoustic Blues Guitar Course!)

Jim's Main Course and Special Offer
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Instructor Biography

Jim Bruce, Blues Guitar Lessons

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.

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