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Blues Guitar - An introduction to blues fingerpicking

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Fingerpicking makes it easier to play more than one line at the time. But it is harder to get a strong attack and a driving rhythm. Remember that fingerpicking is not only for acoustic guitar. Many electric blues players fingerpicks, or play with a combination of flatpicking and fingerpicking. In this lesson we will take a first look into blues fingerpicking.

If you are not used to fingerpicking, you will probably have some difficulties getting the fingers on you right hand to work independent of each other. The natural movement of the fingers is to grip. When you move the thumb, the rest of the fingers follows and vice versa. The only solution to the problem is practice. To learn the basic technique is almost as learning to ride a bicycle: In the beginning it seems almost impossible to keep the balance on the two wheels. But suddenly it works, it becomes second nature, and you will never loose the skill.

We start with the monotone bass technique. You play a steady bass, either as quarter notes on the beat or some kind of a shuffle. This playing technique gives you a steady rhythm and a harmonic back bone. When playing the bass notes on open strings, you can move quite freely around the fingerboard. To get a good rhythm, you must apply some right hand damping (see Lesson 4). Many players use a thumb pick when playing in this style. I used to play with a thumb pick, but now I usually play without. Many players support their picking hand by resting their little finger on the guitar top. It might help to give a more forceful attack, but it also stiffens your hand. It is not without reason that this playing technique is a No-No among classical guitar players. But we are playing blues, not classical guitar, and we might give higher priority to a driving rhythm. Experiment, and find out what you prefer.

I think of this style as typical of Acoustic Texas Blues Guitar, and in my opinion, Mance Lipscomb is the player to start with. Then you can move on to Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Bill Broonzy (not a Texas player) etc.

Monotone Bass in E

   
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Start by getting a steady bass line. It is boring, but a necessary step on the way to learn fingerpicking. You must have a rock solid thumb, that does not get disturbed by what the other fingers are doing, and it takes time to develop this.

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