Jim Bruce Blues Guitar Lessons
It can be tough to properly describe 'blues' in general terms, even if its narrowed down to simple 'blues guitar'.
In that one broad category there are of course lots of other smaller
categories , even allowing for the differences between acoustic and electric.
In the video below Jim demonstrates and discusses
the techniques of Texas blues great Lightnin' Hopkins
As acoustic blues guitar is the thing that I teach, let's focus on this area for a while. In
the USA, differences in picking style evolved according to a particular region, which was additionally dependent on the influences of the best blues guitarists in that
area. In general we can say that the extremities of classic acoustic blues guitar are the dark tones of the delta and the ragtime dance rhythms of Piedmont ragtime
blues picking. Naturally, there are other major styles between the two different styles. Its best to investigate all the techniques when deciding to learn how to play blues guitar.
Delta Blues Guitar
Just a step away from the early field work song, bottleneck
or the slide delta blues guitar technique evokes a heart-felt cry from the emotions. It's probable that this
blues style evolved before others, simply because it reduced the necessity to form many complex chords. Frequently, guitars were tuned down to open tunings, such as D, G and sometimes C (Skip James, for example). One thing is certain, it
produces a very plaintive sound when performed in the right way, and some masters like Fred McDowell, and Robert Johnson perfected this interesting way of playing.
It could also be that a guitar that was tuned down was much easier to keep tuned in the hot weather of the Mississippi, delta where the blues first appeared.
One celebrated delta blues guitarist was not delicate at all with his playing style,
but the emotional appeal of Son House gets him a prominent place at the top
of the blues table when making a list of the masters we should study if we would like to learn blues guitar.
Other kinds of blues guitar
In general, blues guitarists preferred t go within their own regional way of playing,now and again including music from other styles to diversify the repertoire and keep their public engaged. Some blues men nonetheless, moved over the
boundaries and mastered many styles of blues guitar, like Big Bill Broonzy and Gary davis. Any blues guitar lessons should included a study of such players.
The Reverend was a student of Blind Willie Walker,
a really slick and precise ragtime blues guitarist from Greenville, Carolina. Reverend
Davis could perform in mostly any key and in several style, but he preferred to play religious songs in his later years.Big Bill was southern born, but became a celebrity 'pop blues star' in the city of Chicago, where he created a much admired and copied style called Chicago swing blues guitar, which was notable for its monotonic thumb strikes on the basses. He was additionally really fast and accurate - few present day guitarists can emulate
his technique properly. Some of his songs lean towards ragtime blues guitar but
he could also play pop songs from his day.
The Complexities Of Ragtime Blues Guitar
Ragtime blues might be thought of as the most complicated style within the group 'acoustic blues guitar'. The songs
of Lightnin' Hopkins was most definitely Texas bluesy and was frequently performed in the
keys of A and E. Its true that many of his songs performed in the same key were quite
similar. Nonetheless, his talent for up-beating the tempo and mixing styles puts him in a group all by himself. He shouldn't be ignored in any serious study, if if you want to learn authentic acoustic blues guitar.
It's fascinating that some great guitarists who could really play blues also came from South Carolina, like Floyd Council, Pink Anderson and Scrapper Blackwell. Anderson was a fast guitarist in the ragtime blues style and perfected his technique performing for the good Doctor Kerr's traveling medicine show.
Council didn't make a lot of records under his own name, but we can hear him playing second guitar to
Blind Boy Fuller on some tracks recorded in the forties. The techniques were quite
similar, and they were probably both influenced by Willie Walker and Reverend Gary Davis. He was called the 'Devil's Daddy In-Law' for advertising purposes, but it isn't clear why that is.
Blackwell was a very influential artist who wrote quite a few
blues guitar classic songs, like ' Nobody Knows You, Blues Before Sunrise' and the powerful 'Kokomo Blues'. This later song was 'borrowed' by delta guitarist Robert Johnson, who adapted it, giving it the new name Sweet Home Chicago.Its also worth noting that a unique style of finger picking evolved called 'Travis' picking (it was pioneered and perfected Merle Travis) - it has a distinct
ragtime blues guitar feel with a heavily damped alternating bass pattern. Doc Watson shows us the way of this style of playing blues guitar with his great rendition of 'Deep River Blues.
The Roots Of The Blues
Learning blues guitar
in today's world is a curious thing to go for. Even the least well off
in Western countries are so much richer than the early blues legends who
first invented the wonderful music that was the corner stone of all the
various musical styles of our times. Even making use of the best blues
guitar tabs, it's difficult for students to identify with the authentic
The first beat quite obviously was handed down from the
people's roots in Africa, but modern African music is much more rich in
rhythmic differences and more complex, so how did this happen?
known that early 'guitars' were basic instruments with a single string,
cobbled together from a large wooden cigar box, or similar box. It
wasn't practically feasible to produce musical sounds of a very
intricate form, and possibly made a short lived 'damped sound', with
small difference in tune quality.
Also, for a lengthy time in
southern America, traditional drums were outlawed, as were other
cultural things that enhanced the inner strength of the black people and
instilled principles of self determination or freedom from slavery.
Maybe the hypnotic feel of the primordial blues guitar
chords were intended to be drum like, possibly explaining why the
single string thumb strike style of plucking was amongst the first to be
In that technique of playing guitar, the rhythmic pattern was
basically simpler and the thumb picking stroke was made to sound like a
drum's beat. In those tough decades, a dedicated guitarist would pluck a
monotonous bass pattern which frequently was at the same timing as a
beating heart. This made sure that the beat has an emotional contact and
it wasn't that important for the music to be analyzed, or be musically
Yet another possibility is in relation to the
jobs that negro laborers were forced to apply themselves to. Most
variations of tough work implies rhythmic repeated actions, such as
hammering, cutting down cereal grass, digging turf with a hoe, hitting
with a hammer or levering over steel rails for train tracks.
find examples of the work in restored film archives of the time, where a
line of workers with strong iron bars holler a repeating work song and
synchronize their work motion such that the massive steel rail is eased
over a short distance at the finish of a line of verse or perhaps the
More often than not the work song was split up and an answer
sung by designated parts of the work crew. This successful application
of question and answer was utilized in many blues songs when sung by a
couple of singers, and was a mainstay in church blues music.
though it's a fact that modern day music has been developed with
complicated musical patterns and interesting rhythmic variations, the
fundamental rhythms are detected - the elemental guitar boogie
is unmistakable in a huge number of rock classics in the past 50 years
and the style extended the traditional blues guitar chords. The more
varied syncopation of ragtime guitar became the foundation of the first attempts at jazz.
What To Look For In The Best Acoustic Lessons
When first starting to search for those
ideal lessons for guitar, many people used to go to the great 'G', and
'Google it'. More and more searches for everything imaginable are made
on Youtube, as a matter of fact it's the second most favorite search
engine after Google itself.
Like Google, the number of items returned
for a search such as 'blues guitar lessons' is formidable - how to
determine the instruction that's best for you and how to play blues
guitar in the authentic style? Youtube guitar lessons feature all manner
of styles and teaching levels, both paid and for free.
Blues guitar tabs are
the basis of the best guitar lessons. It doesn't have to be incredibly
complex at all, with just elementary notation indicating finger
movements and blues guitar chords. Some blues tabs go into too much
detail, trying to capture the feel and ambiance of authentic blues
playing, which just isn't possible!
This points us to the second
characteristic of good blues guitar lessons - the teacher must be able
to play the music very well (and the tablature should precisely
represent what he is playing.)
Guitar tablature itself
isn't enough to translate that delicate pause, or the thumb strike that
is a little off-beat when needed to complement the words. Sure, the tab
can show that a single thumb stroke should be damped with the palm of
the hand, but can't indicate that this damping movement itself isn't
continuous, but varies in sound as the force of the palm on the strings
is continually being changed according to the flow of the song.
your time when looking for any instruction, of any kind. The Chinese
have a saying 'a year or two spent doing nothing but locating the right
instructor is very well spent'. This is a good observation. You don't
need to take a year for your search, but choose carefully and ignore the
hype. Don't expect to improve in two weeks, take it easy, don't beat
yourself up and above all, enjoy the music and the travel.
The Vital Features Of Great Video Guitar Lessons
search on the internet for guitar instruction in video format can turn
out to be a daunting activity, particularly for the fledgling student
with little experience. What are the best features of the most effective
packages on offer? As you might imagine, we can identify common
components that might help us choose the right tuition.
Tuition should be Easy To Follow
it almost goes without saying, any lesson for whatever subject needs to
flow in a logical way and be simple to take in. First steps need to be
clearly described, and grow into further lessons. Musical theory is
important, but a student guitar player is basically impatient to start
learning - he would like to play!
This must be the first step,
presenting the basic things that can be put into practice straight away.
When all said and done, a thorough understanding of the first concepts
will bring huge advantages later on in the instruction.
Musical Notation versus Tablature
Traditionally, guitarists in the classical style learned to read musical notation and followed the written notes
performing or composing new music. Inevitably, this means a progress
that is often perceived as too slow in today's fast moving world. During
the 60s, blues guitar master Stephan Grossman and others,
method of guitar tablature that represented the frets and strings of
the guitar neck.
This abbreviated 'musical' notation was quickly
assimilated and is an effective tool for learning blues guitar, for
example. A grid of six strings is numbered from the bottom bass string
(1) to the top E string (6) and a number written on a string shows which
fret finger should be placed above. A straight line at the side of the
number denotes that the thumb or finger is employed.
Image Presentation - Guitar Tablature - What Should Be Displayed On The Video Screen
are many variations for this theme, but we can identify important
features of this vital visual aid to guitar tuition. The student should
be made aware right at the beginning what the purpose of that
instruction may be. If he is to learn a complete song, then that song
needs to be played in exactly the same as the detailed tuition
demonstrated throughout the complete lesson.
Before the detailed
tuition, any difficult techniques can be discussed and valuable tips
given. A close up of both hands are invaluable, and would be best shown
seperately. Blues guitar chords and tab may be overlaid on the screen,
so that students can follow the finger movements at the same time.
More Desirable Attributes Of Blues Guitar Tuition
being taught a song, it's good to have the words at hand and a short
discussion covering singing whilst playing. This might seem obvious, but
it's quite tricky for a new student to do both together! The complete
tablature and words could be provided as a separate Word or PDF file,
which can be printed and referred to at the student's leisure. A Wave
audio file could additionally be provided, in this way the instruction
could be referred to casually at all times. However, if the video file
is in the right format, it could be watched on an iPhone or iPad.
What's New from Jim Bruce
If you'd like to keep abreast of what's happening on my Youtube Channel, it's a good idea to subscribe,
and get notified in your emails whenever I post a new video. There are
also services that notify you and also send you the video to watch - you
don't even have to go to Youtube!
Another great way to keep informed about what I'm doing is to follow my blog here.
I know that it's often very difficult to get enough practice time in, particularly if you have a family and job commitments. We often start out as youngsters playing blues guitar avidly and then it tends to tail off as we get involved romantically, or take a demanding career path - and later on balancing a relationship, kids and job all at the same time! It's no wonder that playing guitar takes last place.
This exact thing happened to me. I was playing at pro level in my twenties and then got married. Of course, I needed a good job to support a family, which demands time. Basically, I stopped playing at all for about 5 years, which was not a good idea.
I thought that I would just pick it up when I was ready and carry on where I left off - wrong! Years of 'no practice' left a big hole, which I recovered after about a year's hard work. However, for some reason, I never recovered the slickness that I had previously.
Judging from my emails, there are many men between 50 and 60 years of age coming back learn guitar after years of inactivity, and finding it tough even if they played really well in their youth.
My advice is always the same - make time every day for a little
playing, even if it's 10 minutes. It really does work wonders and keeps those muscle memories active.
I'd really welcome any comments you might have, or any questions ... Cheers, Jim