Finding the right guitar instructor is, often times, vital to forming good performing habits. Of course, most would agree that learning from the world’s greatest musicians would be the preferred method. But, it’s not often we are presented with the knowledge and instruction of world-class, award-winning players.

However, that opportunity is available here! In his course, Fingerstyle Journals, Grammy-winning fingerstyle legend and Honorary C.G.P. (Certified Guitar Player, awarded by Chet Atkins), John Knowles passes some of his well-earned knowledge on to you.

Here are 7 free fingerstyle guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out John Knowles’ Fingerstyle Journals on TrueFire!

Guitar Talk: Overview

For some time now, I’ve been camped out on the bridge between fingerstyle and classical guitar. My roots include a thumb pick, a Gretsch 6120 guitar, and a stack of Chet Atkins albums. Later, as an adult, I studied classical guitar.

These days, I’m playing a nylon-string guitar that was made for me by Kirk Sand in Laguna Beach, California. It’s modeled after my favorite Kohno classical guitar. We made the neck a little more comfortable and added a cutaway. You’ll notice that my right hand looks a little more classical than fingerstyle. I’ll be sure to point out a few things you may want to adapt if you play an acoustic guitar with a thumb pick. And I’ll also point out a few things that I do differently than most classical players.

Folks tell me that I tend to play with my eyes closed. Maybe that’s because there was nothing to see when I was learning from vinyl. But since you’ll be looking, it helps to know that my neck joins the body at the twelfth fret…which Kirk marked with my signature. And recently, I asked Kirk to install a marker at the seventh fret, to help you see where my left hand is. I remember loaning my classical to Chet and he returned it with a small piece of tape at the seventh fret. I took the hint.

My left-hand approach is a little more classical, too. The biggest difference is that I don’t fret the bass strings with my thumb. Even though my thumb is out of sight, I trust it as an anchor and a guide…on the back of the neck. Be prepared to adapt my approach to your instrument and technique. Let’s get to work.

Chicken in the Rain: Overview

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I was inspired to write “Chicken in the Rain” when I saw a stuffed animal in a gift shop window. It was a chicken in a raincoat and hat…like a lobster fisherman’s outfit. The idea of wet chickens just seemed funny to me. It suggested some quirky rhythms and unexpected harmonies. So, I went to the key of C for a Merle Travis, “Saturday Night Shuffle” feel and I got to work.

Chicken in the Rain: Performance

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Now here’s the full performance for “Chicken in the Rain”. Next, continue on to the breakdown section where we’ll take it section-by-section, so you can learn it on your own.

Chicken in the Rain: Intro & Outro Breakdown

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The intro and outro to “Chicken in the Rain” are both built around a lick that is so old you almost can’t steal it. But you can disguise it. After I do that first pull-off, instead of playing the next two notes one-after-the-other I play them together with my ring and middle finger — a Jerry Reed move. Then the outro is just a short variation on the intro. And it just happens to fit the rhythm of the title.

Chicken in the Rain: Verse Breakdown

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There’s only two chords in the verse…G7 and C. I’ve adjusted the G7 so that F is on the 4th string, but the C is right out of the book.

Now there’s a few things to watch for: There’s a spot where your right thumb drops out for a couple of beats. And when I get to the C chord, I’m alternating the bass between the 5th and 6th strings. And finally, when I need an A on the 3rd string, I lean my 2nd finger over without letting go of the E on the 4th string. It’s straightforward but tricky.

Chicken in the Rain: Bridge Breakdown

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You’ll love the bridge. It’s only got one chord…G7. So, your 2nd finger is an anchor finger on the sixth string…all the way. And your 2nd and 3rd fingers are just swapping strings. Your right index finger gets a break because everything is thumb plus that ring/middle pair. So, the trick is to get the rhythm right.

Chicken in the Rain: Reflections & Wrap Up

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I worked hard to get “Chicken in the Rain” solid at a slow and steady tempo so I could play all those quirky rhythms without thinking about it. I remember one day, I was working when I heard Becky in the other room say, “It’s not funny, yet.” So now when I play it, I just think wet chickens.

Digging these free fingerstyle guitar lessons with John Knowles? Check out his course, Fingerstyle Journals.