Blues, as a style, is the most influential music genre that America has ever known. It’s origins date back over 130 years, yet paved the way for popular styles like rock, rap, R&B, jazz and many others throughout American history.
In his course, Blues Traditions, Reverend Robert Jones offers a hands-on syllabus exploring the origins of African American blues guitar fingerpicking. And thus, he uncovers the essential traditions and techniques that were born with blues, and passed down to the other genres we all know and love.
Here are nine video blues fingerstyle guitar lessons from the course. For the full course, check out Rev Robert Jones’ Blues Traditions on TrueFire!
Blues Guitar Lesson – The Piedmont Roll
The Piedmont Roll is a picking pattern derived primarily from East Coast players like Rev. Gary Davis, Elizabeth Cotton and Blind Blake. I learned it from “Bowling Green” John Cephas.
The idea revolves around playing a four string pattern between your thumb and finger or fingers. For example, while holding a first position “E” chord, you would play string 2 with your finger, string 4 with your thumb, string 1 with your finger, then string 6 with your thumb. So, watch the video and start slow. The Piedmont Roll is a wonderful finger picking tool!
Blues Guitar Lesson – Good Woman – Overview
This is a 12 bar blues in A, but it’s based on the playing of Robert Johnson. Johnson was a Mississippi blues guitarist whose influence is still felt in American music. Many of the concepts that we learn from Johnson’s music will reinforce the idea of blues as a modular music, a style that allows us to reorder the parts to create new pieces.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Good Woman – Performance
This is the music that supports songs like “Kind Hearted Woman”, “Little Queen of Spades”, “Me And The Devil”, “Phonograph Blues” and others. These songs are all built on the same musical chassis.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Good Woman – Breakdown
There are a couple of things to pay attention to in this song: First, notice how triplets take on the rhythmic role that the Piedmont Roll and pentatonic runs filled in our previous tunes. We’re doing the same things (12-bar blues, moving chord shapes, using the pentatonic scale, etc.), but we’re doing them in different ways.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Slide, Resonator, and Open Tunings
Mississippi is the home of many influential blues styles. Just as today, early blues players listened to each other and shared ideas about gear and techniques. So, while the resonator guitar never really gained much traction in jazz music (other than with artists like the great Oscar Aleman), it was a highly favored tool in the hands of Mississippi Delta style players. Just as these players saw the virtue of a loud, durable and sustaining resonator instruments, they also often used open tunings for reasons that are addressed in the video.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Biscuit Roller – Overview
“Biscuit Roller” is a tune that is the basis for a number of Delta classics like “Rolling and Tumbling”, “Gravel Road Blues”, “Travelling Riverside Blues”, “Meeting Me in the Bottom” and more. The original tune was credited to Hambone Willie Newbern, an older singer and guitarist in the Delta tradition.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Biscuit Roller – Performance
This is the way that I (usually) play this tune. But, it’s not the only way to play it. You might also notice that this is not necessarily a 12-bar blues. How long you play the rhythm is up to you. Also, this applies to how often you play the melody. Listen to a recording Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Gravel Road Blues” to understand what I mean.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Biscuit Roller – Breakdown
In this lesson, play close attention to the rhythm. One of the things that help to define the rhythm is the damping with the right hand. “Opening and closing” (going up and down) with the heel of the right hand gives the sound of a snare drum that accentuates a backbeat to the tune.
Blues Guitar Lesson – Shared Delta Blues Licks
This section again focuses on the idea that the blues are modular. As musicians like Son House, Willie Brown, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf borrowed and stole music from one another they created patterns that were powerful in their expressiveness and simplicity.
They tended to create unique music licks on the I chord, for the first 4 bars of their songs, but then they go to fairly set patterns on the IV and V chords. Even though these patterns are simple, they aren’t necessarily easy. To pull off this style off, you’ll need be able to play a with a rock solid rhythm.
Digging these free video blues fingerstyle guitar lessons? Check out Rev. Robert Jones’ full course, Blues Traditions.