BLUES GUITAR with Orville Johnson

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About This Course

Become a complete blues player through these lessons in country blues fingerpicking, blues lead guitar, and bottleneck slide, with great technique lessons and 25 blues songs from Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, and more.


Orville Johnson is a Seattle-based singer, instrumentalist, record producer, songwriter, session player, teacher, and, above all, instinctive and sensitive musician.


As his entry in the Encyclopedia of Northwest Music states, Orville “has become a vital figure on the NW music scene in the 30-some years he’s lived there, appearing on over 400 CDs, movie and video soundtracks, commercials, producing 22 CDs for other artists, hosting a roots music radio show, and appearing in the 1997 film Georgia with Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Mare Winningham, on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show.

Born and raised in the southern Illinois heartland, Orville acquired his love of singing as a youth in the fundamentalist Pentecostal church he attended and, when he later began playing guitar and dobro, responded to the roots music that surrounded him by learning to play the blues, bluegrass, rockabilly, and country music that are all part of the mosaic that characterizes his own mongrel music.

Orville is also known as a patient and insightful teacher of music and has taught often at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop as well as the International Guitar Seminar, Pt. Townsend Blues Workshop, Euro-Blues Workshop, B.C. Bluegrass Workshop and others.

Blues Guitar Course Overview
Watch the video above for a taste of what you’ll learn in Orville Johnson’s Blues Guitar course.

Blues Guitar Sample Lesson

“Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” Fingerstyle

Learn a fingerstyle arrangement of the folk-blues classic “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” inspired by the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. With Notation/Tab 

Questions About Your Course?

If you have questions about the course or a specific lesson, you can email

Blues Guitar Lessons

A subscription to Blues Guitar includes:

  • More than 40 video lessons
  • Instruction in three styles of the blues: lead, bottleneck, and fingerstyle
  • 25 complete blues songs to play
  • Notation and tablature for all lessons
  • High-quality video with multiple camera angles so you can see closeups of both hands in action.

Get started now! Use promo code “OrvilleLand” at checkout and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription. Subscribe today and get access to all these Blues Guitar lessons:

BLUES GUITAR BASICS Learn all the basic techniques you need to get started playing the three styles of blues guitar you’ll learn in this course: lead, slide, and fingerstyle.

  • Lead Guitar Basics In these four introductory lessons, you’ll launch your blues lead guitar journey with some common minor pentatonic scale positions that you can use in any key, basic picking techniques, tips on bending strings and playing hammer-ons and pull-offs, how to harmonize simple melodies with thirds and sixths, and more.
  • Country Blues Fingerpicking Basics Get started on country blues fingerpicking with four introductory lessons that cover simple fingerpicking patterns, alternating thumb patterns, melodies with your fingers on the top strings, shuffle rhythms, syncopation, and more. 
  • Slide Basics Learn everything you need to know to get started with slide in these three introductory lesson, including advice about choosing and fitting a slide, deciding which finger to put it on, and how to control string noise by using a technique called damping, or blocking. You’ll also learn a simple but cool slow blues shuffle in E that combines slide licks in the bass with single-note slide melodies on the high E string. 

BLUES LEAD SONGS Now that you’ve got a few techniques under your belt, you’ll learn a variety of songs that cover the gamut of lead guitar blues styles.

  • Slow Blues Learn a slow blues melody using the minor pentatonic blues box in A, and then the same melody an octave higher. You’ll also learn some cool bends and slides that help give the melody a smooth, flowing quality.
  • Blues Rhumba Learn an instrumental in two octaves for a blues rhumba, a blues groove with a Latin tinge. The solo includes slides, bends, and hybrid picking.
  • Swingin’ Minor Blues Learn some swingin’ minor key blues in the key of Bb. The melody starts in the middle of the neck and then moves up an octave, while the solo includes slides, some bluesy dissonant intervals, a repetitive hammer-on lick, and an ending with a nice bend. 
  • Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor Learn to play a lead guitar solo on the blues classic “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor.” You’ll learn an approach to soloing that starts with finding the melody and then fleshing it out by filling in the spaces in the melody using repeated-note licks, two-string harmonies, and string bends. 
  • Shuffle on Home Learn an instrumental tune in the style of the blues guitar instrumentals that were popular in the 1950s and ‘60s. In addition to the melody, mostly played in double stops, you’ll learn some solos, a recurring riff, and a rhythm guitar figure.
  • I Found a Dream The song “I Found a Dream” was recorded by blues and jazz guitar legend Lonnie Johnson in the early 1950s. Johnson began recording in the 1920s and was one of the first guitarists to play lead single-note breaks in blues and jazz songs. In this lesson you’ll learn a solo to “I Found a Dream” that includes some elements of Johnson’s solo style. 
  • Remington Ride Learn to play the swingin’ blues shuffle “Remington Ride,” which was one of the great blues lead guitarist Freddie King’s showpieces. You’ll learn the melody and a couple of solos that include a fast hammer-on/pull-off lick, some cool double-stop ideas, and some triplet string-bending licks. 

BLUES FINGERPICKING SONGS Work on your fingerpicking technique and repertoire by learning songs in different keys and picking styles.

  • “Heavy Time” Fingerpicking Learn a tune with a “heavy time” feel, a style of blues fingerpicking that is more driving and forceful than the somewhat bouncy feel of alternating bass. 
  • When He Calls Me Learn a fingerstyle arrangement in the key of C of the gospel song “When He Calls Me,” which comes from the old-time country blues singer Howard Armstrong. 
  • Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor This fingerstyle arrangement of the folk-blues classic “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” is inspired by the playing of Mississippi John Hurt. You’ll learn a basic version and some variations. 
  • Blue Monk The jazz blues “Blue Monk,” written by Thelonious Monk, is a great vehicle for looking at different ways to use the thumb in fingerstyle blues. Instead of playing alternating bass or a steady pulse, you’ll use your thumb to play a harmony line with the melody.
  • The Glory of Love This arrangement of the pop tune “The Glory of Love” is based on the version recorded by Big Bill Broonzy. It’s in the key of C and is played with alternating bass in the Piedmont style, a la Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, etc. You’ll learn a basic version as well as one that adds variety by changing the timing of the melody. 
  • You’ll Work Down to Me Someday The song “You’ll Work Down to Me Someday” was recorded by Memphis bluesman John Henry Barbee in the late 1920s. It’s played fingerstyle in dropped-D tuning. You’ll learn an accompaniment to the vocal, which includes some nice call-and response-licks, as well as two solos. The first solo is a fleshed-out version of the accompaniment, while the second solo moves up the neck.
  • Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me Mississippi John Hurt’s “Let the Mermaids Flirt with Me” is a classic of fingerstyle blues guitar. It features a strong alternating bass on C, G7, and F chords and a melody played on the treble strings.
  • Fan It The great guitar player, singer, and songwriter Lightnin’ Hopkins played his “fast” songs, like “Fan It,” with a moving bass line played with the thumb and “upstrokes” on the offbeats with the index finger. You’ll learn a rhythm guitar part to “Fan It” that includes one of Hopkins’ favorite turnarounds. For solos, Hopkins just soloed on the I chord for a while and then came back in on the IV chord whenever he felt like it. You’ll learn a couple of solo ideas, one using some simple bends in open position and one using a pentatonic scale up at the ninth through 12th frets.

BOTTLENECK BLUES SONGS Learn some slide solos, songs, and techniques from blues greats like Blind Willie Johnson, Tampa Red, and Muddy Waters.

  • Nobody’s Fault But Mine Blues slide guitar great Blind Willie Johnson recorded in the early 1930s and played exclusively in open-D tuning. In this lesson you’ll learn his great song “Nobody’s Fault but Mine” and use it to work on getting a touch with the slide that will produce good tone without extra noise.
  • Slide Guitar in Standard Tuning Bottleneck slide is often played in open tunings, but in this lesson you’ll learn to play slide in standard tuning, using an eight-bar blues in A, as well as a shuffle rhythm pattern you can play with your thumb on the open strings.
  • Little Boy Blue This great bottleneck blues song is in open-G tuning. You’ll use it to work on playing cleanly using damping and pick blocking. You’ll also learn an accompaniment, using a monotonic shuffle bass and nice fills between vocal lines, as well as a solo that includes a cool series of double stops that walk down chromatically from the 15th fret to the tenth fret. 
  • Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor Learn to play the melody to “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” in standard tuning in two positions. You’ll also learn a solo that includes some sliding ninth chords and get advice on how to use vibrato on long melody notes.
  • I Feel Like Goin’ Home Muddy Waters recorded “I Feel Like Goin’ Home” in the 1950s with just slide guitar and bass. In this lesson you’ll learn a version of the song in E in standard tuning and a version of the way Muddy played it, in open-G tuning. 
  • John Henry Learn to play the traditional favorite “John Henry” with a slide in open-D tuning. This arrangement uses an alternating bass on the sixth and fourth strings throughout while you play the melody up high. You’ll also learn some variations that include two-string harmonies, a version of the melody played an octave lower, and strums played with the middle finger.
  • Boogie Woogie Dance This cool instrumental slide tune comes from the great Tampa Red, who recorded from the 1920s all the way into the 1960s. He mostly played in open-D tuning, the tuning you’ll use to play “Boogie Woogie Dance.” You’ll learn the first 12-bar melody (the signature phrase of the tune) and three variations to the melody.
  • Baby, Let Me Follow You Down This traditional blues song was originally recorded in the 1930s by Big Bill Broonzy, and Eric Von Schmidt rewrote some of the lyrics in the 1960s. You’ll learn a version in open-D tuning that includes a few unusual chord voicings and some cool parallel-sixths harmony lines in the solos.
  • So Long Blues “So Long Blues” recalls the 1920s “classic blues” songs of singers like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Ma Rainey. The melody is played in standard tuning and is designed to be played with a rhythm section. You’ll learn how to get a “singing” quality in your playing: how to get the “notes in between the notes” and move them around in the beat, in the way that singers do.
If you're finished with the Blues Guitar lessons, you can move on to Orville's new Fingerstyle Blues Guitar course or one of the other Peghead Nation coursesIt's easy to change courses on your My Account page.

Blues Guitar Source Material

Check out these tunes and artists featured in the Blues Guitar course.

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