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Fingerstyle Blues Guitar
with Orville Johnson
 
 
About This Course
 
Learn to play fingerstyle blues, with a bottleneck slide and without, through songs from blues legends Mississippi John Hurt, Big Bill Broonzy, Lightnin' Hopkins, Tampa Red, Blind Willie Johnson, and more.
 
 
Try a Sample Lesson
 
“Heavy time” is a style of blues fingerpicking that is more driving and forceful than the somewhat bouncy feel of alternating bass fingerpicking, as played by Mississippi John Hurt, Willie McTell, and others. In this lesson, Orville shows you a tune that illustrates the “heavy time” feel. Heavy time is all about what your thumb is doing—in this case, the thumb constantly pounds the beat, four beats per measure. Another thing that makes this style different is that the melody notes are played just with the index finger. Orville walks you through the piece phrase by phrase.
 
 
 
Meet the Instructor
Orville Johnson
 
 
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.
 
 
 
Peghead Play-Along Tracks
 
Peghead Nation is creating a library of accompaniment videos (and downloadable MP3s) for songs and tunes that are taught on the site, classics that you'll find at many jams and picking parties. As a subscriber, you have access to this library and can use the tracks to practice playing tunes and songs at a slow or medium tempo with guitar accompaniment. New songs will be added regularly.
 
 
Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Source Material

Check out these songs featured in the Fingerstyle Blues Guitar course.


The Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Subscription Includes:
  • 32 extensive Fingerstyle Blues Guitar video lessons
  • In-depth instruction in fingerstyle and bottleneck blues
  • 25 complete fingerstyle 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.
 
 
$20/Month For One Course
 
Additional courses only $10/month each!   •   Save 20% with an annual subscription
 
 
Get started now!
Use promo code OrvilleLand at checkout
and get your first month free or $20 off an annual subscription.
 
Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Course Outline
 
FINGERSTYLE BLUES GUITAR BASICS 
 
Learn all the basic techniques you need to get started playing fingerstyle blues guitar, with and without a slide.
 
Fingerpicking Basics, Part 1: Simple Patterns
Get started with country blues fingerpicking with some simple fingerpicking patterns. Learn to play the alternating thumb pattern on C and G chords, and combine that with a pinch pattern.
 

Fingerpicking Basics, Part 2: Note Values
Learn to play different note values with your fingers on the treble strings while keeping up a steady alternating bass.
 

Fingerpicking Basics, Part 3: Thumb Things
In addition to playing an alternating bass, the thumb can also play a single-note shuffle rhythm on one string or a melody independently of the fingers for a contrapuntal sound.
 

Fingerpicking Basics, Part 4: Syncopation 
Learn a couple of simple exercises that show how to add syncopation to your melodies and give them a natural feel.
 

“Heavy Time” Fingerpicking
“Heavy time” is a style of blues fingerpicking that is more driving and forceful than the somewhat bouncy feel of alternating bass fingerpicking.
 

Slide Guitar Basics, Part 1
Learn everything you need to know to get started with slide, including advice about choosing and fitting a slide and deciding which finger to put it on. You’ll also learn to play major scale and minor scales on the first string.
 

Slide Guitar Basics, Part 2: Damping
To control or reduce the noise created by rubbing a metal slide against metal strings, slide guitarists use a technique called damping, or blocking, which you’ll learn in this lesson.
 

Slide Guitar Basics, Part 3: Your First Slide Tune

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.

 

 
FINGERSTYLE BLUES SONGS
 
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.

 

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 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Goin’ Down Slow

The inspiration for Orville’s arrangement of the blues song “Goin’ Down Slow” is the great Texas songster Mance Lipscomb, who plays it in the key of A, but using dropped-D tuning. Orville also capos at the second fret because that’s where he likes to sing “Goin’ Down Slow.” You’ll learn the chord positions Orvilles uses and the fills he plays while he’s singing as well as two solos. Orville also talks about Lipscomb’s picking style, in which he mostly played with his thumb and index fingers.

 

Salty Dog Blues

Learn a Mississippi John Hurt–inspired version of the traditional song “Salty Dog Blues,” which has more of a ragtime chord progression than the standard 12-bar blues progression. It’s in the key of G and the progression is E7–A7–D7–G. You’ll learn the basic chords and fingerpicking patterns including a variation on the E7 chord that Hurt played and that Orville uses in his first solo on “Salty Dog Blues.” Then you’ll learn two more solos using different chord voicings. The first uses a banjo-like picking pattern and the second solo combines chord shapes on the top three strings with pull-offs and descending sixths.

 

Lightnin’ Hopkins–Style Blues in E 
In this lesson on the fingerstyle playing of the great guitarist Lightnin’ Hopkins, you’ll a learn a 12-bar blues arrangement with some common and useful licks in the key of E. You’ll also learn three different turnarounds, which can be used on any blues in E.
 

I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll

This early jazz song isn’t strictly a blues, but it is deeply rooted in the blues. Orville’s arrangement is influenced by 1920s jazz piano, with an alternating bass throughout and some chord voicings you may not have played in the blues before. You’ll learn “I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll” in two different keys (D and G).

 

Some of These Days

One of the earliest recorded fingerstyle blues guitarists was Mississippi guitarist/singer Charley Patton, whose song “Some of These Days” you’ll learn in this lesson. Patton recorded in the 1920s and influenced Robert Johnson, Son House, and others. “Some of These Days” is in open-D tuning and is one of Patton’s sweeter songs. Orville plays and sings it through and then shows you what he plays for the verse and bridge of “Some of These Days,” including a harmony to the melody line and some different chord voicings.

 

I’m Going Away

“I’m Going Away” comes from the great folk/blues fingerstyle guitarist Elizabeth Cotten. It’s in the key of C and uses standard open-position chords with a steady alternating bass. In addition to basic versions of the verse and bridge, you’ll learn some of the things Elizabeth Cotten plays that add some interest to the basic melody and alternating bass rhythm, including different bass lines, some more syncopations of the melody, and using the index finger on the middle strings to give it a more loping feel.

 

The Other Side of This Life

Fred Neil was a great fingerstyle guitar player and singer who recorded in the 1960s and early 1970s. Orville’s arrangement of his song “The Other Side of This Life,” which has an eight-bar blues form, uses some of the fingerstyle blues techniques you’ve been learning and includes a swingin’ accompaniment pattern that uses thumb notes just before the downbeats. You’ll learn that pattern and some of the things that Orville plays on his solos in “The Other Side of This Life,” including some movable chord shapes with triplet pull-offs, pentatonic and blues scale licks, etc.

 

Coffee Blues

Mississippi John Hurt’s “Coffee Blues” is one of his classic fingerstyle blues tunes played out of A position. You’ll learn how John Hurt played the solos on “Coffee Blues” as well as a solo that Orville made up for “Coffee Blues” that uses some chord positions moving up the neck and a cool descending chromatic pull-off lick.

 

How Long Blues

Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell were a 1930s piano and guitar duo who made many recordings, including “How Long Blues.” Orville’s arrangement of “How Long Blues” is rather unusual, however. It’s in the key of D, but Orville plays it in open-G tuning and uses his arrangement to get you thinking about playing in different keys in open tunings, not just the key the tuning is named for or tuned to. You’ll learn his basic arrangement as well as some of the things he plays on his solos in “How Long Blues.”

 

My Walking Stick

The Irving Berlin song “My Walking Stick,” written in the 1920s, was made popular among guitarists by Leon Redbone, who recorded the song played fingerstyle on his 1975 debut On the Track. In this lesson you’ll learn Orville’s version of Leon’s version. It’s in the key of A minor, and is not technically a blues, but, of course, has a blues flavor. You’ll learn two instrumental solos to “My Walking Stick.” The first follows the melody, while the second is more improvisational, with some single-string lines played with the thumb and index finger.

 

Motherless Children

Orville uses the traditional blues “Motherless Children” to show you how you can play a song that has a minor or “modal” sound in a major-key tuning. You’ll learn to play “Motherless Children” in open-G tuning, even though the song uses the minor pentatonic scale. You’ll also learn how to create a modal sound by keeping the C note on the first fret of the second string held down with your index finger, and how to play the melody in three different octaves.

 

 
 
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