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.
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. orvillejohnson.com
Watch the video above to get a taste of what you’ll learn in Orville Johnson’s Fingerstyle Blues Guitar course.
“Heavy time” is a style of blues fingerpicking that is more driving and forceful than the somewhat bouncy feel of alternating bass fingerpicking. With Notation/Tab
Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Lessons
A subscription to Fingerstyle Blues Guitar includes:
More than 30 extensive Fingerstyle Blues Guitar video lessons
New lessons and songs added every month
In-depth instruction in fingerstyle and bottleneck blues
More than 20 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.
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 Fingerstyle Blues Guitar lessons:
FINGERSTYLE BLUES GUITAR BASICS Learn all the basic techniques you need to get started playing fingerstyle blues guitar.
Country Blues Fingerpicking Basics Get started on country blues fingerpicking with five introductory lessons that cover simple fingerpicking patterns, alternating thumb patterns, playing melodies with your fingers on the top strings, shuffle rhythms, syncopation, “heavy time” picking, and more.
Slide Guitar 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.
FINGERSTYLE BLUES SONGS Work on your fingerpicking technique and repertoire by learning songs in different keys and picking styles, with a slide or without.
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 MineBlues 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.
Bottleneck Blues in A 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, Part 1: Key of D 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), starting with the key of D.
I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll, Part 2: Key of G Learn “I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll” in the key of G.
Some of These Days One of the earliest recorded fingerstyle blues guitarists was Mississippi guitarist/singer Charley Patton, who 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.
I’m Going Away “I’m Going Away” comes from the great folk/blues fingerstyle guitarist Elizabeth Cotton. 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.”
Fingerstyle Blues Guitar Source Material
Check out these tunes and artists featured in the Fingerstyle Blues Guitar course.