Playing Country Blues

Dale Miller discusses the darker side of playing blues using a thumping bass in this excerpt from Solo Fingerstyle Basics.

Learning to play fingerstyle blues can be rewarding for many types of players. With its simple chord shapes and steady rhythm, blues can provide the perfect way to improve your right-hand coordination and your ability to improvise in a fingerstyle context. There are many approaches to playing country blues; I’ve had the most success and enjoyment over the years with a style favored by Mance Lipscomb, Big Bill Broonzy, and Blind Boy Fuller, in which you keep a steady, thumping bass going with your right-hand thumb while playing melody notes with your right-hand fingers. This is similar to the alternating-bass style played so well by Merle Travis and Chet Atkins but has a darker, funkier, and muddier feel. Begin by checking out these three easy-to-play first-position chords in the key of A.

Finger the A7 chord and thump your right-hand thumb on the A (fifth) string in a steady 4/4 rhythm (Example 1). As you get comfortable, work on making the sound funkier and darker by lightly touching the string with the meat at the base of your right-hand thumb. You can also experiment with hitting the bass string hard enough to sound out the next highest (D) string. Try the same for the D9/F and E7 chords with your thumb moving to hit the lowest two strings. Now try the thumb technique through this basic blues chord progression at a slow, steady tempo. If you want to sing, do so as soon as you feel comfortable enough (I’ve added some words to show how they fit within the music).

 

Excerpted from Solo Fingerstyle Basics.