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Blues Guitar Lessons: Self Accompaniment: Dead Thumb

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I have a lot of fun just sitting
around and doing that, you know?
Like when I want to relax I'll pick up
the guitar and I'll just play that.
It's just cool.
And what I like about it is that
I feel like I'm the whole band.
I don't need anybody else.
Because I've got my little
base pattern going.
I'm playing my melodies and
it's all kind of tied together.
In my mind I'm hearing Muddy Waters and
he's singing still a fool.
And, that was such an inspiration to me,
I just feel, it's a pleasure to
just even be able to grab on and
take a ride, and try to emulate some
of that feeling that he put on there.
Now, the style that I'm playing there is,
it's self accompaniment.
In other words, I'm not waiting for
somebody to hit play on the rhythm track.
So I have a bass and drums and
I'm doing it all by myself.
This is the real down home blues style.
Muddy Waters recorded this style in
Chicago on the electric guitar but
before that he was playing it,
as were all of his contemporaries,
down in the Mississippi Delta.
This is just how you play guitar.
There was no real fanfare about it,
it's just you want to play guitar,
you better figure out how to keep time for
And be able to handle the melodies.
So what players would do is
often attach a thumb pick,
make the bottom notes
thump a little bit more.
I'll show you the hybrid picked approach.
The idea is this, this is called dead
thumb which sounds kind of ominous, but
all it really means is that instead
of moving the thumb back and
forth from one string to another,
and this is talking about the old school
where you didn't use a pick at all.
The thumb just lays down on
the root of the chord and
just thumps that note repeatedly
without varying at all.
And when it goes to the next chord,
you find the next root.
And this is why open keys are so
popular because if you wanted to have that
note available to you as accompaniment.
So the idea of it.
I'm using the pick so
you can call it dead pig.
It's all the same.
But now quarter notes.
Start with quarter notes and
we'll up the ante a little bit.
The idea is this.
I've got the open E.
There's no mystery about that bass note.
And the technique of quarter notes.
That's not anything that
we need to learn here.
I'm muting with the heal of my hand
because I want those notes to thump.
And not be too loud.
Now, what I'm going to do with my
bare fingers is play the melody.
So, starting on the high E string
I play that G, but I'm in the key of E.
When I play that G in the key of E,
that's a blue note.
So I got to make that a blue note.
I got to bend a little bit.
So the pick and
the finger are synchronized.
Okay, now I'm going to alternate
the high G with the open E.
It's like a claw.
Finger comes up.
Pick goes down.
Crossing to the second string.
Now here I can use the middle
finger of my picking hand.
Open second string.
Here I'm using my middle finger and
playing the bluesy sound
there with the flat five.
I can bend it if I want.
Why not?
Land on the fourth string and
I can hammer on.
All the effects that I have available
phrasing wise I can apply to this.
And just a quick recap of our melody so
Up in the.
Very familiar stuff, okay.
Now, let's do this.
Instead of playing quarter notes,
I'm going to play a shuffle.
In the bottom.
back to my melody.
I'm going to shuffle the melody.
now as long as
he rhythm of
the melody and
the rhythm of
the bass are identical.
It's pretty easy to make that happen.
It just takes a little bit of practice to
get your hand to spread out like that.
The fun begins when you start to
syncopate the melody and play rhythms in
the melody that are slightly different
than the rhythms in the bass.
For example,
Now what I'm playing there
is I'm playing a triplet.
That's the rhythm [INAUDIBLE], but
I'm adding a melody to it.
Now sometimes, it's like patting
your head and rubbing your stomach.
It's just, what?
Is going on.
The key word in all of this stuff,
any of these techniques that involve two
things happening at once is slow down.
Slow it down to where you can really
hear and think about the next note.
And don't try to shove it,
you know, into your consciousness.
Because it won't fit.
So I can take that down to.
Just open E string.
And then add the extra note.
And so now my brain is split, but
I'm able to sort of tell myself to keep
the pick separate from the finger.
see there the,
don't want that
now if you didn't
have the bass going,
and I said
You'd say what
are we doing that for?
That's easy.
I know how to do that right?
So adding the bass is what
creates all of the complication.
Because you have to keep those
two sounds going simultaneously.
So pick a melody.
I'll help you out with this stuff.
I'll give you some reference
material to look at.
But there's my melody.
It's a straight up blues in E.
And now slowing it down.
And I've been doing this for a long time
and I still drop a beat here and there, or
move the pick.
No crime in that.
It's keeping the same vibe.
That's whats important.
Now when you speed it up it actually
after awhile becomes a little easier,
because you're not thinking so hard.
That's the down home blues right there,
now when you go to the four chord, A.
Up to B.
we've learned
about playing chords.
[NOISE] Now obviously
I'm not explaining
every lick in there,
but you've heard
all those licks.
I've shown you those
licks in other contexts.
There's nothing new about
the melody that I'm playing or
how I'm arranging the notes on the neck.
We know the patterns.
So the new ingredient is
that I'm playing them
with these fingers,
while I'm thumping away
steady down on the bottom with that pick
Ultimately, you can't think
about two things at once.
When you do it super slow, yeah, you're
trying to balance those two things and
your attention is going like this.
Like watching a super fast tennis game.
You can't do that.
So what you've got to do is
get one of those ingredients
down into your subconscious, so
it just goes along on automatic pilot.
That's gonna be the bass note.
This just happens.
I don't think about it.
It's just gonna take care of itself,
and meanwhile, I'm saying, okay,
now, let's see, where are we here?
And so
Whatever I play up on the high strings,
I'm really thinking about those phrases.
And this is just, [SOUND] you just go.
Just don't bother me.
And when it goes to four chord,
I use pen A string, and
when it goes to the five,
I'll go down and grab that note,
or if I get fancy I might be
able to go up and use my thumb.
Now, when you hear that style,
that is the key to the early, down home,
Muddy Waters sound.
Beautiful, beautiful stuff,
just him in the studio by himself,
or maybe with a bass player.
But he's playing it all by himself.
Lightnin' Hopkins made dozens and
dozens of records using that style.
The dead thumb accompaniment.
So it takes a minute just to
get the coordination, but
once you can get that bass note to
disappear, and in your mind, I should say,
and it just goes along all by itself.
It's remarkably easy to be
able to attach that sound
to the bottom of the phrases that
you already know how to play, and
then suddenly it's like you
sound like a million bucks.
You know, you're like the whole band.
Show you one more example.
This is one that I always dug.
This was actually a hit record for
a minute.
It doesn't get anymore poetic than that,
does it?
Now that's a different form of dead thumb
in that we're playing a different rhythm.
the principle's exactly the same.
got to
So the melody is moving and
is very syncopated, so
this takes a lot of thought.
The entire trick is that you're
balancing the two parts together.
The melody is very simple.
Bass how simple can you get?
It's the combination that will throw you.
So Suzie Q,
that part was invented by a 15 year old.
A 15-year old, right?
James Burton.
Now, James went on to play after this,
play with Elvis and
he had a pretty stellar career.
But he was a kid, he had a lot of talent,
and he knew his down home blues,
and he translated that into a rock and
roll classic right there.
So two examples of dead thumb, and
if you listen to Lightnin Hopkins,
Muddy Waters, or that's Dale Hawkins,
that's the singer and the track is Suzy Q.
You'll hear examples of dead thumb, and
then you'll hear that throughout the kind
of the down home blues repertoire.
It's everywhere.
So I'm not showing you a complete
tutorial lick by lick by lick,
because I don't think I need to.
You know how to play the licks, and so
all I'm saying is, just get that
thumb thumping away, or the pick.
And play it super slow,
take licks that you already
are confident with, that you know.
You don't have to to think so
hard about the lick.
Add the thumb, you'll be
thinking about that for a minute.
And then let the thumb sort of
fade into the background and
concentrate on the melody.
And you'll be home free.
And it's just a lot of fun to be able
to sit around the house and just kinda.
Mm, mm,
mm, mm.
The more you do it, the looser it gets and
you just start to have fun with it.
Then when you go back to
play it with the band,
you feel like you're that much stronger,
cuz you sorta see the whole picture.
You know how it feels
to play that bass part.
And you feel the rhythm.
And so with a band it's
just like you're coasting.
So have fun with that one.
And if you want to send me
an example of yourself playing it,
if you have questions about how to do it.
Am I doing it right?
How can I do it better?
That's where I come in.
Look forward to hearing.