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Blues Guitar Lessons: Self Accompaniment: Alternating Bass

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something for
What I just demonstrated was
the idea of alternating bass.
Now in our last lesson we talked
about the dead thumb, and
the dead thumb style of self
accompaniment is hitting one
note repeatedly and
no alternation in the bass.
Lay on the sixth string and
play your melodies against it.
And so on, that was the style of self
accompaniment that was I would
say prevalent in the down
home blues sound of the early
electric blues era for certain.
And preceding that
the acoustic blues styles.
And so among electric blues guitar players
Lightning Hopkins used dead thumb.
Muddy Waters used dead thumb.
And it was just sort of the basic
approach to backing yourself up.
What I was just playing there,
the alternating thumb
Is just sort of the first step toward
the more complex styles of finger picking
that you would associate with folk guitar.
Country styles where things get
a little bit more elaborate.
And we'll look at some of those slight
elaborations later on in another lesson
in the context of rockabilly,
which has some country elements to it.
But for right now,
let's look at how you get the bass note.
After that one string, and
start adding another string to it,
because it brings in another level
of energy to the bass pattern,
as you could hear in the example I played.
So, I'll give you a demonstration
of the basic pattern and
then break it down for you.
All right, now as it's often the case,
if not always the case with multilevel
parts like that where you've got.
A bass pattern and
a melody going simultaneously.
When you first hear it,
it sounds insanely complicated.
But when you break it down,
the parts are extremely simple.
And the only thing that
really makes it tricky
is being able to maintain
them both simultaneously.
That's the whole deal with
finger picking in a nutshell.
Simple parts put together.
So what's the first part?
Well the bass pattern, and
in this case I'm in E and
my bass pattern is going to be the sixth
string and the fourth string, the octave.
All right, that is not complicated.
And I'm going to use down strokes
on both notes and I'm going to mute
with the heel of my right hand because
I want the notes to thump a little bit.
I don't want them to get too
loud relative to the melody.
Okay, now with my bare fingers,
and I'm using hybrid picking as
I do pretty much all the time.
You could use a thumb pick.
You could use your bare thumb for
that matter and fingers,
but I like the sound because I can
get a little attack on the low notes.
And it's integrates well with
the rest of my technique.
So, down strokes and then with my bare
fingers 2nd and 3rd fingers I'm going to
play the high strings and the first part
of the phrase is pretty dead on like this.
So I'm playing the sixth string and
four string in the bass and
then every other
note I'm plucking upward on that high E.
Now this is where the trick comes in.
I'm going to play another melody note and
I'm going to slow it way down.
Nice and relaxed.
And here it comes.
Now what I'm doing is with
my middle finger, I'm plucking
the open second string, but
I'm not plucking it as
the same time as the bass.
It's on the upbeat, so
it's one, two, three and four.
One, two, three, and four.
One, two, three, and four.
Now at that tempo you probably are able
to get it because you have time
to think and
when you're learning these patterns
that's a key element of practicing
is giving yourself time to think.
I'm not trying to rush ahead and
put everything together before it's ready.
So, think of each part of the pattern has
being just a little ingredient that then,
you add together and make sure they blend
before you move on to the next one.
So, at a slow tempo, you get it.
When you listen to it faster,
That's when it starts to sound tricky and
learning it right off the bat at
that tempo, kind of drive you crazy,
but when you break it down
it's not that difficult.
So, another ingredient that I
want to mention is the muting.
I'm sorry.
[SOUND] Now.
I'm exaggerating there but what I'm doing.
As soon as play the open second string, I
release the pressure in my fretting hand,
and at the same time lay my index finger
down so I mute the second string.
So I cut it off.
Kind of
swallow it.
And what that does is prevent
the notes from ringing together.
It kind of rocks a little bit more.
All right.
That's the principle of it.
Now I can start the mess with the melody,
when I'm playing my melodies,
if I'm playing shuffled 8th notes,
one and two and three and
four, straight 8th notes,
whatever the rhythm may be.
I really have two choices.
I'm either going to play a melody
note that's in sync with the bass or
it's going to be on the upbeat
between the bass notes.
And it's one of the other so from this
point forward, once you're able to kind of
see and hear and feel the end of
the melody, where it's on the upbeat.
Then changing the melody and
moving the melody onto different beats and
so forth becomes a lot easier because
it's just an extension to the same idea.
So, here's a phrase.
This is a blues tune of Rufus Thomas.
It's called Tiger Man.
I use a Memphis artist pretty
famous guy in fact and
this is the basic lick from Tiger Man.
Right, just
that pretty much.
So I'm playing the octaves
just as I was earlier.
And now my melody is the blue note.
All right so I bend that note.
I reach back down for my bass and
then pluck the open E string.
Now another famous pattern
that falls into the same category.
[COUGH] And also was associated
with the city of Memphis.
A little
Junior Parker's Mystery Train which
was before Elvis
That's not exactly a literal rendition of
the part, but it's the same rhythm, and
it's called the train pattern, and
you hear this in lot of different.
Country and rock ability styles of music.
It's just got that driving quality
that makes you associate it with
a steam engine going on a track.
Now, same rhythm, but
now I'm using two fingers and
I'm also going to embellish
a little bit with my left hand.
So, the mystery train pattern
Now in this case I play my
same octave bass pattern.
And then on every other beat I
pluck the second and third strings.
And I'm playing an E major chord here.
And then on the upbeat I'm
going to pluck the shape
looks like an A chord.
Just lay my second finger down,
let it flop.
The rhythm
is the same.
So the difference is in the two
fingers instead of one.
And laying the second finger down so
you've got a little left
finger activity in there.
One more embellishment that adds a little
bluesy quality to it is to
hammer on on the third string.
So I pluck all
three notes together.
And then hammer with the index finger.
Get rolling
down the track,
goodness gracious.
Now if you want to move
that pattern around.
We can use a technique we've used in
other circumstances here.
Which is thumb over
And lay that finger flat.
We saw this,
almost exactly the same technique as
one of the boogey shuffle rhythms.
Now we're just separating the notes
and plucking them.
There's my octave base pattern.
thing for
the five
Now, adding more melodies to it,
like I just did there is,
really, just stretching the concept and
using your ear, and thinking
there's a melody,
played all together it's
like a lot going on.
But when you break it down it's.
That's pretty easy.
That's pretty easy.
So what makes it sound, complex.
Its the off beats.
Its the melody note bouncing
off of the base note.
Let me get
it right here.
For me after I learn the pattern
it's hard to slow it down.
Because then I start thinking again,
and when I start thinking about it,
it suddenly sounds harder than
it feels under my fingers.
Now the idea of learning these
patterns is that you just
add a dimension to your
ability to accompany yourself.
And so you've got the dead thumb sound.
I just switched
gears in the middle there and
went from dead thump
to alternate pick.
But it adds another dimension to it.
So, as a blues guitar player
I like to think that I can
kind of play all by myself and
not need other musicians.
In other words it's not like I
either got rhythm parts that have
no melodic content and they're only
there to back up somebody else.
Or I've only got licks that
have no rhythmic content so
I need somebody else to back me up.
That's a very common situation, but when
you learn these accompaniment techniques,
just the dead thumb and add the octave
to boost things up a little bit.
You become a self-contained musician and
you're able to do things
all by yourself that normally you
would have depended on somebody else.
Its a lot more satisfying and
whether or not you go out and
do it in front of people or you just sit
around the house and play it for fun.
it just feels good.
Its very enjoyable.
And with those techniques you can unlock
a lot of what you hear in down-home blues.
It doesn't necessarily get
a more complicated than that.
The melodies change and
of course each new melody you're going to
have to learn how the relationship works.
But fundamentally it's the same pattern.
Here's another application
of that same idea that
put into a band context.
So, solo guitar part but when you add
the band in, it sounds very strong.
It's a tune called
Dark Night that we play, and
it's based on exactly the same technique.
It might even have been inspired
by Tiger Man for all I know.
so there's
the pattern.
Now there's nothing about that
pattern that's brand new.
Its the combination that's brand new,
the melody.
Right, a fairly standard
open position blues phrase.
[SOUND] There's your E seven sound.
[SOUND] The bass pattern
us just [SOUND] chunking
away there on the low notes in the octave.
again putting them together is tricky.
All right, so
you hear the sound and
it sounds like everything's
already there,
it's self contained.
It's a cool thing, you can also
play the A chord in open position.
Now there instead of using octaves,
I'll use the root and the fifth.
And just playing
the A7 chord.
Again its harder for
me to talk about it and think about it
than to let the motor memory take over.
So, I've got my E sound.
Now for
a five chord
in the key of
E, B7.
There's my base pattern,
alternating, not octaves.
In this case it's actually the root and
the third.
It's more the feel of
the pick against the strings.
It doesn't matter what the notes
are in terms of the chord.
It's the bouncing back and forth.
so it's a lot of fun
to be able to get around
the changes there.
We know E.
We know A.
We know B.
If I was in the key of A, I would have A7.
There I'm going to my D chord, and
remember back when we talked
about open position blues.
I introduced the D with the third
in the bass, [SOUND] and
there's your bass pattern,
alternating two notes.
full composition,
now with this style
of playing if you
wanna play in other
keys than E and A.
Because the open strings are so strong and
kinda built in you have two choices,
one is use the thumb and
move that shape around.
The other one is put that capo on the neck
and every key becomes an open key.
And is perfectly legit way to deal with
the challenge of playing in other keys.
So there you've got quite a palette, and
I give you the examples you
can study them a little bit.
But the basic idea is one note at a time,
then expand that to two notes at a time.
And for blues purposes, you don't
really need to go much beyond that.
Finger picking can get very complex
almost like classical music.
But we're looking for that driving,
simple, straight forward approach.
So that should be enough to get you going.
All right, have fun with that.