Friday, March 4, 2011

Blues Guitar Lesson Course Reviews - Jim Bruce

Do you want to progress beyond playing the same old chord shapes on your acoustic guitar, and learn how to play the blues guitar techniques like picking and slide guitar styles? Or maybe you've got some experience with finger style guitar techniques, but would like to learn how to pick the blues?

The complete Acoustic Blues Guitar course features many very detailed video lessons which includes accurate  guitar tab, that will teach you how you can master finger picking blues guitar, ragtime blues and slide guitar, just like the blues legends such as Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, and Mississippi John Hurt.

Every video lesson in the package shows how you can perform these techniques by featuring a whole song song in a chosen blues style,teaching it section by section, then showing how to put those parts together.

Course Instructor

Jim Bruce is a well established and admired teacher in the blues styles, and he's produced several CDs up to press. He also spends a fair amount of time playing this style of guitar music on the streets and bars of France, and so he's gathered three decades of useful experience in playing blues on guitar. He gives us the benefit this experience throughout the lessons - take one example, when we start the lesson for 'Key To The Highway', Jim teaches a 'regular' and 'street' version of this piece, with this 'street' version is used more for a live performance.  This is a wonderful way to learn how to play blues guitar.

Lesson Package Contents - What You Are Buying

The complete package features of thirty six high quality WMV or MOV video files burned onto data-disks, along with files in PDF format of full tablature to accompany the lessons. Each of the videos features a full comprehensive lesson on learning one particular blues/ragtime piece, for example 'Key To The Highway' (Big Bill Broonzy), or 'Crossroads' (Robert Johnson). All you have to do is insert the disk into your computer, select a lesson and play it like an ordinary video.

Also, straight after the payment process,  an instant download link is provided, so that you can get working a lesson or two while waiting for your disks to be delivered.

Description Of The Course - What's in the Lessons Package?

Each individual lesson starts with Jim playing the complete tune, at normal tempo. This is super to see, even though it can seem a tad unsettling, when you realize you will be learning to play the same song! Then the lesson commences, as Jim breaks the song right down into little, accessible parts that you can work on during a practice session. Jim also slows it right down, making it simple to understand and follow.

During the instructional sections of the video, the guitar tab and chords are shown on the screen, which makes it quite simple to understand.

Another thing that can be difficult when starting to play the blues, is matching the picking movements of the right hand,with playing chords and fretting strings with the left. In each of the lesson videos, Jim shows close up shots of both the right hand picking technique and the left hand chord positions, and in this way you can see more easily what's happening. Each of the different sections of the song are then put together, so you can rapidly progress towards the complete performance.

For some of these videos (e.g. Crossroads), Jim also goes over learning to play bottleneck or slide blues guitar, which is the basis of a classic 'blues' genre. The video parts on this are clear, including good close up shots, and Jim gives many effective pieces of advice on how best to use the slide, for example, on how to damp down the strings with your bottle neck hand, which is crucial if you want to get a nice guitar sound.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Acoustic blues guitar - bare finger or picks?

You've Got To Pick It If You Want It To Get Better - Blues Guitar Lessons

There are literally thousands and maybe millions of acoustic guitar players around the world. It's the most popular musical instrument by far, because of it's portability and the fact that you can get a basic tune out of it in a couple of weeks. I chose 'acoustic guitar' because this is my main interest and I want to talk about finger picking techniques. Normally, electric guitarists use a plectrum of some kind to pluck the strings in and up down motion. Of course, there are always exceptions, such as Mark Knoppfler, who uses his bare fingers to play both electric and acoustic guitars.

His unsual style caused Chet Atkins to say "I don't know how he's doing, but he can sure do it! " You don't have to follow the herd we can make our own rules, but we have to start somewhere. This starting point is generally focussed on previous master players. In the genre of acoustic blues, this means people like Robert Johnson, Lightnin' Hopkins, Doc Watson, Reverend Gary Davis and many others. In the video below, Mark and Chet show us some magic.

Of course there are many variations in style, but pickers can be broadly divided into two categories - those who wear fingerpicks and those that don't. We'll ignore how many picking fingers they used for now.  What are the differences in sound and what impact do they have on style? I've seen ragtime blues artists perform competently with up to three finger picks on the right hand, which didn't include the thumb! At the other end of the spectrum, some master pickers only use one, either steel or plastic.

Picks for the fingers.

I favor a steel pick, as they can be bent over so that the tip of the pick corresponds with the contact point of a bare finger striking a string. This means that there's no adjustment necessary for the angle of attack. Plastic finger picks are generally thicker and stick out a little more, so an adjustment in picking style is necessary. This is important if play some songs that require picks, and some that don't, for example.

Thumb-pick versus bare thumb.

Generally the pick gives a sharper, harder sound and amplifies somewhat. Some striking techniques are easier to achieve in this way, like 'throwing' the thumb onto the string giving a percussive sound. A significant advantage is that it saves the thumb from getting sore. Bare finger players must practice very regularly in order to grow a thick callous so that they can play in comfort. In general, picks are easier to get between the strings, so are great for picking individual strings in quick succession.

Bare fingers style.

A bare thumb can hook behind a string, pull it away from the body of the guitar and let is snap back, producing an accented beat which can be effective in some styles of blues. In general, bare fingers are very accurate and can produce a great bouncy style when playing ragtime music, either Joplin type piano rags
or ragtime blues in the style of Blind Blake. The thumb rolls and triplets featured in the latter's music make it very difficult to play with finger picks. In the video below I talk about the differences between picks and bare fingers - I use both, depending on the song.

Some of the later stylists, such as Chet Atkins, used strengthened finger nails. I doubt if many older blues guitarists used this technique, but who can say? Many Texas blues guitarists favored a plastic thumb pick and bare fingers, often just using one finger of the right hand with amazing dexterity. Blind Blake seemed to have used bare fingers and and some older blues men recollected that he had a hole in his right thumb, where it was worn away by the bass strings of his guitar.

A rendition of Death Letter' by Son House - played with long, long finger nails!

The mysterious Willie Walker, who only recorded two sides in the 20s, seemed to be a true master of the ragtime style. His songs feature lightning fast single string runs which seem difficult if using the thumb and index finger alternately hitting the strings. It seems probable that he used a plectrum held between thumb and forefinger, using this to alternate the bass line while picking with one or two fingers.

There are many, many styles of finger picking and we can draw on the example of great guitar masters to help us to develop our own technique.