Warren Robert is a Canadian film/television composer, music instructor, session player and guitarist for both the Celtic rock group POGEY and The Myles Goodwyn Band. He has years of experience playing in many different styles. You may schedule online lessons via Skype by visiting...
A Tune For Russ
One of my earliest musical influences and most important guitar mentors as I was growing was a friend and popular local guitar instructor Russ Townsend. I first started studying with Russ in 1978 until around 1984 or '85, and again for about a year when I was in my mid 20's. He showed me how to read music, how to play Beatles songs and most importantly, how to love and deeply enjoy playing the guitar. He also helped shape the way I approach teaching music as well.
The second time I studied with Russ, I had specific intentions. It was to pick up on his relaxed and experienced handle of the Merle Travis/Chet Atkins fingerstyle. I would sit and watch him play, taking note and transcribing some of the many arrangements that he knew how to play.
The piece that I am teaching in this lesson is an easy going fingerstyle piece that I wrote to honour my friend and mentor. You may play this with or without a thumbpick. It can also be easily adapted to the hybrid style of combined flatpick and fingers.
Rather than think of this lesson as me trying to show you just one piece of music. Let's take a little look at the concept of this style of fingerpicking that is based loosely upon the famous "Travis Picking" pattern. (IE Dust In The Wind - Kansas).
The idea here is that you want to try and keep a steady repeated (ostinato) pattern going to provide a sense of bass and rhythm, while at the same time being able to present melody notes and therefore play a tune over top. Basic melodies in 4/4 time only have so many rhythmic placement possibilities, so it is possible to organize them in a drill, and practice them in a way that should prepare you to handle any melodic rhythms you wish to perform over the steady bass pattern.
To begin, get the bass pattern happening. I should mention that both the tune, and the practice drill in this lesson have the low E sting tuned down a whole step to a D note. ("Dropped D" tuning). Slight palm muting is desirable here. Use only the picking hand thumb and alternate steadily between the low open D note and the 4th string open D note. The low note will be on beats 1 and 3, the open 4th string will be on beats 2 and 4. The idea here is to set up the muscle memory in your thumb to play bass note on either the 6th or 5th strings (depending upon which string the bass note is on per chord) on beats 1 and 3. The "rhythm" part of the pattern happens on beats 2 and 4 with the thumb playing either a single 4th string or a mini strum of the 4th and 3rd strings (depending upon the arrangement).
Once you get a steady Bass/Middle/Bass/Middle pattern going with your picking thumb. It is time to start working in melody note placement options. The drill that I have provided below is basic, but covers the main bases. The overview of the exercise is this... You keep the bass pattern going as steady as you can. Then you play another high D note with either your index or middle finger of your picking hand. In the case of this exercise, the high D is acting as a "melody" note and could be any that happens to be in a tune and typically resides on the high E (1st) or high B (2nd) strings. Of course there will often be exceptions.
In bar 1 of the drill, the melody note is on beat 1. In bar 2 it is on the 8th note upbeat of beat 1. Bar 3, it is on beat 2. This continues as the melody note gets pushed further down the bar with each measure until all 8 slots have been played, then it starts again. Practice this until it is confident and steady.
Once you have a feel for this, we are ready to move on to the tune itself. As always, start slowly, perhaps learning it one measure at a time to work out any snags of difficult parts. The tune is in D major and has a farily simple harmonic structure. The implied chords are marked in the tab. The difficulty level is not too high on the overall piece, but there may be a couple of spots to look out for, as a couple of the voicing shapes may be tricky to get at higher tempos. Specifically the C#7 chord in measure number 11 and the A7 on beat 3 of measure number 18 and 41.
The only real break in the alternating thumb pattern is on the short bass run that happens in measure 9. In the case where there is more than one melody note happening at a time (melodic voicing indicated by having 2 note heads joined to a single upward pointing stem in the standard notation), you may play the note with 2 picking hand fingers (first and second or second and third), or use a single upwards finger stroke to gently strum the 2 notes. That stylistic choice is yours to make.
I hope that you enjoy working on some fingerstyle and that it can find a way into your playing.
See you next lesson.