Acoustic Blues Guitar Lessons

Acoustic Blues Guitar Lessons

“The Only Guitar Course Teaching All Major Styles – Over 750 Minutes of Blues Tuition!”

Jim Bruce shows precisely how anyone can learn to play authentic acoustic blues guitar just like the old masters.

“It’s just not necessary to have to spend a lot of money on effective acoustic blues guitar lessons – my video classes show any guitarist how to play blues guitar while benefiting from all the tips and tricks I’ve used over the last forty years of pro level guitar picking – all the things you need to play blues guitar in the old way is a heart-beat away – you can learn blues guitar now.

(Jim was voted N°2 Top Internet Guitar Instructor by users 2013)

It’s The Secret Sauce That Makes Great Fingerpicking Acoustic Blues Guitar Lessons!

Where Did The Blues Come From? – The Mississippi Roots

The roots of theGndy Dancers Adjusting Railroad Tracks, Texas Gulf Sulphur Company blues stretches right back to the end of slavery and beyond, when workers would ease their sorrows and work load by singing the so-called ‘field holler’, which was a very rhythmic song without music that followed a call and response form. The idea was that the cadence of the lyrics would coincide with the tempo of the work and make team work more effective.

Gandy Dancers was the name given to teams of men who’s job it was to  put rails back into place for the many local railroads from the Mississippi Delta right up to Chicago. One man might lead the singing, and the rest joining in on the chorus. At the end of a line of verse, or chorus, the whole team would push on the end of a long steel lever and the rail would move over an inch or two.

 Click the arrow to hear the original Gandy Dancers singing

For many years, slaves were simply not allowed to own or even touch a musical instrument such as a guitar or a drum. Apart from spending 12 to 14 hours a day doing gut-busting hard work, the masters simply didn’t want their workers to engage in any activity that raised their spirits and fostered thoughts of freedom. This is why drums in particular were banned. Drums were a powerful feature of African life and played a big role in maintaining the social fabric. However, it seems that some slave owners did allow some musicians to play at their private parties and no doubt the natural interest in music just can’t be stifled like that.

After the end of slavery, the negro was in general extremely poor and couldn’t afford to buy guitars or fiddles, so they made their own. Lightnin’ Hopkins recalls making a one string fiddle with a broom handle, cigar box and length of wire pulled from the screen door! Most of these rudimentary guitars and fiddles had between one and four strings, and must have been incredibly hard to tune and keep in tune. Obviously, they wouldn’t have frets and there wasn’t a lot of finesse about the blues music that emanated from these home made efforts. Often they were played with a bow or a bottleneck. Bottleneck or slide (sometimes they were fretted with a knife) Delta blues guitar is perhaps the sound we most think of when thinking of those times in the Southern States in general and the Delta in particular.

Stella Harmony Blues Guitar
Stella Guitar

A huge event in the history of blues guitar was purely commercial, as it often is. The Sears company began a sales project that would become a modern phenomenon by offering sales of products at a distance using catalogs that were distributed far and wide across the United States. For many people living out in the country areas, it was  Godsend as they could buy things without trekking 100 miles to the nearest big store.

The range of things to buy was indeed broad, and growing monthly it seemed. One of the items on sale a basic steel strung Stella Harmony Guitar, which was priced at just one dollar. Elizabeth Cotton bought here first guitar by saving for many weeks from her earning as a maid and the rest, as they say, is history. It’s part of folk legend that she didn’t realize it was for right handed players, and so she played it upside down as a leftie, having no access to anyone able to give here guitar lessons! (Stella Image Src: Wiki Commons )

It isn’t known how many budding blues men and women were created because of the availability of mass produced cheap instruments like the Stella, but it was probably a deciding factor in how the blues evolved in those early days. It’s also probable that a guitarist ‘chanced his arm’ by buying what he could afford and hoping that the guitar that arrived played well! The specifications for such mass produced instruments must have allowed for a lot leeway in tolerances, for example. If you bought a bad one, you didn’t complain but just learn how to play it, simple as that. A legend like Muddy Waters was quite scornful about guitar quality ‘Just give me any guitar and I’ll make you cry’, he was reported to have said.

The following article was taken from and gives a basic history of Delta Blues:

The Mississippi Delta style of blues—or, simply, Delta blues—emphasized solo performances by singers accompanying themselves on guitar and relying on a host of distinctive techniques, such as the sliding of a bottleneck or metal object (such as a knife) along the fingerboard to bend notes, the use of melodic phrases on the guitar to respond to the voice in an improvised call-and-response pattern, and a reliance on vamps (repeated chord progressions that precede the entrance of the voice) and melodic and rhythmic figures that often deviated from the typical chord progressions and formal 12-bar (measure) structure found in most blues performances. Drop D Guitar Tuning

Son House - Delta Blues Guitar PlayerAbove all, Delta blues music was marked by a particular intensity of vision that was both projected through the lyrics of the songs and underscored by the players’ often aggressive attack on the guitar strings. Song topics encompassed familiar laments of failed romance, stories of sexual escapades (often described in double-entendre references), and tales of rambling and life on the road, as well as apocalyptic musings on salvation and damnation.Performance venues were often informal and happenstance. W.C. Handy, composer of the classic “”St. Louis Blues”” (1914), recalled an early encounter with blues music about 1903 at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi, where he heard a man dressed in rags singing while playing the guitar with a knife.

Performances also took place at juke joints (informal roadside taverns for drinking and dancing) on plantations and street corners. Folk music scholars John and Alan Lomax, meanwhile, documented Delta blues music in field recordings made at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, colloquially known as “Parchman Farm,” in Sunflower county, Mississippi.Scattered accounts by travelers and researchers indicate the prevalence of blues music in the Delta region since at least the turn of the 20th century, although no commercial recordings were made until the late 1920s. Associated primarily with male singer-guitarists, the Delta sound stood in marked contrast to earlier recordings of the “classic” blues singers, such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, which had emphasized female vocalists working with small combo accompaniment.

The Paramount record label enjoyed great success with the Delta blues recordings of Charley Patton, who had been a farmworker on Dockery Farms cotton plantation in Sunflower county, especially his “”Pony Blues,”” which was released in 1929. The following year, Paramount made a series of recordings by Eddie (“Son”) House, whose music failed to find a large audience at the time but exerted a powerful influence on later blues performers, notably Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Tommy Johnson, who recorded for both the Victor and Paramount labels, also contributed to the Delta legacy with his widely emulated guitar style; his “”Big Road Blues”” (1928) inspired the Mississippi Sheiks’ “”Stop and Listen Blues”” (1930) as well as the 1968 rock hit “”On the Road Again”” by the band Canned Heat.

The recording of blues music was sharply curtailed during the Great Depression, yet a few traditional blues musicians from Mississippi continued to find opportunities to record. Skip James developed a deeply personal blues style on guitar—often using an unconventional tuning—as well as on piano. Although his 1931 recordings for Paramount sold poorly at the time, songs such as “”Hard Time Killing Floor Blues,”” “”Devil Got My Woman,”” and “”I’m So Glad”” later gained recognition as blues classics; the latter song was featured on a 1966 hit album by the rock-music trio Cream. Booker (“Bukka”) White, another prominent Mississippi guitarist, enjoyed commercial success with his 1937 recording “”Shake ’Em on Down,”” and in 1940 he recorded an especially influential group of songs, including “”Parchman Farm Blues”” and “”District Attorney Blues,”” both of which addressed issues of social justice that were typically avoided in traditional blues music.

Robert Johnson, born in Hazelhurst, Mississippi, in 1911, was the most important Delta musician of the era, although his recorded legacy is limited to 29 songs—the output of sessions held in Dallas and San Antonio, Texas, during the last few years of his life. Drawing on the work of earlier Mississippi blues artists, notably Son House and Skip James, as well as on techniques learned from various recordings, Johnson crafted a polished, fluid guitar style that was widely emulated by later blues and rock musicians.

Only his “”Terraplane Blues”” sold well during his lifetime, but in later decades, many musicians recorded Johnson’s other compositions, such as “”Sweet Home Chicago,”” “”Love in Vain,”” “”I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,”” and “”Come On in My Kitchen.”” Robert Johnson, The Complete Recordings, released by Columbia in 1990, became a surprise crossover hit, ultimately selling more than a million copies and earning a Grammy Award for best historical album.

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Characteristics Of The Delta Blues Guitar Playing Style.

The drum was an important part of the African slave heritage. That and the strong rhythm were the foundations of this new music. The guitar was the perfect instrument,  as it was light and easily carried anywhere for parties or gigs, and was becoming at the same time cheaper buy also better quality. Fingerpicking appeared very early on and there is evidence that this style of playing stringed instruments existed in Africa for a long time before. However the new acoustic blues rhythm wasn’t as complicated and leaned heavily on simple verse structures. The thumb very often played in the monotonic bass style, where one or more bass string was plucked with the picking thumb and then damped heavily with the palm of the hand.

The sound was more of a ‘thud’ or ‘thrum’ than a musical note and it probably replaced the drum within this musical form. At the same time, the fingers played a separate melody on the treble strings. It could be very basic or quite complex, à la Skip James. Other blues men, like Son house, only had one basic style of playing and only in one tuning, open G.

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By far the biggest component of the classic blues is the emotional feel of the music. When Son House is playing his National Steel Guitar in that wild thrashing style, he closes hi eyes while singing and he has simply gone to another place! You can’t fake it, or try to sound ‘bluesy’, it’s either in your soul or it’s not. Incidentally, Son House was so nervous after being re-discovered in the 60s, after 30 years of obscurity, on his first gig he had to play facing a corner while on stage – he couldn’t face the audience! Incredible for such a genius.

The monotonic style of playing wasn’t limited to the Southern States by any means. Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mance Lipscombe perfected the style and in particular Big Bill Broonzy in Chicago (who was also from the South by the way) adapted the technique to produce an exciting swing style fingerpicking style which is incredibly difficult to copy.

Ragtime Blues Guitar

Out of all the blues guitar genres in the broad category ‘guitar’ ragtime, or Piedmont, is perhaps the most challenging both to learn but also to perform confidently. Modern Travis finger-picking styles owe everything to the early blues men who tried to copy the syncopated sounds of the piano popular piano rags (Scott Joplin) and make the same appealing sound on just six guitar strings! It was a good trick, making similar music on six strings from arrangements written for eighty eight piano keys. To understand how this was done, we need to go back a little to the times of early Mississippi Delta Blues in the Southern States after the end of slavery.

Stella Harmony Guitars – A Big Factor In Spreading The Blues

Stella harmony Blues Acoustic GuitarIn those days, mass produced guitars were just appearing c/o Sears Company and cheap instruments could be bought for $1. Before that, they were often home made and not great quality, although it’s testimony to the need for everyone to make music. It was common to create a drumming beat on the bass strings while playing a melody on the trebles, until one young man realized that the complex piano sounds could be simulated by alternating the picking thumb between two or more of the bass strings. All at once, the possibilities for making dance music and happy type ‘blues’ songs just opened up and a new style of playing was born.

Although the style sometimes called ‘Piedmont’, which is a plateau region between between the Atlantic Coastal Plain and the main Appalachian Mountains, guitarists from most states began playing this form in one way or another. There were even men from the Mississippi Delta playing the alternating bass pattern , Mississippi John Hurt, for example. Other regions, like South Carolina, produced a whole group of legendary players – BB Fuller, Gary Davis, Willie Walker, Floyd Council and Pink Anderson to name just a few. The King Of Ragtime, Blind Blake, came from Florida and settled in the Chicago area at about the same tile as Big Bill Broonzy was swinging the blues up there, so it truly was an American-wide phenomenon.

Some Of The Best Ragtime Blues Guitar Players

Pink Anderson Piedmont Guitar Fingerpicker

It’s pretty incredible that many of the great players just used one finger, guitarists such as Scott Joplin, Doc Watson, Floyd Council and many others. Although Broonzy didn’t play what we call ‘ragtime’, he did show an amazing ability to create syncopation without alternating his bass strings, but he was quite an exception. Merle Travis built on the old ragtime styles he heard as a kid and produced some classic pieces, and guess what – he used just one finger.

Maybe one the most famous one finger guitarists was Reverend Gary Davis, who was truly an expert on any style of guitar picking. Of course, he could play ragtime and also Delta style blues, but in his later years he preferred to sing his Gospel songs to the passer-by in Harlem where he lived. The video below is a lesson for Doc Watson’s ‘Deep River Blues’, which is a masterpiece in Alternating bass Travis style guitar picking.

The Rest Of The Best Piedmont Style Guitarists

Apart from the huge names that we all know, like Blind Boy Fuller (who was taught by Gary Davis) there’s a plethora of so-called ‘minor’ blues guitar players who could play formidable ragtime guitar. Floyd Council recorded just six sides in his own name, but played second guitar to Fuller, so you can rest assured he was very competent. His ragtime style wasn’t delicate buy was very syncopated, with heavy accenting and slow phrasing interspersed with single string runs. I never heard him play particularly fast songs, but that’s part of his charm and mastery – he didn’t need to play fast to syncopate that thing.

Anther superb player that was ‘re-discovered’ in the sixties was Pink(ney) Anderson. He took to the road at an early age playing with another guitarist (Dooley) in medicine shows up and down the country. The songs were mostly playful ragtime pieces and the repertoire was full of songs popular at the time, just to please the rural audiences that gathered round as they traveled from town to town. One of his songs in the video gallery below, CC&O Blues, is played in dropped D tuning, which is unusual.

Bottleneck Blues Guitar

Bottleneck & Slide Blues GuitarIn the early days of the blues, bottleneck guitar was pretty much the only game in town for a number of reasons. First, guitar were often home made and therefore the quality wasn’t too great, which meant that the tuning wasn’t too accurate, they were the devil to keep in tune and they didn’t have frets. These home DIY instruments might have between 1 to 6 strings of various gauges, and were quite rudimentary.

An idea was spawned somehow, probably from their African roots music, that shiny object held lightly on the strings could make an interesting sound and so bottleneck, or ‘slide’ was born. This article I found just about sums it up:

Bottleneck and Slide Guitar Playing

written by Noel Halpin

Bottleneck and slide guitar playing. This is a form of guitar playing which has been around for nearly one hundred years or more. Its roots are embedded in the African-American negro blues music. It is easily recognized when played by the wailing sound it makes on the fret-board of the guitar.

Bottleneck and slide are terms often used interchangeably for a style of guitar playing in which the strings are “stopped” by a small metal or glass tube held in the hand or slipped over one of the left hand fingers. Strictly speaking, ” bottleneck” refers to glass, whereas slide refers to metal, but the technique for playing is the same in both cases. Slide guitar originated in America, around the Mississippi Delta

It was predominately negro blues music. It is thought that it’s roots originated in the tradition of black slavery and therefore linked strongly and forever to the evolution of the blues. It is also believed to be an expression of feelings through music and song. The term bottleneck is derived from the fact that the earliest slides were made from broken – off necks of beer bottles. This technique for slide playing was the precursor to all the modern slides we now have available in the music market place.

Using a slide is quite easy, and it is also easy to make your own slide from the neck of a bottle, or you can improvise a metal one from a piece of tubing. But why go through all this bother when they are readily available in all musical instrument retail shops, and very inexpensive. Metal and glass produce very distinctive different sounds, that is why most guitarist will have both types in their guitar bag. But if you just want one, then experiment around with both types until you are satisfied with the one that gives you the sound you are looking for.

Wearing the slide on the finger is also a very personal choice. It takes time to get used to wearing the slide so you must use the finger you feel more comfortable with when playing. Usually the third or fourth finger is the choice, but like I said it is purely a personal decision. Just to give you a tip on which finger might suit best, I would recommend you try the fourth finger as this frees up the other three fingers for playing chords or individual notes.

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The Basics – how To Play Bottleneck Guitar

In the video above I’m playing the famous Crossroads by Robert Johnson using a thick walled glass bottleneck. The basic techniques you need to master are:

  • resting the bottleneck or slide on the strings without touching the frets
  • moving up or down to the required note using vibrato to locate
  • damping the strings behind the bottleneck to remove unwanted sounds

It’s been said that this style of playing is the easiest to start playing, but the hardest to perfect. The fundamentals are very simple, and its possible to make a three chord blues trick by simply laying the slide across all of the frets either open, on the 5th fret and the 7th fret. It’s the subtleties and nuances that make all the difference and this is one of the exciting things about playing slide. It can either be hard and driving, or delicate (or both at the same time!)

Delta Blues Guitar

As it’s name suggests, delta blues guitar came from the Mississippi Delta are on the Southern States, and was created during and after the end of slavery in America. This article is too short to really go into the full history of the blues guitar, and so we’ll focus on people, rather than facts. It’s very common to talk about the big names that represent this music, which is a shame as there are many, many so-called minor delta blues men that deserve attention. They never recorded and some are just mysterious names with testimony form surviving guitarists that the real masters never made records at all. That said, it’s still useful to focus on names such as Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt to help us understand the feeling of the times and how the music developed.

Muddy Waters (with James Cotton) (7495733)
Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters is best known for his electric blues guitar style which was the pre-cursor of modern rock. At the time that he moved up North from the Southern plantations, Broonzy was the king of Chicago swing blues, playing with several bands around the city, but he never successfully made the transition from acoustic to electric. Muddy’s sound was testimony to what the younger people wanted – more noise and excitement!

Delta Blues Guitar Masters – Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters learned his trade while working on the plantations and field recordings have him playing some very fine blues guitar in different styles. For example, he maintained that he was playing Walkin’ Blues, the song made famous by Robert Johnson well before he recorded it. This is well possible, as Son House also played the song in his early career and had contact with Johnson at some point. Waters said that as soon as he realized he could make a living playing music and live away from the South, he caught the next train to Chicago, and the rest is folk blues history. During his illustrious career such songs as ‘Can’t Be Satisfied’, ‘Houchie Couchie Man’ and ‘Mannish Boy’ thrilled two generations while he was alive, and will continue to do so for generations to come. One of the foremost blues men who carries the Delta right inside his name was Mississippi John Hurt, who played a style of guitar very different from most of the others.

The Gentle blues Guitar Style Of Mississippi John Hurt

Unlike the other blues men mentioned, John Hurt wasn’t an itinerate artist, but a farm worker who made his living in his preferred way. When times were good, he would play for parties and at various places and at one time may hev earned his living this way. When the blues fell out of favor, Hurt simply went back to work as a railroad worker. When he was re-discovered in the sixties, he was in demand for folk festivals, TV and other venues and enjoyed a few years of relative fame before passing away – a fitting end for a very influential guitarist.


The video below shows how to play in the John Hurt Style:

Spike Driver Blues Tab PDF File – Mississippi John Hurt

Hurt’s style was a little bit different from most of the delta blues men, who adopted a monotonic bass style of picking, where one bass note (or more) was hit rhythmically and often damped heavily with the thumb, so that the sound was more like a drum than a musical note. John Hurt used an alternating bass pattern in various keys, where he would move his thumb between two or more bass strings with the beat, a style more common to Piedmont or ragtime blues. His fingers were very flexible, and he could pick with both fingers of his right hand while resting his pinky on the guitar sound board – most people find this difficult to do. Songs such as ‘Satisfied and Ticked Too’ and ‘Spike Driver Blues’ became classic blues tracks and assured John’s place in music history.

Son House and Robert Johnson – Delta Blues Guitar Heroes

Some people maintain Johnson’s recordings are played back at the wrong speed, that they are faster than they should be, and in fact sound a lot like Son House if slowed down a few revolutions. This makes complete sense as they played around the same area in the Mississipi for a number of years. Story goes that RJ would follow the older man around and ask to play a few songs where he was performing, which might be a juke joint or party somewhere out in the boondocks. Generally, Johnson almost cleared the place when he played, as he wasn’t very good at all.

Robert Johnson & Johnny Shines - Mississippi Blues Guitar TravelersHe disappeared and suddenly turned up months later asking to play. Son House relented, as he need a break, and listened with his mouth open as Robert delivered a stunning performance, which is how the stupid ‘Sold His Soul To The Devil’ legend started. I don’t want to talk about this kind of nonsense that people to this day use to sell Johnson’s excellence and mystique, for their own financial gain, I might add. RJ traveled during that time, obviously picking up ideas from all the guitarists he met along the way and spending hours a day ‘in the woodshed’ perfecting that formidable technique.

Johnson received some notoriety, but no fame during his lifetime. Only ‘Terraplane Blues’ did well as a record, and the other 26 sides had to wait some decades before being hailed as the result of genius. His traveling partner at that time, Johhny Shines, said that Robert would grab a train and go anywhere, anytime, even back to a town they’d just left – he was footloose and reckless, which is what killed him early.

Best acoustic guitar instructional DVD

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2 Replies to “Acoustic Blues Guitar Lessons”

  1. Great site. It’ll take me a while to get around it, but I like the in-depth approach to the blues men. I see you have a big Youtube channel as well – would you consider posting more free acoustic blues guitar lessons on this site?

    Best regards, Graham

    1. Yes, it’s a good idea. there aren’t enough good and free lessons out there, well there, if you look for them, but it’s easy to get confused. thanks for the comment, and I’ll think on it.

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