Ragtime Blues Guitar – Diddie Wah Diddie

The Magic Of Blind Blake – Diddie Wah Diddie

Ignore the cat – he’s pretty useless, but it’s company. While Blake’s songs are brilliant, some of them are really frustrating, and the learning of them happens in three distinct stages. First of all, we have to figure out where he put his fingers and of course, which fingers. Working out the chord structure soon follows, although most of his stuff, including Diddie Wah Diddie, follows a fairly standard ragtime blues standard format. After that, we need to play around with the thumb/finger strikes and work out which ones are hitting the strings for each phrase. This is important – if you don’t have it right from the beginning, those fast and slick single string runs picked with alternating thumb and finger strokes just don’t work.

Blind-Blake-Blind-BlakeNext, we try, try and try to get this thing up to speed. This in itself is a massive task and DWD is very difficult to play fluidly up to tempo. Most people, pros and noodlers alike, dumb it down to get the speed, or play it slower than it should be (although Blake did record it at different speeds) and it doesn’t quite work. No, there’s nothing else for it, but to try and play it properly, taking lots of time to get it as right as you possibly can – if you want to play authentic blues guitar, that is?

To finish, we have to learn to sing along while maintaining that smooth fast fingerpicking pace. It’s a tall order, I know, but what a lot of fun it is! I first learned this in the 70s from an old Biograph vinyl LP, by simply dropping the stylus onto the right place, listening carefully (I had to do this maybe 8 to 10 times before nailing it) and writing down the first attempt in tablature. After a day or so, I had the first draft and began to play it painfully slowly, while making adjustments to the tab as I went. After some weeks, I realized it wasn’t getting any better, and I moved on to something else. There are some techniques you have to mature into and can’t do straight away, and I think DWD is one of these type of songs.

Of course it’s worth sticking with it , and coming back to it every year or so until you can play it up to speed, but it’s best to wait to give yourself the time – there’s nothing worse than watching someone play knowing that they are right at the end of their capability and could mess it up anytime. It’s not comfortable for the audience at all. Generally, a good rule is play in public only the things you can do almost blindfold. Start with easy stuff, and once you feel those nerves releasing their grip on your motor skills, you gradually move into the more complex things of this kind, which need relaxed hands to do it. Diddie Wah Diddie is in C – take it slow, have fun and you’ll get there. When you’re not having fun learning it, stop and come back to in a few weeks.


Diddie Wah Diddie - Blind Blake


Last word from Reverend Gary Davis “Blake sure had a sportin’ right hand” – ’nuff said.