The Essentials of 3 Types of Acoustic Fingerstyle Blues

Today’s post is a lesson in style and theory: we’re breaking down some of the most important types of acoustic fingerstyle blues. These types of acoustic blues all have one thing in common – they are performed without a pick, simply by using one’s fingers. They make use of syncopated rhythms and require an intermediate knowledge of acoustic blues. In playing all these styles, you’re going to want to make good use of your picking-hand thumb; in a certain sense, the thumb plays the same part a bass player would in a band. It crafts rhythm lines, in order to create a specific type of tempo to the music. Some of the most extensively used thumb techniques in fingerstyle blues include monotone bass, alternating bass, and boogie-woogie bass.

Now, in what follows, bear in mind that we’re only looking at three of the major sub-categories of fingerstyle blues genres, without claiming to create an exhaustive list, so if you feel like you want to add anything to the conversation, let us know in the comment section. Now, without further ado, let us take a look at some of the most important acoustic guitar blues techniques used in Delta blues, Texas blues, boogie-woogie and Piedmont.

Delta blues and Texas bluesacoustic-fingerstyle-blues

It’s not within the scope of this article to give you a lesson in Delta blues and Texas blues history – but feel free to check out some of the many great resources available online on this topic. If you’re more interested in the sound and techniques behind this acoustic fingerstyle blues genre, you will definitely want to listen to the likes of Lightin’ Hopkins for Texas blues, and Son House for Delta blues. The Chicago blues school is somewhat similar to these two, so also make sure to give Big Bill Broonzy a listen, too. These styles make use of monotone bass, which is achieved by performing a specific chord tone, from one of the chords included in the progression of the song. More often than not, the chord tone will also be the root. Use a palm mute when playing monotone bass and focus on achieving the type of rhythmic drive that Texas and Delta blues entail. Of course, you don’t always have to choose the chord root for the bass note – you can also play other notes with your thumb and one of the most frequent choices in the F# of D7.

Boogie-woogie

For some of the best performers of boogie-woogie bass, check out T-Bone Walker and John Lee Hooker, of course. Now, make note of the fact that boogie-woogie blues can also be performed on the piano. The common element is the bass line, which is articulated out of chord tones, first and foremost. The rhythm can use both quarter notes and eighth notes and even when playing acoustic guitar, you will want to imitate the style of a pianist playing the boogie, in order to achieve that boogie-woogie feel. Once you’re comfortable enough playing the bass line with your thumb, you will want to enrich the boogie-woogie feel of your playing by adding one or two chord tones on top of it.

Piedmont acoustic fingerstyle blues

Piedmont and ragtime are two other major types of acoustic fingerstyle blues. Some of the all-time greats include Blind Blake, Mississippi John Hurt, and Rev. Gary Davis. In Piedmont and ragtime blues, the thumb will usually play quarter notes to achieve an alternating bass line, while the other fingers of the picking hand will create syncopated melodies. In syncopated rhythms, the weak parts of the beat are more emphasized than usual. While in the Texas and Delta acoustic fingerstyle blues the monotone bass note drives a single chord tone, in Piedmont and ragtime the bass lines alternate between several chord tones.

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