Category Archives: delta blues

How to Use Your “Open G Tuning” Riffs in Any Key: Tuning Guide for 3- & 4-String Guitar

Open G is one of the most versatile and easy-to-learn tunings for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  An open tuning is when a guitar’s open strings are tuned to a chord, therefore “Open G” tuning refers to tuning the open strings to a G major chord (G-D-G for 3-String) & (G-D-G-B for 4-String).

Open G tuning makes many riffs, scales, chords shapes, and chord progressions very easy to play when you are in the key of G, since your open strings make a G major chord.  I was recently asked this question:  “I am comfortable playing songs in the key of G on my 3- & 4-string, but is there a way I can use the same patterns to play in different keys by re-tuning the guitar?”  The answer is yes!  It’s very easy to change keys (or transpose) by simply changing the notes you are tuning your open strings to.

Below are two guides to transposing Open G tuning to different keys.  The column on the left tells you what key to tune to.  The middle column tells you what notes to tune each string to (bass note on the left, high pitched note on the right).  The column on the right tells you which string gauges work best for each particular tuning.  For example, if you know a song on the 3-string guitar in Open G tuning, but you want to play it lower, in the key of D, then you would tune the guitar to D-A-D and use the bass strings (E-A-D) from a 6-string guitar pack.

NOTE: Be careful not to put too much tension on a string, or it may break.  With certain tunings, the stings may seem too loose or too tight for your specific preferences.  This differs depending on your personal taste, string gauge, and the scale length of your guitar.  The general rule is that if your strings feel too loose once tuned, try heavier gauge strings; if your strings feel too tight, try lighter gauge strings.

To really dig into the chord and scale patterns that will help you master Open G tuning on the 3-String & 4-String, check out my Chords and Scales Book HERE.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click “FOLLOW” on the right-hand side of this page to stay up-to-date with new lessons and articles!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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How to Play Mississippi Hill Country Blues: Break it Down, and Build it Back Up!

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If “Delta Blues” is the soul of modern Blues music, then “Mississippi Hill Country Blues” is the beating heart.  This style of early Blues is was forged by pioneers like Mississippi Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and more recently, bands like The North Mississippi Allstars.  Both Delta and Hill Country Blues refer to the region the styles originated from, and both are similar in their emphasis on rhythmic syncopation, use of both fretted and slide guitar, and gospel-like inflections.  Where they differ is that Mississippi Hill Country Blues generally has fewer chord changes than other Blues styles and puts more emphasis on conjuring a hypnotic repetition in the harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic aspects of the song.  These qualities combine to create a magnetic groove that pulls you in and keeps your foot stomping.

In relation to guitar, Hill Country Blues musicians often take advantage of Open Tunings (tuning the open strings of the guitar to a chord).  Then the thumb of the picking hand beats out a rhythm on the bass strings, while the melody (often doubling the vocal melody notes) is played on the high pitched strings.  A talented Hill Country Blues musician can mimic the sound of an entire band (bass, drums, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar) at the same time.

The key to mastering these techniques is to break the separate parts down individually, learning the rhythm first with your thumb, and then the melody with your remaining fingers.  Once the two separate parts can be played comfortably, the two parts must by brought together (sort of like band practice!).

The following video is an excerpt from my instructional DVD, “Roots Music According to Justin Johnson: Slide Technique for the 3-String Guitar.”  It includes an overview of how to approach this style, break it down into it’s parts, and add slide guitar and rhythmic inflections.  The techniques in this video apply just as much to 4-String and 6-String guitar players.
To learn this full lesson with TABS and similar lessons on 3-String Delta Blues Slide Guitar, Chord/Melody Slide Playing, Left & Right-Hand Slide Muting, and much more… check out out the full-length DVD, available at www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for Keepin’ the Roots Alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right column of this page to stay up-to-date with my newest lessons!

~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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How to Play Slide Guitar: The Essential Secrets!

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Whether you are a total beginner with the guitar slide, or a pro, it’s always good to refresh your approach, refine your technique, and sharpen the nuances of your playing to ensure you’re at the top of your game.  From my experience performing, recording, and teaching slide guitar, I have developed some simple methods that will help you improve tone, touch, and control, and will save you months of practice if you develop these good habits from the beginning.

The key is gaining control.  If you are properly holding the slide and lightly anchoring your sliding hand to the back of the neck, you will be able to easily gauge the slide’s pressure on the strings.  It will also be much easier to keep the notes in tune and develop reliable visual references on the fretboard.

The following video lesson is an excerpt from my new instructional video series, “Slide Technique for the 6-String in Standard Tuning,” which covers these slide guitar essentials in detail.  If you enjoy the excerpt, the full instructional series is available on DVD or Digital Download at: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html.

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive, and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” button on the right of this page to stay up-to-date with new articles from Roots Music School!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Building Community… One Guitar at a Time: Interview with MRWS Instruments

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      While following my own passion for Roots Music and homemade Roots instruments around the world, I often run into other builders, players, and enthusiasts who are committed to offering their time and talents to expanding the limits of the Roots Music Revival and the Folk Art traditions that encircle it.  During my last Australian tour, I met Mark Wilmot, a talented luthier and pioneer in the global Roots Instrument scene.  Wilmot epitomizes the concept that the right combination of humility, talent, honesty, and community-minded work will resonate with a market of artists, crafters, and music lovers.  What began as a hobby of building instruments at home for friends grew quickly into a full-time job, and gave rise to three separate companies..  MRWS Instruments, which offers an extensive array of guitar parts and accessories in support of the burgeoning global community of Roots Instrument builders, as well as sister companies Raven Box Guitars and Mortal Coil Pickups.  Here’s what Mark has to say about how he got started and how he turned his love of music and woodworking into a business that serves as an oasis for those seeking quality parts, beautiful guitars, and some of the coolest looking electric guitar pickups available.
Check out www.MRWSinstruments.com

1518022_10151963887711594_4209129384511656810_nQ: What first inspired you to start building guitars?
A: You know what? I’m going to have to be honest about this: I haven’t a clue. At the very least, I don’t remember the catalyst. I do remember my first build, though: a paint can diddley-bow. And the only reason I built that was because I hadn’t built one. In general, I’ve always enjoyed building whatever I can build. From the first time that I picked up a guitar at thirteen years old, I knew I’d eventually build one. So I guess what inspired me to keep making them was the immediate interest from others to make them one as well.

Q: What defines your style of instrument building?
A: I love wood. Yeah, that’s right, you heard me. There are some amazingly beautiful timbers in Australia and I love to showcase them in my builds. All of my necks are between three and seven laminations and of at least two timber species. I also put a lot of emphasis on the shape of my heels.
Timber plays an integral role in guitar building, not only in sound but also in general aesthetics. I’m very specific about how things sound. I spend a lot of time on setting up my instruments to make sure I get the action and intonation as close to perfect as possible.

11953031_907150065987900_2458301380363072326_nQ: Your instruments seem to be designed from a player’s point of view. Do you have a background in musical performance?
A: I was in a few bands when I was younger. I was never a professional, but I understood how the instrument I was playing worked and I knew from the first time I built a fretted 3 string guitar that the intonation was going to be an issue. The action was never a problem, but in my first few creations, I just couldn’t get the intonation right. So it was the bridge that was letting me down. To combat this problem I developed a multi-piece timber bridge that allowed me to move each section to get the right compensation for each string. This only worked for me up to a point as I tend to be heavy handed when I hit the strings, which gave the bridge a tendency to move. Then I had some electric guitar bridges manufactured for 3 and 4 string instruments. I do believe there are others who now stock this as well.

Three_String_bridge_chrome_5__70699.1418194937.1280.1280Q: What inspired you to make the leap from building guitars, to distributing parts and kits?
A: Australia is a long way away from anything. Depending on what and how you purchase parts from overseas, shipping can be exorbitant. I knew there were other builders in my part of the world, and if I was having this shipping dilemma, they were as well. This is the reason I chose to start MRWS. This way I could keep the prices on parts and shipping affordable.  The first few items I stocked were kits, machine heads, and various guitar electronics. The kits were a natural progression from selling parts. There’s nothing better than having all the parts you’re after available in one place without going on a treasure hunt.

Q: I find that the guitar parts you sell through MRWS Instruments are affordable, but not “cheap” in quality. What process of quality control do you go through before offering your parts for sale?
A: I sample all of the parts that I stock before they’re available on my site, and I rigorously test them. If they don’t make the cut, I don’t order them. Simple.

Q: By distributing parts around the world to luthiers, you must see trends come and go. Where do you see the guitar building market going?
A: When I started MRWS, I was met with a fair amount of resistance from some already in the industry. Was this because the industry was too small, maybe only a trend itself? Luckily, no. It has grown quite a lot since I began. Certainly the needs of builders change, whether they are building cigar box guitars or 3, 4 or 6 string solid bodies, resonators, kalimbas or amplifiers. I do my best to add products as I see the industry evolve, as well as my own needs as a builder. I always try to keep the core parts for beginners as well as the more seasoned CBG builders. Regardless of where the market wanders, I hope to always be a part of it.


11873715_10155931587250052_6834264614185151690_nQ: You offer some amazing hand-wound custom pickups through your brand, “Mortal Coil.” Tell me a little bit about how this brand came to be, and what you offer through your line of pickups.
A: Like I stated before, I love making stuff. I made a conscious effort to build an entire guitar from scratch. This included the electronics. Unfortunately I don’t have the foundry to turn ore into metal, but I can make some of the components from already manufactured parts. I also have a lot of timber off-cuts and I tend to horde the nicer species. There’s only so much room in a person’s workshop, so I used the smaller of these off-cuts to make the bobbins for the pickups. After winding a few for myself and finding that they were successful in making the sound I was after, I thought I’d make a few more and offer them to the public to see what happened. I’m glad I did. I’m only offering single coil pups at the moment, but I am developing both humbuckers and low-profile pickups.

And the brand name? Mortal Coil just sounds cool.

Q: What advice would you give to luthiers who are just starting out building their own stringed instruments?
A: Make it your own. Take time to evolve your techniques. Don’t rush. Focus on the sound, not the look. It should be an instrument first and art second. There’s nothing worse than spending time and money on the finished look of a guitar, only to end up with an unplayable wall hanging.  Keep your first build. It will be a reminder. Both good and bad.

Thanks for reading, and for being part of keeping the Roots alive!  If you like this blog, please SHARE.. and click FOLLOW at the top right of this page.
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Twelve-Bar Blues for the 3-String Guitar: Explanations, Chords Charts, Video, and More…

If you have ever heard of the term, “Twelve-bar Blues,” there is a good reason… it is not only the most popular chord progression in Blues music, but it is the most popular chord progression in popular music in general.  The term “twelve-bar” refers to the length of chord progression; it is 12 bars (or measures) long.

Simple Twelve-Bar Blues
While there are many variations to this simple concept, all of the variations stem from a simple, three-chord progression that is 12 measures long.  The three chords in this example in the key of G are: G, C, and D.  On the 3-String guitar in Open G tuning, the G is played simply by strumming all three strings in the open position, the C is played by barring all three strings at the 5th fret, and the D is played by barring all three strings at the 7th fret.

In this example, there are 4 beats per measure, and I’ve broken the 12 bars into 3 sets of four measures.  To hear a musical example of this progression, and play along, you can watch and refer to the accompanying video with this article.

Simple 12 bar Blues in G for 3 string cigar box Guitar

“Stormy Monday” Progression
While the simple, three chord progression above is the backbone of countless classic songs like “Crossroads,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Dust My Broom,” there eventually comes a time when you want to add a little more harmonic complexity to the twelve-bar progression.  To me, the best example of a more complex, and “Jazzy” arrangement of a twelve-bar Blues progression is the T-Bone Walker original, “Stormy Monday.”  You can look closely at the chord changes in this song, and see close similarities to the simple twelve-bar progression… in fact, other than the addition of the “7th” voicing for the chords, the first 6 measures are exactly the same.  The characteristic difference starts in measure 7, adding a very distinct and tasteful variation on the original chord progression.

Again, to hear musical examples of this progression on the 3-string guitar, just watch the accompanying video with this lesson.  Below the chord progression for “Stormy Monday,” is a collection of chord voicings that will work well together in the context of this arrangement.

Stormy Monday 12 bar Blues in G for 3 string cigar box Guitar

Once you learn the progressions on these charts, make sure you watch the accompanying video with this lesson.  It will dive deeper into how you can add more complex rhythms, fingerpicking techniques, and balking bass lines to make the “Stormy Monday,” progression come to life.  …and don’t stop there, look around RootsMusicSchool.org, and check out some of the other lessons, many of them are walkthroughs of other twelve-bar Blues songs like “Dust My Broom,” and a variation of the twelve-bar progression with “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Please click “FOLLOW” on this blog if you want new lessons sent straight to your email inbox.
Keep Pickin’!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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Classic Melodies on the Godfather of American Roots Instruments – The One-String Diddley Bow

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The One-String Diddley Bow is an American Roots instrument with only one string, and is usually played with some form of a guitar slide.  It is the simplest form of a guitar, with some examples consisting of little more than a string and a stick.  However, the significance of these instruments on Roots and Rock & Roll music cannot be understated.  Because the diddley bow is so easy to make, it was often the first musical instrument performed on, by the legends of Blues and Rock music such as B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley (who took his stage name from the diddley bow).  Because the diddley bow is so rudimentary, it is the perfect guitar teacher… forcing you to make a lot of music with one single string.  This eventually teaches you how to make more with less, and create more distinct and captivating music.

I was recently asked if I could create some tablature for the one-string diddley bow for two classic melodies, “Amazing Grace,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  These two melodies are perfect introductions for both learning to play the diddley bow, and learning to read tablature.  The melodies are so recognizable, that most people could easily sing them note-for-note from memory, and the range of each song fits nicely on a diddley bow (which has about a two octave range).  Most importantly, though, is the power that these melodies have to move people, cause them to reflect, and bring them together… and that is the true power of a deeply moving melody!

In case you are not familiar with the concept of tablature (tabs), let me give you a quick explanation…  Tablature is a type of written musical notation that indicates the position of each note on the instrument, rather than giving a specific pitch for each note in the melody.  It is perfect for an instrument like the one-string diddley bow, because it can be hard to tune the open string of a rudimentary diddley bow to a specific, determined pitch, therefore, making it hard to hit a defined set of notes.  Instead, the tablature gives you the number of the fret, or fret marker, to indicate the pitches.  This enables you to learn the melody once, and it will automatically be transposed into whatever key your diddley bow is tuned to.

In the tablature below, the melody is indicated by the chromatic fret position of each.  Above each note are the corresponding lyrics.  These tabs are arranged this way in case you are not familiar with reading rhythmic notation.  The notes correspond to the specific lyrics associated with them, giving the notes a rhythmic context.

Okay, now that the academic stuff is over with, it’s time to learn some music!  Below, I have a simple arrangement of each song, written out in tab form.  Then, I have a video of me performing the song based on that original arrangement.

I would like to thank Peter Murphy of Blind Kiwi Blues (www.BlindKiwiBlues.com) who built the one-string diddley bow that I use in these videos, and Rocky Mountain Slide Company (www.RockyMountainSlides.com) who designed and crafted the ceramic tonebar that I use in the “Amazing Grace” video.

Thanks for reading, and click the “FOLLOW” button on this blog to get the newest articles sent straight to’ya!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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AMAZING GRACE TABS



SSB TABS


If you are interested in diving deeper into the playing techniques, songs, and Roots music techniques that are associated with the one-string diddley bow, check out my Instructional Video Series on the diddley bow, available on DVD or via Digital Download HERE!

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