Category Archives: guitar

3-String or 4-String? How to Decide Which is Right for You!

3 string or 4 string guitar

When you are in the market for a Roots Instrument like a 3-string or 4-string guitar, one of the most common questions is, “Which one is right for me?”  I get this question on a daily basis, and it all depends on the goals, tastes, and experience level of the player.

Advice for Beginners:

If you are a total beginner, or planning on purchasing a 3- or 4-string guitar for a beginner, you really can’t go wrong.  Both 3-string and 4-string are much easier to learn than conventional 6-string guitar… mainly because less strings require less muscle strength in your hands and less multi-tasking.  Most 3-string and 4-string guitars are tuned to “open tunings,” meaning that the open strings are tuned to a chord, so it’s easy to play many chord changes with just one finger on your fretting hand, as opposed to learning and practicing complicated chords shapes on the 6-string for hours before playing your first song. 

The main difference between the 3-string and 4-string when it comes to beginners is that the 3-string is just plain easier than the 4-string.  The 3-string is really the perfect beginner instrument for anyone wanting to learn a stringed instrument, but wants to play music right away.  It’s simple, easy to pick up and play, and still teaches you all of the fundamental techniques such as fretting, building muscle memory, strumming, fingerpicking, and more.   It’s also perfect for children who have smaller hands with less muscle strength. 

If you know that you will want more complex harmonies, tuning options, and a larger range between your lowest and highest notes on the guitar, then the 4-string will be a slightly better and more versatile option, as long as you don’t mind the challenge of an extra string.  You can enjoy the best of both worlds by beginning with a 4-string, but only stringing it up with three strings at first..  once you get the hang of it, you can add the extra string and take your playing to the next level. 

Advice for Players with Some Experience:

If you are already playing a stringed instrument, the 4-string might be a better option.  It has more tuning options, a larger range, and can be tuned to mimic other stringed instruments like the ukulele, tenor guitar, mandolin, banjo, bouzouki, etc.   It’s also great for players who are already familiar with stringed instruments, but want to add the look, tone, and feel of a roots instrument to their palette.

If you are experienced, and just want a simple instrument that is easy to play, and will inspire you to “do more with less,” the 3-String is a perfectly simple, rugged & rocking’ roots instrument.  Just tune it up, crank it up, and have fun! 

Check out the Videos Below:

Below are two videos that will give introductions to the 3-string and 4-string guitar. 

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 SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com

This Video Features a Guitar by Algoma Acoustics: http://www.AlgomaAcoustics.com
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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
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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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
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

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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
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

 

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