Category Archives: how to

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 Play “Sleepwalk” on the 3-String Guitar! Guitar TABs Included!

“Sleepwalk” by Santo and Johnny is one of the most recognizable instrumental melodies in Rock & Roll history.  It’s one of those songs that, within the first few notes, recalls the absolute essence of an era.  The distinctive melody was originally written and recorded for lap steel guitar, with rhythm section laying down a tasteful harmonic and rhythmic bed.  This 3-String arrangement of the song is a chord/melody arrangement, meaning the melody is played on the higher strings, and the harmony (chord changes & bassline) are played on the lower strings.  Essentially, you are playing the entire band’s music on 3 strings.

I’ve written out the tablature below to correspond to the video above.  It’s in Open G tuning (G-D-G) using the A, D, & G string from a standard 6-string pack.

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

The 3-String Guitar used in this video lesson was crafted by:
Little Crow Guitars
Website: http://www.LittleCrowGuitars.com

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Sleepwalk Tabs

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

 

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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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“Dust My Broom” 3-String & 4-String Lesson ~ Slide and Fretted Arrangements

In this lesson, I teach a beginner arrangement of Elmore James’s, “Dust My Broom,” for the 3-string and 4-string guitar.  While this song was originally recorded by Robert Johnson on solo acoustic guitar, it was the Elmore James version on the electric guitar that really emblazoned it onto every Blues band’s set list till the end of time!  The slide guitar riff that opens the song, and is repeated throughout James’ version, has become one of the most significant and influential slide guitar riffs in history, forever assuring his status as a true legend of the Blues.

 

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~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
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