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Go-To Tunings for Blues Slide Guitar

The vocal timbre and mournful wail of the slide guitar has become inseparable from the concept of Blues Guitar.  However, in order to master the classic Blues guitar styles associated with the finger slide, you must first familiarize yourself with the different tunings that are key to those styles.  Below is a list of my favorite, and most used, tunings for Blues Slide Guitar.  With each tuning I’ve included a video, demonstrating how that tuning can be used to create a stylistic mood, which differs with each tuning.  Remember, the more tunings you become familiar with, the more versatile you will be as a musician.

OPEN D & OPEN E TUNING
Open E: (E-B-E-G#-B-E) – tuned to E major chord
Open D: (D-A-D-F#-A-D) – tuned to D major chord
These two tunings are basically the same tuning… the only difference is that Open D is tuned one whole step lower than Open E.  The tighter string tension of Open E makes it easier to play with low action, but the lower pitch of Open D produces more low-end body, and can give you a swampier vibe.  That swampy vibe is all over this following video clip, which is is Open D tuning…

 

OPEN G & OPEN A TUNING
Open G: (D-G-D-G-B-D) – tuned to  G major chord
Open A: (E-A-E-A-C#-E) – tuned to A major chord
These two tunings are also, in essence, the same tuning.  The difference is that Open G is tuned a whole step lower than Open A.  Delta blues guitarists like Robert Johnson made this tuning style famous.  The sound of this tuning is great for solo guitar Blues playing, and allows the player to construct elaborate bass lines, since the root note is on the 5th string, as opposed to the 6th (bass) string, thereby allowing the player two bass strings for the thumb to play bass lines and 4 strings for the fingers to pluck melody notes.
Listen to how the bass lines play an important role in this following video, which is in Open G tuning…

 

STANDARD TUNING
Standard Tuning: (E-A-D-G-B-E) – not tuned to a chord
Standard Tuning is the most widely-used and standardized tuning for conventional 6-string guitar playing.  It’s great for fretted (non-slide) playing because it makes many chord shapes and scale patterns comfortable for the fingers to reach.  While it presents certain challenges for slide guitarists, Standard Tuning is actually a very versatile tuning for slide playing, offering many convenient chord fragments, both major and minor, up and down the fretboard.  The key to understanding how to play slide guitar in Standard Tuning comes with learning how to mute the unnecessary  strings, to prevent them from sounding.  I have created an entire instructional DVD for playing in Standard Tuning, which you can check out.. just CLICK HERE for more info.  The following video is an example of slide guitar in Standard Tuning…

 

OPEN Dm & Em TUNING
Open Dm (D-A-D-F-A-D) – tuned to D minor chord
Open Em (E-B-E-G-B-E) – tuned to E minor chord
While these tunings are not very well-known historically, they are some of my personal favorite, and most-used, slide guitar tunings.  They are particularly great for playing in minor keys, but also work very well for Blues styles, even if the underlying harmonies are major.  Again, these two tunings are essentially the same tuning, but Open Em is tuned one whole step higher than Open Dm.  The following video shows how this tuning can be used in both fretted and slide styles.  The acoustic rhythm guitar is tuned to Open Dm, and the 6-string lap steel is also tuned to Open Dm…


Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  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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Over Two Continuous Hours of Cigar Box Guitar and Roots Music!

Of all possible ways to learn a musical instrument, I’ve found that the best method, by far, is to listen to (and watch) as much music as possible.  You can learn so much by watching how a player holds the instrument; the posture, the picking and anchoring techniques, etc…  So much can be gleaned by observing a musician as they are performing.

The best way to do this is in person, where you have a 3-dimensional view of the performance.  But we live in an age where the internet allows you to access a 2-dimensional live concert experience just about anytime and place you choose!  So sit back, relax, and learn from the music as it’s rolling by your screen… or just enjoy the show!

Thanks for keeping the Roots alive!  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

Below is a playlist that will continue to play through  over 40 Roots Music perfomances by Justin Johnson.  If you would like to browse through the videos, click on the menu icon in the top left corner of the video screen.  

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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

Transpose Open G tuning

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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TRANSPOSING OPEN G 3STRINGTRANSPOSING OPEN G 4STRING
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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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