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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…

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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…

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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…

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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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The 12-String Guitar ~ The Heavy-Hitter of Acoustic Blues Instruments

Today, the 12-string guitar is often associated more with folk music and simple open-chord strumming than with intricate lead guitar, ragtime, or traditional blues.  But some of the most influential blues musicians of all time forged timeless classics wielding their 12-strings.  In the following video, I’ll demonstrate many of the classic Blues styles and techniques that have proven the 12-string to be the heavy-hitter of acoustic stringed instruments.

LIVE STREAM LESSON: Blues Pickin’ & Sliding on the 12-String Guitar 

Early Blues greats like Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell played the 12-string guitar almost exclusively.  These artists took advantage of the full-bodied tone and assertive dynamic presence of the 12-String, to accompany their powerful and expressive singing voices.  Back in the early days of audio recording, it was difficult for microphones to pick up the intricate details of a 6-string acoustic, especially when it was competing with a full-volume Blues singer belting out a vocal melody.  The 12-string’s acoustic volume is almost double that of a 6-string, providing a much fatter bed for the vocals to lay over, in the mix. 

Blind Willie McTell “Travelin’ Blues”

 

Even Blues artists that are known for their 6-string electric guitar playing have been know to cut some of their most distinct tracks on solo acoustic 12-string.  Two great examples of this are Jimi Hendrix’s “Hear My Train A Coming” and Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Life By The Drop.”  The intricate and sensitive single-note lead lines in these two tracks are fattened up by the doubled strings of the 12-string guitar.

Jimi Hendrix “Hear My Train A Coming”

Stevie Ray Vaughan MTV Unplugged

Stevie Ray Vaughan “Life By The Drop”

 

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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Classic Melodies on the Godfather of American Roots Instruments – The One-String Diddley Bow

Diddley Bow SSB and Amazing Grace Blog Banner

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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How To Read Scale Diagrams …and Why?

BLOG IMAGE SCALE DIAGRAM EXPLAINAION

HOW TO READ SCALE DIAGRAMS …AND WHY?
by Justin Johnson
www.JustinJohnsonLive.com

Recently, I have been asked by several people, “How do you read a scale diagram?”  The easiest way to learn how to read a scale diagram is to first understand a few simple concepts about what scales are, how they are used, and why fretboard diagrams help.

1) What is a scale? 

A scale is a series of notes that, together, create a distinct harmonic feel and mood.  A scale differs from a chord in that a scale is a series of notes played one-at-a-time, while a chord is a combination of notes played all at once.

2) Why make a diagram, why not just write out the notes? 

Short Answer:  It’s easier!

Long Answer:  The guitar, by nature, is a very visual instrument.  The visual pattern that a scale’s notes make on the fretboard can be memorized, and then shifted up and down the fretboard.  This makes it extremely easy to transpose a song or melody into a different key, simply by moving the visual scale pattern up or down the neck.  For example, if you know a scale pattern for the G Major Scale and you want to play the A Major Scale… all you have to do is take that same pattern and move it up 2 frets.  This way, you are not having to think about the intervals of the scale, the sharps and flats, or the other seemingly endless hurdles involved with transposing to a different key.

3) Why are some dots on the diagram filled in, and others aren’t?

Those dots are filled in to indicate the “root note” of the scale.  The root note is the note that the scale is based off of, for example in the G Major Scale, the note “G” would be the root note.  Similarly, “D” would be the root note of the D Minor Pentatonic Scale.  If you have a scale pattern that has a root note on the lowest string, you could shift that pattern up and down the fretboard, and whatever note the shaded-in dot (root note) lands on, will be the root note of that particular scale.

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Now that we have some basic questions answered, let’s look at a couple of different types of fretboard diagrams.  In Figure 1, you will see three scale diagrams.  They are all diagrams for the same scale, the G Major Scale (Notice how both Scale Position Diagrams could be overlain onto the complete scale diagram on the left).  The diagram on the left shows a visual outlay of every note in the G Major Scale from the nut to the 12th fret.  This type of diagram is very helpful when you are wanting to see every available note on the fretboard for a given scale.

But what if you want to play the scale from start to finish in a specific region of the fretboard?  The first diagram isn’t very helpful for that purpose, so we will have to use a “scale position” diagram.  These diagrams have less dots, but they don’t repeat any notes, giving you a useful pattern for playing the notes in the scale sequentially and comfortably on the fretboard from the lowest note to the highest in that position.  Start at the lowest note one the lowest string, and work your way up.  Play each note sequentially on the low string, then move the lowest note on the next string, and so on, until you reach the highest note in the diagram.  Then go back down the scale, playing each note one-at-a-time in descending order.

The second scale digram in Figure 1 is the G Major Scale Pattern in Open Position, meaning that you can play this scale pattern from lowest note to highest note taking advantage of open strings without moving your fretting hand uncomfortably from that open position.

The third scale diagram is the G Major Scale in 5th Fret Position with the root note on the second string.  This diagram gives you a pattern for playing the G Major scale one note at a time, without having to uncomfortably move from that position around the 5th fret.

To sum thing up, scales are very useful in that they give you a harmonic “backbone” with which to flesh out your melodies.  If you know what you want your melody to “feel like” you can pick a scale that has a similar vibe and, BAM!  You have a starting point… a pattern of notes that will help you turn your “feel” into a song!  These are not rules, just helpful patterns.  If you practice scales regularly, you will learn valuable muscle memory and begin to build up a harmonic memory that you can rely on to guide your note selection when improvising or writing melodies and riffs.

Thanks for keeping the roots alive!  …and don’t forget to click the “FOLLOW” link on the right side of this page to get new lessons send straight to your email!
~Justin Johnson
VISIT STORE for CDs, DVDs, Books, & More!: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com/store.html
SUBSCRIBE TO MY YOUTUBE CHANNEL: www.YouTube.com/justinjohnsonlive

If you like this lesson, but would like more in-depth explanations and tutorials on Roots Music, Guitar, Slide Guitar, and more…  Check out my Instructional Video Series on Roots Music, available on DVD or via Digital Download at: www.JustinJohnsonLive.com

Scale Explanation Blog Image

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