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.
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