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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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“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.

 

To receive notifications of future Roots Music School articles and lessons,  click “FOLLOW” to keep in touch!
~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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What is the Best Way to Learn Guitar?

What the best way to learn guitar

One of the questions I get asked the most in my guitar workshops is, “What is the best way to learn how to play guitar?”  It is such a simple question, but it is one that has so many possible answers, each one being just as true as the other.  So.. how do I answer?  I tell them that the best way to learn the 6-string guitar is by learning the 3-string guitar.

There are countless guitar legends that started out on homemade guitars, most of them only had a few strings and were built out of found objects, or pieces of old, broken instruments.  Jimi Hendrix started out on a one-string Ukulele, Bo Diddley started out on a Cigar Box Guitar… so did Lightning Hopkins, B.B. King, Elmore James… the list goes on and on.  Not only do you not have to learn guitar on a 6-string, but it can be liberating, inspiring, and more fun to start on a Roots Instrument like the 3-string guitar.  Plus, it is a much more affordable investment for a beginner.

Learning to play 3-string guitar is just as valuable, whether you are a total beginner or have been playing for years.  Let me tell you why…

Total Beginner?

1) It is easier to begin to learn guitar on 3 strings!  I find that the #1 reason beginners stop playing is because is it hard to have fun on the 6-string guitar the first day you pick it up.  The 3-string guitar, tuned to an open tuning, can make music without the guitarist even fretting a note.  Every time I put a 3-string guitar in a kid’s hands, and they hit that first chord, it puts a smile on their face, because they have already made their first “music!”

2) The 3-string guitar teaches you the muscle memory that you need to play the 6-string.  When a beginner learns to play on a 3-String, they are still learning the proper left and right hand technique they will need to play the 6-string.  They still build callouses on their fretting fingers, they still develop proper strumming and picking techniques, and they still build the musculature in their fretting hand that will help them push the strings down.  The benefit with a 3-string is that these challenges are less frustrating, and allow the player to have more fun and get more instant gratification than they would if they were trying to juggle 6 strings throughout this developmental stage.

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3) You can still play all of the same songs on the 3-string, it’s just simpler.  It is possible to play the same songs on the 3-string, but the arrangements are generally simpler and less intimidating.  Most chord changes can be simplified and broken down into one-finger chords.  These chords may not be as lush as a 6-note chord, but they will give the player the enjoyment of being able to strum their favorite chord changes, while building up their fretting hand muscles.  Learning barre chords (chords where you lay your index finger down across multiple stings) can be the most frustrating stage in a beginner guitarist’s development… But the 3-string makes this process fun and much less painful!

4) You learn music, not patterns.  This is the one I love the most!  If you learn on an instrument like the 3-string guitar, you will be learning how to develop your own sound, style, voice, and patterns much more so than if you learn on a traditional 6-string.  You will have to learn how to use the entire fretboard, not just the first 5 frets.  You will have to learn open tunings, not just standard tuning.  You will have to learn how to make your own arrangements of songs instead of learning songs and riffs note-by-note.  In a sense, you will be learning how to play like yourself instead of learning to play like someone else. Moving on to play 6 strings will be a very easy transition from the 3-string.  All you will have to do is learn some new patterns and chord shapes, but your fingers will be stronger, they will have more stamina, they will be know how to strum and pick, they will know how to run up and down the fretboard… and you will have had more fun along the way!

Already a Proficient Guitarist?

When I got my first guitar, I devoured every lesson book, tab book, DVD, concert video, and dexterity exercise I could find!  I studied the classic riffs and tones that were accepted as traditional, acceptable, and cool.  I learned the right bends for the right Rock song, the right pickup setting for the right Country twang, and the right vibrato for the right Blues moan… but I missed something else completely…  I wasn’t listening to myself enough.  I had learned so many traditional ways of playing that I wasn’t breaking outside of my comfort zone and creating sounds that had never been made before.

The day I picked up my first Cigar Box Guitar, I had no idea how to play it.. I didn’t know how it was tuned, it wasn’t properly intonated so it could only be played with a slide, and I had never heard anything with that kind of tone before.  It ripped me out of my comfort zone and took me straight to the edge of my ability.  It made be rethink the way I approached guitar and the fretboard patterns I was used to.  It took away all of my safety nets, and made me have to become a musician, not just a guitarist… and it was the best lesson I ever got!

In Other Words…

From one guitar player to another, roots instruments such as the 1-string diddley bow and the 3-string or 4-string guitar are the best personal trainer I have ever found for 6-string guitar.  If you try one, buy one, build one, or have one hanging on a wall, tune it up, and watch these videos.  You’ll be happy you did!

Keep on Pickin’, and don’t forget to click “Follow” on this blog to catch future 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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