How To Play Great Fingerpicking Guitar--Even If You're All Thumbs!

Chapter 5


Any trouble with the tablature below? Go To Chapter 3



John Henry MP3--Hear It Now

When I was just starting out, Dave Van Ronk taught me a version of the traditional "John Henry" similar to this one.

It is almost completely played off of the "normal" E chord (plus two brief forays into B7, with a 6th string bass).

Your right index and middle fingers will have a few tricky moves to learn--but the piece still sounds GREAT.

Let's first practice the E bass line, for most of this piece is on the E chord. The right thumb alternates between the sixth and fourth bass notes...Back and forth, like a Choo Choo train.

Remember--from the chapter on Tablature--what Right hand finger usually plays what string? (Of course you don't.) Well, use Right Index on the Third string, right Middle (or maybe ring) on the First string.

Your Left Pinky will get a work-out here: Those c# notes are played on the 2nd string, second fret.

Measure 7: Note the "d" on the 2nd string third fret, next to the c#: John Henry measure 7 B7

A Diffrent B7 The B7 has a funny bass line. Put your left middle on the Sixth string for that funky f# note. Play it with your right thumb, of course. The next bass note is the fourth string d#. Very C & W.

When the E chord returns, there's a cute little twist. Look at Measure 12

John Henry Measure 12 Play an OPEN 3rd string on the third beat, simultaneously with the bass (E, open 6th string). Then immediately play g# on the 3rd string (left index) simultaneously with another bass note (this time on the 4TH string). Is this why they call it the blues?

The rest is easier. Use your left pinky for the First string's "g"notes in
Measure 14:
John Henry Measure 14

Ready? Switch to the new B7 in the middle of Measure 19

John Henry Measure 19

The last full measure is just our old Fingerpicking Pattern #1 again (from Chapter 4).


John Henry in E


Hear The Music

Now that you're used to a steady alternate bass....forget it!

DON'T alternate your bass on this classic blues by Mance Lipscomb--he didn't, and nobody ever complained. In fact, try muting the 6th string to sound like his thunk-thunk "monotonic" bass on the 6th string, for full 78-RPM old-time effect:

Rest your right wrist slightly on the bass string, just enough to dull the sound without stopping it completely. When it sounds like a 1920s washtub bass, you've got it.

The piece starts with your Left Ring playing the 1st string, Third fret. It'll do this a lot.

Try the slide in Measure 4, second beat. It's on the 3rd string, second to fourth frets:

Baby Please Don't Go blues slide on thired string Second beat: Play the second fret note (an "a") ALONG WITH the bass--but slide up on the 4th fret ("b") Real Fast. You have to play the 1st string's open "E" BEFORE the next bass note anyway, so rush the slide Emphasize the end of it (rather than the first part).

Measure 7 Baby Please Don't Go Measure 7uses a normal B7 chord, but your Left little Pinky'll have to stretch a bit to play the second string 3rd fret ("d"). Then take the left pinky off to play the second string open:

If I wanted to confuse you I'd call the chord on the second beat a B7+9 ---so I won't. The piece ends with a BASS RUN, so stop playing the repeated bass you've finally gotten used to, and play the notes in Measure 8:

Bass Rune Measure 8 Stress the First of each pair of eighth notes in this "bass run." Eventually they'll make sense. So will this "8 bar blues," if you practice it slowly enough.


Baby Please Don't Go


Hear The Music

This is a great little groove to keep playing over and over, once you memorize the piece.

Ooooh, you're thinking, you have to memorize them too?

Hey, the more you play 'em, the easier they get--'till you sit down one night and you can play the first part of a piece by heart, without looking at the music! That's the time to play a few measures more, close the book and try to play them from memory. Open to the page only when you get stumped. Little by little the piece will anchor itself into your brain (just like that stupid poem you had to memorize once for speech class).

Think of this tune as a group of little modules that repeat each time they're called up.

The A7 measure is one module, the E7 another. You play the SAME thing in each measure of E7 (or A7), until the "turn around" at the end.

First, the A7 module.

basic A7 two fingered
A7 simple with slide
Use your Left Middle and Ring for the chord--but SLIDE these two up from the first to the second fret. And don't do this until AFTER the first bass note.

So play these notes in this order:

  1. bass note on 5th string
  2. slide A7 chord from 1st to 2nd fret, only sounding 2nd string
  3. play 1st string open TOGETHER with its (4th string) bass note
  4. place Left pinky on 1st string 3rd fret, play it
  5. play bass note on 5th string again, then play open 1st string (so remove left pinky!) on off-beat
  6. play last bass note (the alternate), on 4th string again
Repeat this module over and over until it either starts to make sense (or you simply MUST use the john).

The rhythm is tricky--so read the following help on off-beats:

A Word On The "Off-Beat":

This is the "AND" of the count.
Count a Four Beat Measure this way:

  +--+  +--+  +--+  +--+
The numbers here are the Bass Notes--the "On-beats"
The "ANDS" are the eighth notes between the bass notes.
They're called the "off-beats," because they're on the weak, (unnatural) beat.
Practice counting "one-AND-two-AND-three-AND-four" aloud on your way to work and I guarantee you'll make progress (and gain solitude!).

Are you now ready (hah!) for the E7 module?

Rock Me Baby  E7 measure

  +--+  +--+ +--+        +---+ +--+  +--+
  1. Beat One: Bass note (low "E") with Right Thumb
  2. Ham-mer onto the 3rd string with your Left Index like this: strike the open 3rd string (using right index, of course) and SLAM DOWN your left index onto the string--first fret--while it's still ringing (DON't pluck it again with your right hand. You're ham-mering it. The hyphen is where your left finger hits the "nail"!)
  3. 2nd Beat: Play 4th string bass together with 1st string open. Then place Left pinky on 1st string Third fret "d"-- play it.
  4. 3rd Beat: Hit Low bass. Then play 1st string open on the AND
  5. Final Alternate bass note--let it ring for the entire Full Beat ("4 AND")
The ham-mer gives you two notes for the work of one. In this piece it's isolated--between bass notes.

I'm separating the syllables for "ham-mer" to emphasize its TWO equally strong notes. Sound the first note using a right hand finger--but the Second one is sounded with the LEFT hand alone.
Later on we'll co-ordinate ham-mers and basses in the strangest places, with the most fascinating mutations.

Why am I doing this to you? Now, now, the blues is syncopated. This means the good stuff keeps cropping up on the weak beats--in the unexpected places, like the police.

The ham-mer is a corner stone of guitar music from classical (called "legatos") to Heavy Metal (Trill or be Trilled). You'll get 'em.
The B7 crops up in Measure 9:

Rock Me Baby B7 measure

(B7)+-+  +-+           (A7) +--sl +-+ +-+

It's simple. The A7 measure is a repeat of the "A7 module measure."

The "Turn Around":

The last two measures are termed "Turn Around" because they are used to set up the piece to start over again from the beginning:
Rock Me TurnAround Part 1 Rock Me TurnAround Part 2

(E7)+-+ A+-+Am+-+   (E7)---+  +-+  +--+
Measure 11:

Use the normal E7, A7 and Ami here (to make sure you're not just mindlessly popping those modules in over and over). See the chord chart Normal Chords if you're in doubt.

The piece ends with a single measure of the E7 module. Follow these modules carefully, and you'll be playing the right notes--or "close enough for blues."


Rock Me Baby Pt 1

Rock Me Baby Pt 2

This chapter © 2015 by Andrew D. Polon. All rights reserved.

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