The Blues

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recently, performers like Eric Clapton have been returning to their acoustic origins and have started once again to play in a blues style. The screaming guitar sounds of the electric blues have become an indelible part of our music. Before that, there was the quieter though no less powerful blues of the acoustic guitar, played on front porches and at backwoods gatherings by itinerant musicians for whom sung lyrics were just as important as their inventive guitar parts.

The blues began as a folkloric music in rural African-American communities in the last decades of the nineteenth century. By the twenties, the style was perfected by specialized singer-songwriter-guitarists. But blues was also performed by songsters like Leadbelly and Henry Thomas, who also sang story songs, children’s songs, comic songs, and even spirituals. The blues was also quickly assimilated by early jazz and rural dance bands and even Tin Pan Alley.

This chapter teaches you the basics of the blues: from the funda-mental underlying 12-bar pattern that fits thousands of songs, to learning blues chords, and then finally mastering a blues instru-mental.

Taking Measure of the 12-Bar Blues

Most blues songs take the form of the 12-bar blues, so called because it consists of 12 bars (i.e., measures) of four beats each. There are three sung lines, each one fitting into a four-bar section. Almost always, the first line is sung twice, and then the thought is completed or answered by the final line.

A usual blues verse, with the chord changes in the key of E, looks like this:

Trouble last night and trouble the night before
Trouble last night and trouble the night before
Trouble in my home and trouble knocking at my door.

The words fit against a chord structure that you would strum out like this, with each slash representing one beat:

Represented in music, the melody and strumming looks like this:

12-Bar Blues

Seventh Chords

We’ve just strummed through a blues using the E, A, and B7 chords. Perhaps you find that it doesn’t sound all that bluesy yet. Play it again, but this time use a seventh chord every time, using these chord shapes.

Seventh chords sound bluesy because—depending on exactly which chords they are—they include some extra notes called blue notes.

Practice strumming these chord changes until you can play them smoothly before we go further. Keep the beat even, and try experiment-ing by choosing to play any given measure with either a plain chord or the seventh. If you don’t know a plain B yet, just use B7. Once you get these chord changes automatic, you’ve got the blues.

Getting Down to the Blues

Now let’s build a blues solo. It will be based on a characteristic rhythm called a shuffle that also appears in rock, pop, country, and jazz. The shuffle beat has a loping feeling that comes from each foot-tap being divided evenly into thirds, or in musical language, triplets.

Tap your foot or clap your hands slowly and evenly. With each beat, say to yourself one-two-three, one-two-three as if you were saying rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye.

Now, instead of calling out three parts of the beat, let’s work with two parts in a LONG-short rhythm. The LONG part takes up the first two- thirds of the beat, as if you were saying BA-by. You can go back and fourth between one-two-three and LONG-short in different combinations
by reciting the syllables “rock-a-bye, rock-a-bye, BA-by, BA-by,” “rock-a-bye BA-by, rock-a-bye BA-by,” and so on, in different combinations. Try reciting these syllables to yourself as you play the following example. To get a blues sound, sound all three notes by brushing upward with your index finger.

Now that we’ve got the basic beat, let’s play the same music, adding a steady bass beat to reinforce the rhythm. Do this by playing a bass note steadily along with each foot tap, like so:

Shuffle with Bass

Keeping that thumb absolutely steady should be your goal. Even the greatest guitarists sometimes miss a beat now and then, but they don’t like it any more than you do.

Once the shuffle beat and the steady bass are under control, we can move on to some real blues playing. This piece has a classic country blues sound recalling the Delta and Texas styles. You’ll be using these chord shapes. Learn them first and reading the piece will be easier.

Classic Country Blues

In Chapter, “Rythm Practice,” you learned about syncopation. Here is an example of a 12-bar blues with what is called a “Walking Bass.” Just as in Travis picking, you keep the thumb beats steady and lightly accent all the off-beats with the fingers.

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Flamenco Guitar Vol 2 - method by G. Graf-Martinez

Monday, July 28, 2008

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Flamenco guitar lesson 1: How to play Rasgueado

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Latin Rhythms

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The guitar and the vihuela were carried to the New World by the Spaniards and the Portu-guese, and a host of new forms and rhythm patterns developed. In this chapter, we try playing some of these forms, and practice shaping the rhythms with accented upbeats and damping. We play the tango, the rumba, and the beguine, and then learn some typical chords to practice the bossa nova. Finally we learn a solo, a popular dance form from Peru known as carnavalitos.


An ever popular dance is the tango, with its distinctively clipped sound.

Starting on a stressed upbeat, the count is:

and One Two Three Four and One Two Three Four, etc.

The quarter note chords have been marked with a staccato sign marked in the first measure, indicated by the dots below the notes. This means that the chords should be cut off by damping, in this case with the left hand little finger, to give them the dramatic effect typical of this form.

This does not apply to the upbeat eighth note chords which, by con-trast, should last their full value, giving a tar-rump effect. The staccato on the single notes shortens the time they are held, but each note starts on its beat as written, i.e, the overall tempo is not changed. The notes simply have a clipped sound.

As with all the forms illustrated here, there are many variants, but once you understand the basic rhythm you will be able to experiment with making variations.


Another popular dance style that came to these shores from Cuba is the rumba. It has its own specific, syncopated style. It starts on the down- beat with a stress on the second half of the second beat.

The Beguine

For the beguine, the stressed upbeat comes at the beginning:

The Bossa Nova

The bossa nova from Brazil has an intriguing mixture of jazz chords and Latin rhythm. To get the feel of this on the guitar, it is first necessary to learn some chords before concentrat-ing on the rhythmic structure. Below, for instance, is a very typical sequence, not too hard to play because of the way that the second, first, and third fingers progress down the finger-board. After the first four chords you can still slide the second and third fingers, adding the fourth finger on the second string. Then if you lift the second finger you have the final one of the group, ready to repeat back to the first. Here we go:

When you feel comfortable with the chords, try playing the sequence in this rhythm:

I suggest playing each measure twice at first to focus on the right hand. Giving the slight extra weight to the upbeat after the third count is what establishes the correct feel. There is also a languid feel which is best learned by listening to good players.


Here is a complete solo in Peruvian style, the carnavalitos. The basic rhythm is:

This rhythm is played with many variants. Try to play it in a rhythmic and sprightly way, thinking of a dance at carnival time. This piece should present few difficulties, but be sure to accent the notes marked with the symbol >.

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The Rasgueo

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Downward Rasgueo

Now we come the rasgueo itself. Instead of just the index finger we are going to do a downstroke with the three fingers a, m, and i. As you strike the strings, try to make distinct sounds—it is not a miscel-laneous scrape but three separate events.

To make this clear, first count this line to feel the rhythm:

The fingers go down in succession

It is easier sometimes to make word syllables like this that express the rhythm.

The next step is to prepare the left hand with a complete E chord, and to play the downstrokes for each finger as indicated.

I have not included arrows because all strokes are downward.

Notice that the three fingers moving down time with the “ta-ta tum.” The other chords are simple downstrokes.

Developing the Fingers

It is important to practice the rasgueo pattern extensively. At first the fingers will tend to scrape down together, because the ring finger, a, doesn’t want to separate from the middle finger. Then, with practice, it becomes possible to get three clear sounds.

To unlock the ring finger, there is an excellent exercise for developing dexterity and indepen-dence.

• In a sitting position, place your right hand above your right knee. Make a fist.

• Flick out the little finger.

• Now flick out the ring finger. This is the hard one.

• Finally flick out the middle and then the index fingers.

Four-Finger Rasgueo

Now comes the four-finger rasgueo, starting with the little finger. I have used the letter l for this finger. After thorough practice of the three finger pattern, this will seem easier. However,without the prior work to free the ring finger, it becomes a meaningless scrape. Following the example above (rhythm of Malguenas), we have a triplet instead of the two sixteenth notes.

Expressed in words, tum ta-ta tum ta-ta tum becomes tum tiddly tum tiddly tum. The four downward strokes time to the tiddly tum. It is still important to try for clear sounds. Here it is in notation:

As before, all strokes are in a downward direction.

Once you can play this, try the Malaguena study that follows. I have simplified the notation in the same way.

Study Note

Although most of this study is rasgueado, there are some short segments of single notes (punteado). For simplicity, I have marked these with a v mark over the notes. Try to keep the count of three going throughout.

A. Here is the first segment of single notes marked with v.

Down and Up Rasgueo

After practicing the downward rasgueo and working on separating the fingers, it becomes possible to learn a form of rasgueo that is perhaps the most important—the one that involves an immediate upstroke following the downward movement of the fingers.

The rasgueo for Malaguenas started on a weak beat and ended on a strong one. Like the di-di-di-da which forms the letter “V” in Morse code, the l, i, and m fingers were followed by the index finger on a strong beat. In contrast, the rasgueo that we are about to learn starts on a downbeat. Here is how it would look in notation:

The important thing is that the four strokes, three down and one up, are evenly spaced with a slight extra stress on the first ring finger downstroke. You can try it first away from the guitar so as to have it clearly in mind. Here are the steps:

• In a sitting position place your right hand above your right knee. Make a fist.

• Flick out the ring finger.

• Now flick out the middle finger.

• Flick out the index finger.

• Pull the index finger back toward you.

The timing should be an even one-two-three-four with a slight extra push on the one.

It becomes apparent now why it was necessary to prepare the fingers with the Malaguena rasgueo. The all-important secret is to develop the ability to do the ring finger downstroke separated from the middle finger. It is hard at first, but comes with practice.

Now let’s try it on the guitar. The rasgueo is followed by simple upstrokes and downstrokes, keeping a regular rhythm.

Before playing, count out the rhythm as above. Then try playing the pattern, making the individual strokes as clear as possible. Then, as your tempo increases, you will develop the even sound of a good rasgueo.

For practice, here are some typical introductory rasgueado sequences.

Rhythm of Soleares

The soleares is one of the best known flamenco forms. It is a serious form, but a fast version of it developed into the popular bulerias, a humorous gypsy dance involving clowning gestures and steps.

Here is a soleares introduction, followed by typical falsetas. The 12 beats of the rasgueado segment are normally accented on 3, 6, 8, and 10, and the 11 and 12 beats are weak or silent.

Study Notes, Soleares

A. In the opening rasgueado, written in 12/4, remember to stress 3, 6, 8, and 10.

B. The falsetas are written in 3/4 because it is easier to read and understand this way, even though there is still a feeling of 12. Observe the accent where marked by the symbol >.


The farruca alternates between A minor and E7 harmony, with falsetas separating the rhythm passages.

Study Notes, Farruca

A. For simplicity, I have shown the chords in blocks. You may wish to practice the rasgueado first on a single chord, then make the changes. Note that the first line is played twice.

B. The first four notes of the falseta are slurred. Play the first note with the thumb, ham-mer the second note, and pull off the remaining two. It sounds difficult but it actually does make it easier.

C. All four notes are slurred here. Play the first, hammer the second, and pull off the remaining two. Try to keep them even as written.

D. Finger the D minor chord 0,2,3,1, instead of the more usual 0,2,4,1. Then for the chord at the beginning of the next measure simply, add the little finger on the G and take it off for the following chord.

E. This sign indicates a golpe or tap. If you do not have a plastic tap plate on your guitar, I suggest using the fleshy side of the thumb for the percussive sound in order not to damage the face of your guitar.


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