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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Right-Hand Techniques

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Flamenco Downstroke
The first step in training the right hand is an easy one. The index finger strikes down to sound a chord with the back of the nail, like this:

The flamenco downstroke

In notation this is often shown with a downward arrow:

Play this now, trying to make make as close to a single sound as pos-sible. There is no scrape involved in the downstroke, which is used to Key Thought establish the fundamental beat.

Notice the typical flamenco fingering of the A chord. The first finger covers both the fourth and third strings, leaving two other fingers available for added notes and for damping.

The downstroke may be allowed to ring, but sometimes the sound is cut off to accentuate the rhythm. The sound is deadened, or damped, in various ways. With the right hand, the fingers may simply be replaced on the strings after playing a chord. If the chord was played with the thumb, the side of the hand may be easily used to stop the sound. If the chord was played fingerstyle,i.e., with thumb and fingers, then it is sufficient simply to put them back on the strings as if preparing another chord.

Flamenco Damping
As already explained, the A chord is fingered using the just the first and second fingers. This leaves the little finger free, which is frequently used to cut the sound of a chord. Try playing the example again, and after each chord let the little finger touch the strings to stop the sound. The finger is straight so as to reach across all the strings.

Skilled flamenco performers can play fast successions of chords, each of which is clearly and crisply defined by this method.

The Upstroke
An upstroke with the index finger is frequently added to the downstroke when a faster tempo is desired. Like the downstroke,it should not drag across the strings, the aim being for clear-sounding chords. In notation this would be shown with an upward arrow. The notation is simplified with a chord symbol because many repeated chords tend to look unnecessarily compli-cated. Do the upstrokes and downstrokes as indicated by the arrows.

The flamenco upstroke

Try this example with an even count of one-and two-and three-and. You will find it helps to rest the thumb on the bottom string to stabilize the hand.

Now try mixing the two types of stroke in this pattern:

The Rhythmic Tap (Golpe)
The dances of Spain and Latin American make frequent use of percussive sounds to accentu-ate the rhythm. The flamenco guitar is protected with a tap plate for this purpose, either white or transparent, glued to the face of the guitar. Often the downstroke is accentuated with a simultaneous golpe. As the index finger moves across the strings the ring finger moves sharply down onto the tap plate.

A number of flamenco forms have rhythmic groups of 12 beats, as shown above. This pattern is known as the rhythm of bulerias. Unlike conventional Western music that would stress the first of each group of three, the flamenco stresses are commonly on 3, 6, 8, and 10, with 11 and 12 being weak beats.

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Introducing Flamenco

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When many people think of the guitar, they think of the dramatic folk music of southern Spain known as flamenco. This passionate music is closest to the heart and soul of the Spanish guitar, and every guitarist will be tempted to learn at least one flamenco piece. Flamenco is the music of the gypsies of Andalusia, with origins that draw on the musical tradition of the Moors and Sephardic Jews as well as that of the gypsies themselves. In the early part of the nineteenth century, this music found popularity with a wider audience through its presentation in the cafe cantante, a place for enthusiasts to gather and hear what was previously the music of the campfire.

Like the blues in America, flamenco acquired a following among privileged groups of people far removed from the suffering and deprivation that gave birth to many of the songs. These songs that cry from the heart are the essence of flamenco, and the guitar, now as then, is the favored instrument of accompaniment.

The Flamenco Forms

There are more than 30 different groups of flamenco songs, relating to different regions and occupations, from the martinete of Triana per-formed to the sound of a blacksmith’s hammer striking an anvil to the tarantas and mineras of the mining communities of the southeast. The songs are broadly divided into two categories: cante jondo, the serious forms, and cante chico, the more lighthearted type.

For the student, the most popular forms to study are the alegrias, played in A to accompany the dance and in E as a solo; the soleares, inspiration for many great falsetas; and the seguiryas with its fascinating rhythm which alternates measures of 3/4 and 6/8.

Popular also are the various local forms of the fandango, known in Malaga as Malaguenas or in Granada as Granainas, and from the Atlantic coast the ever popular and lively fandangos de Huelva. Also well known is the dramatic dance known as the farruca, a feature of Jose Greco’s worldwide tours.

Development of the Solo Art

As an outgrowth of early flamenco, in which the guitar was confined strictly to an accompaniment role, a solo guitar art developed, pio-neered by the legendary Ramon Montoya. In accompanying the songs, the guitarist usually plays plain chords during the verses. However, at the end of the verse, giving the singer time to draw breath, the guitarist plays a variation which shows his skill and adds to the mood. These interludes were known as falsetas, and the solo repertoire grew from the piecing together of a number of falsetas with lengthier and more fanciful elaborations.

In this century, flamenco has grown and flourished with innovations of style and harmony and guitarists of phenomenal technique. The wizardry of Paco de Lucia, Habichuela, and Tomatito has to be heard to be believed. Paco Pena has, in addition to his own innovations, reproduced the classic performances of Nino Ricardo and Ramon Montoya.


Usually flamenco is not written down, being passed by listening and memorization from player to player. However, it is possible to learn some of the basics of flamenco technique provided that this is backed up with much listening to good players and singers. Flamenco technique is broadly divided into two categories—rasgueado (literally, scraped) and picado (picked). The rasgueado is used to establish rhythms with percussive strokes and strums of the right hand. This is particularly important when accompanying dancers, where the guitar needs to be audible above the sound of song and stamping feet.

The picado (plucked) technique is similar to normal fingerstyle playing, and is used for the falsetas. In flamenco, there is emphasis on the clean playing of scales and arpeggios, and in fact a high level of right-hand skill is expected. The tremolo (see Chapter 21) is also used, though purists tend to discourage excessive use of this technique.

Flamenco players frequently use a capo, in fact it is rare to see the guitar used without one. The most commonly used postion is at the second fret, but higher postions are sometimes used. The raised pitch adds brightness to the sound, which helps audibility when singers and dancers are involved.

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Folk and Country

Thursday, March 20, 2008

In Chapter “Elements of Travis Picking,” you learned one basic folk/country strum that is used in many playing styles. This chapter expands on that style to include some other common accompaniment techniques that will enable you to play thou-sands of folk and country songs.

Country music inherits an important quality, through its origin in the story songs with which Southern mountain people and their forebears in England, Scotland, and Ireland entertained them-selves in the days before television. The most important element is the song. The role of musical instruments is to accompany, not to show off. You can be as fancy a guitar player in country as in any other kind of music, but what you really need to sell a country song is a good voice, good lyrics, and guitar accompaniment that doesn’t get in the way.

We’ll begin with some simple accompaniment patterns, then progress to accompanying country songs, playing in 3/4 time, and finally crafting a traditional country solo.

A great deal of folk and country guitar playing is based on a simple accompaniment pattern. It combines picking and strumming by plucking a single bass (low) note first, followed by a downward brush stroke across the three (or so) highest strings. Usually you add variety by alternating between at least two different low notes. This is a start-ing point from which many more complicated variations can grow. But no matter how much fancy stuff you learn, you’ll still keep coming back to this pattern. Because of the alternating high-low sound of this pattern, people often call it the boom-chick strum.

Keeping It Steady
Let’s try this beat on a C chord. Keep your fingers down in the entire shape for a C chord. For low notes, we’ll be alternating between the fifth and fourth strings.

• If you play with bare fingers, pluck the bass note with your thumb and make the brush stroke with your index finger. (Some people like adding one or two other fingers as well.) The idea behind using your fingers is to get a strong, bright tone from your fingernail as it sweeps across the string.
• If you use a flatpick, play both the individual bass note and the three note of the brush with downward strokes of a pick.
• If you use fingerpicks, you’ll probably find them uncomfortable for making downward strokes. Use your thumbpick to play downward strokes on both the bass note and the brush.

Every chord has its own alternating bass notes. On some, more than one set of alternating notes is possible. Here are diagrams of the basic chord shapes along with the alternating bass string combinations most commonly used.

Not all guitarists choose the same bass notes as their standard pattern. Almost everyone picks as the first bass note the root note of the chord. The root is the note the chord is named after—an A note for an A (or A-minor or A7) chord, for example. The root note is the first of the two bass notes in all the examples above. It’s good to develop the habit of using the root note first. Once you get the habit down, you can start to experiment with other choices that might sound better to you at any given place in a song.

Basic Chord Shapes
The numbers indicate possible bass notes to alternate.

Let’s practice some alternating bass notes on several chords.

Picking a Country Song
Now we can move on to a favorite folk, country, and bluegrass song to accompany with this pattern. Although all the notes in the accompaniment part are written out to guide you, the most important thing is to keep the beat going. Don’t worry if sometimes you don’t exactly brush exactly the three strings that are indicated, just as long it sounds like a good, ringing strum. Aim at getting more accurate with more experience.

Playing a Solo: “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
The words and vocal melody to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” are given below, in addition to the guitar accompaniment. If you want, you and a friend can learn to play both parts on the guitar, and switch off playing lead and accompaniment.

When you encounter a song in 3/4 time, you’ll need to adapt the pattern to work in units of three. Bass brush has two components. To get the feeling of three beats, just add one more brush.

Make it your business to learn to accompany about a zillion songs with these patterns. Ideally, you should become perfectly comfort- able with it before moving on to anything else. But just to give you a little taste of how this pattern can be developed, let’s use it to play the melody of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” We’ll do this by playing the melody notes instead of the ordinary bass notes.

As you follow the music you’ll see that sometimes you need to move or add a finger to play a melody note that is not one of the notes of the chord, but keep the chord shape in place as much as you can and always get back to it. You’ll notice that you really have to move some fingers around on the F chord. From the chord chart earlier in the chapter, choose one of the F chord shapes that doesn’t use the complete bar, so you can get to the open strings when you need them.

Also notice how every now and then a bass note is used in the spot where there would normally be a brush. This is something you sometimes have to do in order to get the melody out clearly. Some melodies are so busy that, in order to get them out, you’d hardly find time to brush at all. Songs like this are not well suited to this style of playing.

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Elements of Travis Picking

Friday, January 11, 2008

Once you can play and count two parts, it becomes possible to introduce a popular style of guitar accompaniment often known as Travis picking. The name is used as a tribute to Merle Travis, who popularized the style in the forties and fifties, but the roots go back to the twenties, when enterprising guitarists such as Blind Blake and Lonnie Johnson were seeking to reproduce the bounce of popular piano rags. The piano style involved a regular bass pattern against which the melody moved with dotted and off-beat notes to create a synco- pated rhythm. The guitarists imitated this by using the thumb to imitate the piano’s left hand while playing the contrasting melody with the fingers, and some achieved a considerable degree of sophistication with this technique. A famous rag by Lonnie Johnson was entitled “To Do This You Gotta Know How,” and few would contest his claim.

Fingerpicking is most frequently associated with the steel-string acoustic guitar, with thumb picks helping to emphasize the bass line. However, it can be played very successfully on the Spanish guitar. Many fine singer-guitarists have favored this style includ-ing Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and many, many others.

The technique differs from standard fingerstyle in that the thumb is sometimes used on the third string when playing a repeated bass line. At the core of the style is the bouncy off-beat style known as syncopation.

We expect strong beats to fall on certain beats of the bar, such as the first or third beats. We are used to them falling at least squarely on one of the beats. When they don’t, a slight rhythmic hiccup develops, like this:

In this case, the notes with the accent marks (>) are stressed on the second half of the first and fourth beats, while the thumb bass plays squarely on the downbeat. This results in a syncopated rhythm.

To understand upbeats and downbeats, simply tap a four-beat rhythm with your fingers on a table. When the fingers go down to make the tap, that is the downbeat. When the fingers come up, the highest point reached marks the upbeat, the point halfway be-tween the main beats. If a conductor was beating the time, his baton would travel up for the upbeat.

Here is a tune to play that includes syncopation. Notice that the “and” beats (which have accent marks) cause the syncopated effect, so give them extra stress.

This type of syncopation is at the heart of the Travis picking style, where it is used to give bounce and rhythmic interest to the guitar accompaniment. Here are some examples to try using the C, F, and G7 chords:

When you play this example, let the notes ring until the chord changes. It would be more accurate to write it like this:

However, this seems a little harder to read, and the effect is exactly the same as long as the notes are held.
Now let’s add more movement:

The next example adds another pair of eighth notes to each measure.

In this example, we start the movement right on the first beat for a change.

Here is a good-sounding practice example with more chord changes.

Finally, here is a complete song to try in Travis style. Notice the following points when you play it:

  • The bass note of the chord can be alternated for variety. For example, in the first measure, instead of playing the low C twice, the low G is used.

  • Similarly, in the second measure, the D is used as bass on the first beat instead of using the G twice.

  • Different patterns can be mixed. For instance, the first and second measures use slightly different patterns.

  • The real secret is to keep experimenting. Try varying both the notes of the chord and the rhythm patterns.

"Careless Love"

Additional lyrics:
When I wore my apron low,
When I wore my apron low,
When I wore my apron low,
You promised me you’d never go.
Now I wear my apron high,
Now I wear my apron high,
Now I wear my apron high,
You pass my door and go right by.
I love my mom and daddy too,
I love my mom and daddy too,
I love my mom and daddy too,
But I’d leave them both and go with you.

This traditional American folk song is just perfect for Travis-style accompaniment. Remem-ber, there’s no “right” way to accompany this song. Try experimenting with different bass notes and patterns until you come up with something that appeals to you.

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