It almost goes with no saying that basic finger picking is very straightforward – you strike one string with the thumb and the following one with a finger, or pluck two or three strings together with thumb and finger(s)! Got it ? Next, it’s how we apply our thumb and fingers which can generate an exciting effect. Acoustic Blues Pickin’ is something else. It’s fairly difficult to play blues finger picking smoothly so that it flows.
I’ve seen that a lot of old school blues guitar masters simply used one finger on their right hand – Doc Watson, Reverend Gary Davis, Scrapper Blackwell, Blind Boy Fuller, Floyd Council, Big Bill Broonzy, and the number moves on and on. We are very fortunate to have old film clips of blues men like Broonzy and we can get an idea how they produced these magical sounds.
The right hand thumb can move over to the treble strings to help out, which adds to the syncopation. We start to see that the picking thumb is the driving force underlying the very best acoustic blues. It can double the beat to simulate the heartbeat, strike out of the rhythm , pluck two or more strings at a time and produce single string runs when used together with one of the fingers (usually the index.) The singing Reverend was a main exponent of that fashion of picking.
Davis might perform with picks or bare fingers, but favored a large plastic thumb pick and a steel finger pick steel pick on his index finger. It makes a strong, penetrating sound that allowed his blues music to be heard over traffic din in Harlem where he sang and played on the streets. His incredibly speedy individual string runs plucked with thumb and finger are really tough to replicate faithfully . Gary Davis was extensively revered as a excellent blues guitar instructor. For the student guitarist keen to learn the blues, the Reverend was a gift from above.
Othe great players like Doc Watson and Chet Atkins, had a clipped, economical way of picking, but Doc uses a plastic thumb and finger pick, while Chet used a plastic thumb-pick and bare finger nails. Doc uses one finger of his right hand, and Chet utilized three (at least).
At the end of the 50s and early nineteen sixties , young guitarists scoured the land for the old musicians and many of the old players started to play their guitars again , either as performers or instructors . As the decades pass, they are now few and far between, so it becomes far more hard to locate a real original expert who can play in the old manner.
Over the previous five years, the sources available for the beginning guitarist involved in finger picking the blues are myriad. Alas, that can also slow us up a little.
Where should the student start? Exactly where to discover a teacher? Which technique to follow, delta blues or ragtime? Modern acoustic blues can become a little over-complicated and it appears that the formula " Fantastically Complex = Far better" even now holds good in a lot of quarters quarters. Thankfully, many guitarists are looking a lot more towards the roots once again in recent years and more enthusiasts are searching for the authentic feeling of acoustic blues guitar .
Which is not to say that these original blues guys couldn’t make some incredibly complex sounds, but the sensation powering the fingers is what it’s all about really. Texas blues legend, Lightnin’ (Sam) Hopkins typically performed a simple picking pattern in E, let’s say , with a strong monotonic bass stroke. Sometimes he may double the beat and the bass note became a heart beat.
In contrast , he may move up the neck of the guitar like ‘lightnin’ and bend the higher strings, creating hypnotic sounds. The impact was music that communicates with your soul and it speaks the truth – it’s the blues.