Jazz Notes 10: Fingerpicking II

by Jerry Arcidiacono

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  • Hi folks! The fingerstyle technique is often used by jazz guitarists to create independent lines. Typically, you create a bass line with the thumb while playing melodies or chords with the other fingers.

    Since the Blues form it's a common background for all the jazz players - and also for many jazz standards - around the world, in this chapter I'll show you a bluesy piece using the acoustic guitar. I chose the acoustic guitar because I play some open strings with the bass lines and they sound pretty good with this instrument. Obviously you can practice this lesson with your electric guitar if you don't have an acoustic.

    For a more jazzy sound you can check my previous Fingerpicking I lesson or my Walking bass lesson.

    In this lesson we have a composition that uses the very common 12 bar blues progression.

    Chords are:

    E7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
    A7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
    B7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |

    The idea behind this lesson is to play a bass line with the thumb of the picking hand, while other two fingers are playing other notes of the current chord. These kind of bass lines are used a lot also by the bass players, especially on blues and old rock'n'roll music.

    Over each chord, the bass line starts always with the same degrees which are the root, major 3rd and perfect 5th. These notes are the basic triad for the 7th chords we are using here. Check the previous lesson about triads and inversions if you have missed something.

    This lesson is quite simple so we'll play two notes of the current chord together, with the index and the middle finger as example. Feel free to experiment adding some rhythmic variations or playing different lines. It's very important to have a good independence between the fingers of your picking hand. Start very slowly if you haven't tried this style before.

    If you want to write a song using this technique be sure to master how chords and inversions work over the fretboard. In this way, you have a big choice on what to play over each chord.
    Previous lessons "Building Chords" and "Finding Voicing" can help you through the process.

    Also, it's important to choose a right key to play in. If we can use a lot of open strings, we can play the higher line more easily, since the fingering hand has less work to do.

    Good keys to play with the style are the ones which contain some of the open strings - in a standard tuning - on their chords. As example C major, G major, E major, etc..

    Few words about the backing track. Since we are playing the bass line with the guitar, there is no bass instrument here, so you can concentrate on your own sound. A Honky tonk piano plays some simple comping. I started to use EZdrummer from this lesson and its Nashville kit has great sounds, which fill this style very well.

    You can use also the jam track to experiment your own variations with this style. Most importantly, since this type of playing is quite simple but effective, try to use it with some friend as an accompaniment, so he/she can improvise freely. It's perfect for a guitar duo.

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