Maryland Folk Retreat Instructors

Dear Old Dad here with a link to the Folk Musicians’ Retreat instructor page.
Workshops on fiddle, songwriting, dulcimer, ukulele, banjo and more.
http://www.marylandfolk.com/instructors/

I am really looking forward to Jared’s early banjo class. He also teaches dulcimer and ukulele. A great instructor.

Diana will host a workshop to help folks get comfortable in a jam (a lot of requests for this one). She will also lead a hootenanny on Friday evening in the dining room.

Guy and Karen will help out with country singing and jamming.
Believe me, Guy is a country music jukebox.

Joe and Rosa will lead a gospel sing-along/jam. You’ll love these folks.

Sarah is a brilliant musician and a gifted teacher. Your fiddle will thank you for spending time with her.

Pete will host workshops in songwriting and singing. You’ll love his creative and entertaining style. I hope that he will again host our Saturday evening open mike.

Lowell will be on hand to answer questions about your banjo, instrument building and woodcarving. He will also have some of his favorite builds on display.

Patrick and I will be doing our thing in groups and one on one as needed.

Call me if you have an idea for a workshop
410-968-3873

The 2018 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat

My father and I have been hosting retreats on Maryland’s Eastern Shore for over ten years.

We first hosted the gatherings down the street from where we live in Crisfield Maryland. We loved having the event close to home, but the location was not ideal. We looked around a bit and found an amazing place for the event in Centreville, Maryland.

The Centreville location is a million times more comfortable than Crisfield. In fact, it is so comfortable that we are expanding the event for the 2018 Retreat!

The 2018 Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat offers several levels of accommodation. The Riverside Retreat Center, Faith House and camping.

The Riverside Retreat Center is downright luxurious. Hotel-style rooms with big comfortable beds. Rooms are double occupancy with private bathrooms. Linens and towels are provided.

The Riverside Retreat Center also has sunrooms with 24-hour beverage service. You room is only steps away from the workshop rooms and the dining room.

Lodging at the Riverside Retreat Center also includes chef-prepared meals. The food is wonderful. We can accommodate most dietary needs.

Dear Old Dad and I will be the first to admit that the Riverside Retreat Center is a bit expensive. Faith House is a more affordable alternative. Faith House offers informal dormitory-style housing with bunk beds. There are separate bath & shower facilities and a kitchen where you can prepare your own meals. There is plenty of space to jam and you are a short walk from the workshops.

Another alternative is the campground. Bring your family, set up your tent and make yourself at home. Camping is close to the Retreat Center, so you won’t miss out on any of the fun. Bath facilities are nearby.

If you are staying at Faith House or camping you have the option of purchasing a ticket for meals in the dining room.

All accommodations include access to every jam and workshop.

We recruit instructors who are passionate about teaching. This event is about the music you make. Nobody will talk down to you or be condescending. This is not a banjo camp. There are no celebrities. This is a musician’s retreat. We are gathering together in fellowship to make music in a beautiful setting.

People contact us saying they feel that they are not playing at a high enough level to take part. I always tell them to stop worrying and come to the Retreat. If you have never been to a jam session the Retreat is a great place to start. If you have been playing for years you will find something to challenge and inspire you.

The Maryland Folk Musicians Retreat. A wonderful weekend of music and fellowship accessible to all skill levels and budgets. Register today at http:/marylandfolk.com or call (410) 968-3873. We can’t wait to make music with you!

One Finger Guitar

Another plain-text workshop I wrote back in 2004. This was so popular that I carried this idea into The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar.
-Patrick

One Finger Guitar

People are always asking me if the guitar is more difficult to learn than the banjo. It’s a tough question to answer because any instrument will have idiosyncratic techniques that by themselves can be challenging for people to master- but overall it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other. All fretted instruments operate under a fairly simple set of rules. Most of the difficulty people have in learning to play the guitar or the banjo usually stem from how you approach the instrument. If you start off trying to bypass the basics and jump right into advanced stuff right away making real progress will be pretty difficult. It takes time. Not just to learn the right and left hand techniques, it takes time and experience to learn how to use those techniques. I don’t think this is a bad thing because the journey involved in becoming a musician is full of wild adventures. Don’t be in such a rush to play that you miss out on the fun.

For this first workshop I am going to share some easy tricks you can use to start playing out on the front porch almost immediately- but I am going to balance out the ‘quick fix” with some basic concepts so that you’ll actually be able to build on these ideas and concepts down the road. In upcoming workshops in this series I am going to start looking at building basic skills in more detail. Some of the material covered in these workshops is also presented in my Basic Folk Guitar CD ROM workshop available at http://www.funkyseagull.com as well as my soon to be released second book The How and the Tao of Acoustic Guitar.

These workshops are not intended to be anything but something to help you get started. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet, your local library and, most importantly, your own community just waiting for you to go out and get it. Playing the guitar isn’t something you pick up in the afternoon. It’s a lifelong pursuit. Hopefully the material covered here will give you the tools to get out on the front porch to pick a couple of folks songs and maybe even get out to a jam- but after that you have to sort things out on your own. Get a chord or two from one of your friends and a bass run from some stranger at a festival. I’m not a big fan of formal lessons for a lot of reasons- but I think the main reason is that my best “lessons” happened when I ran into other guitar players by accident.

The following is a true story from “The How and the Tao of Old Time Banjo.” It pretty much illustrates how that finding teachers by accident idea works.

Tuning Up
The one thing about learning how to tune that has caused a lot of frustration for teachers and students in how the strings are numbered. The nice thing about a plain-text guitar workshop is that you are not here to argue with me or ask me, “Why do they number them like that?” (And my only reply would be something along the lines of “just because.”) There is a hilariously grumpy rant by the late guitar wizard John Fahey at to one of his students about this confusion (and some pretty good advice on playing in C tuning) at http://johnfahey.com/CTuning.htm.

The way I usually explain it is that if you look at your guitar strings you will see (usually) four wound strings and two plain steel strings. When you are holding your guitar correctly (“correctly” being a relative term when you stop to think that players like Elizabeth Cotten did just fine playing upside-down and backwards) the two plain steel strings are closest to the floor and the last wound string is on top- closest to your chin. The first plain steel string on the bottom is your FIRST string and the last wound string is your SIXTH string.

In order to get off to a quick start we are going to mess around in Open G tuning for the first part of this workshop. See, I can remember all too well what I went through learning to play the guitar and I see a lot of folks give up on the instrument because it takes a while before you really start doing anything that sounds like music. By starting out in an open tuning you’ll have a chance to work up some kind of basic right hand technique and start singing songs on your front porch in an afternoon.

Starting out in an open tuning is kind of traditional and nontraditional at the same time. A lot of great music has been made in open tunings over the years but there are a few drawbacks to using them exclusively. Standard tuning was developed for a few reasons- but the main reason is that playing chords just works better under standard tuning. We are going to look into open tunings to get you started on some basic skills- but after this workshop I’m going to go right into standard tuning and stay there for a while.

Ok, enough talking. Grab your guitar and lets get that puppy in tune!

In open G tuning:

  1. Your SIXTH string (the wound string closest to your chin) is tunes to D
  2. Your FIFTH string is tuned to G
  3. Your FOURTH string is tuned to D
  4. Your THIRD string is tuned to G
  5. Your SECOND string is tuned to B
  6. Your FIRST string (the plain steel string closest to the floor) is tuned to D
6 5 4 3 2 1
D G D G B D

Note: Never just crank on your guitar tuners. Always play the open string THEN tune it up. It’ll save you from changing a lot of broken strings.

I strongly recommend that you pick up a chromatic tuner. A standard guitar tuner won’t help with alternate tunings- but a decent chromatic tuner can help you with open G and some of the other tunings I’m going to talk about at the tail end of this workshop. Chromatic tuners can be picked up for as little as fifteen bucks so shop around and find you like. Also look around http://www.google.com for tuners you can either download or use online with a microphone attached to your computer.

If you don’t have a tuner you can tune the guitar to itself by following these steps:

  • Assume (I know, makes an ASS out of U and ME) that the first string is in tune.
  • Tune the second string so that when you fret the second string at the third fret you get the same note as the open first string.
  • Tune the third string so that when you fret the third string at the fourth fret you get the same note as the open second string.
  • Tune the fourth string so that when you fret the fourth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open third string.
  • Tune the fifth string so that when you fret the fifth string at the seventh fret you get the same note as the open fourth string.
  • Tune the sixth string so that when you fret the sixth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fifth string.

Take this slow and easy. Tuning a guitar is a skill you have to develop over time.

Once you get in tune strum down (from the sixth string to the first) across the strings. If you are in tune you’ve just played an open G chord.

Now let’s get together on some kind of rhythm pattern.

Strumming
Hopefully you are holding your guitar so that it’s balanced and your left and right hands don’t need to support the neck or the body to keep it from falling out of your lap.

Place your right hand- or, to keep lefties from feeling left out, your “picking hand”- so that your thumb is resting on the sixth string and your little finger is resting on the top of the guitar after the first string. I usually plant my ring and little finger when I am strumming; some folks just plant the little finger. Either way works as we’re only using the little finger to give us a little bit more stability. Don’t press down with your hand or your fingers and don’t get all tensed up. Get comfortable and set things up so that if you draw your thumb over towards your little finger you wind up strumming across all six strings.

Make sure the strings all ring out. If your little finger is hitting the first string readjust things to that your fist string is freed up.

When you draw your thumb across the strings don’t move your arm or your wrist around that much. The movement here is more from your thumb than anywhere else.

Try is lightly a few times and then give it a good hard strum once or twice. Now strum across the strings four times fairly slowly. When I say “slowly” I don’t mean to drag your thumb across the strings so that each string rings out individually. Make the brush fairly crisp and count out loud each time your strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum

In order to make that a bit smoother start tapping your foot each time you count and strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through that five or six times in a row without stopping. Make an honest effort to keep your speed the same all the way through.

Now run through the same exercise again, but this time lay the index finger of your left (or “fretting hand” for lefties) across the fifth fret. You might have to move your finger around a little bit to get all six strings ringing clearly so take your time with this. I’ve found this is easier if you position the ball of your thumb directly on the centerline of the back of your guitar neck. You don’t need a death grip on the guitar. Just apply enough pressure to get a clean note.

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through this a few times and get things to the point where you can make that barre chord (which is what you are making when you lay your finger across the fifth fret) without slowing down the tempo of the strum.

Once you can go back and forth from playing open strings to the fifth fret at an even speed add in another chord by fretting across the seventh fret.

Bar across the fifth fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Bar across the seventh fret:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Open strings:
Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Now let’s play through this again- but now I am just going to give you the count and the open or barre chords. 0 = open strings 5 = bar the fifth fret 7= bar the seventh fret

0                   7                
1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 
0                   7         0
1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4 | 1 2 3 4

What this is telling you to do is play two sets of four strums with the open G chord, two sets of four strums with the barre chord at the seventh fret and so on.

The “|” symbol is separating each set of four strums into measures. We are going to get into measure and note values later on in this workshop but for right now all you really need to know is that we are playing four beats to each measure.

Run through that a few times. Keep the rhythm steady from measure to measure. Sometimes beginners will make the mistake of resting for a moment between measures and it plays holy hell with the rhythm of the music. Think of the four count as a loop repeating itself over and over again: 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4.

Believe it or not you’ve been playing the old folk songs Skip To My Lou. Now try playing your strum and the chord changes while you sing. Rather than write out the 1234 count I just used a “/” to lay out the rhythm.

 0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 7                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 0                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
7                 | 0
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /  

So it’s two measures of the open chord, two measures barring across the seventh fret, two measures of the open chord, one measure barring across the seventh and one measure of the open chord.

Work on this for a while until you can strum and sing the tune without too much trouble.

What’s Going On?
The question running through your mind right now is probably something along the lines of, “what the heck am I doing?” Well, you have been playing a one-four-five chord progression as a series of quarter note strums.

No, I’m not making this up. Let me explain starting with the chords.

When you made a barre chord on the fifth fret you were making a C chord and at the seventh fret you were making a D chord. The way this works is actually pretty simple.

In Western music (and when I say “Western” I don’t mean cowboy music. It refers to Western civilization there are twelve different notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a note or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F:

A | B C | D | E F | G |

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note and the other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/Ab
1   2   3 4   5   6   7   8 9  10   11 12

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out your chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer.

The ” | ” symbol will be used to represent a half step.

A | B C | D | E F | G |

The frets on your guitar are laid out on half steps. When we tune a guitar to open G the barre chords wind up following the steps of a chromatic scale.

Fret: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
      G | A | B C | D | E  F |  G |

If your guitar is tunes to open G a barre chord at the first fret has to be G#/Ab and a barre chord at the second fret has to be A. If you look at how this is laid out your barre chord at the fifth fret is C and at the seventh fret you get D. Since everything repeats itself after twelve frets you can get another G chord by barring across the twelfth fret.

G-C-D is the I IV V chord progression for the key of G. To understand that we have to take a quick look at how scales are constructed as well as a little musicians trick called the Nashville number system.

Scales
A scale is nothing but a series of notes pulled out of the chromatic scale. Because we are working out of open G tuning for this workshop we are going to build a G major scale.

To figure out the notes of the G scale we need to lay out the string of notes starting with our root note. In this case the root note is G:

G | A | B C | D | E F | G

Now if you notice we started on G and ended on G. That second G is called the octave. It is the same note as the root but higher in pitch. If we wrote this out to work the C scale it would look like this with C as the root note:

C | D | E F | G | A | B C

What we have here is a chromatic scale starting on G and ending on G and a second scale in C. In order to make the first one a G major scale we need to pick seven notes out of the twelve notes in the chromatic scale. In order to do that we just follow a simple formula: Root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step

Here we go:

  • G is the root. A whole step from G is A.
  • A whole step from A is B.
  • A half step from B is C
  • A whole step from C is D
  • A whole step from D is E
  • A whole step from E is. . .F# or Gb. Weðll call it F#
  • A half step from F# is G which gives you the octave.

So your G scale is:

G A B C D E F# G

The Nashville Number System
Once you have your scale figured out number each note:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7  8
G A B C D E F# G

The notes numbered 1, 4 and 5 (G, C and D) will be your major chords for the key of G.

Go back and look at all the songs in the key of G that know (that is, if you are already playing a couple of songs.) You will notice that almost all of them use some combination of G, C and D. Some songs will only have two of the chords but most of the time you will see all three.

The note numbered 6 is going to be your relative minor. In this case Em.

Every root chord has a relative minor chord. We’ll go into this in more detail later on, but every key has a unique number of sharps and flats. The key of C has no sharps or flats and the key of G has one sharp (F#.) The same rule applies to minor keys. Any minor key that has the same number of sharps and flats as a major key is the relative minor of that major key.

It is good to know your relative minor chords (the 6 chord in the number system) because you can swap them around in some situations. If you are playing a song and cannot remember how to make an Am chord you can just play a C chord. It is different but it is close enough that you may get away with it.

The note numbered 2 is going to be both a minor chord and a major chord. In this case Am and A.

Number 3 is where it gets kind of neat because in folk music this is often referred to as an “off chord.” In the key of C your off chord is E and you’ll run into it in songs like Freight Train- if you play it in C.

Your 6 chord can be played as a major chord as well. But it is kind of funky. You will really only use the major 6 once in a great while. In some songs like “Little Maggie” you might run into what some players call a mountain seven. That is when you flat the 7 chord. That is why “Little Maggie” goes from G to F rather than G to F#. Some songs like Cluck Old Hen do the same thing. The “weird modal tuned banjo thing” is just that, a “weird modal banjo thing” that probably came about more by accident (somebody is messing around with a banjo with an out of tune second string and thinks, “Dude! That’s kind of cool”) than anything else.

What’s cool about all of this is that if you go to a jam session with a Post-It note or something on your heel or the back of your headstock with the number system laid out for a few keys you’ll have an easier time playing along with new songs because if the song is in C you can run through the number system in your head:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
C D E F G A B C

and say to yourself, “Ok, in C my three most often used chords are C, F and G.” Right away you can start off in C with everybody else and figure the next chord is probably going to be G or F.

So if we know that G is our open chord and D is the chord at the seventh fret our version of Skip To My Lou could be written out like this:

 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 D                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 G                |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
D                 | G
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /

Capos
One interesting thing about open tuning and bar chords is that you can play in a new key by using a capo. A capo acts just like your finger making a bar chord. You can pick them up in any music store.

If you capo on the second fret your open chord changes from G to A and the chord at the fifth fret (it’s actually the seventh, but we are now counting the second fret as if it was the first fret) becomes D and your chord at the seventh fret becomes . . . if you said “E” we’re on the right track.

Then again, you don’t have to use a capo for that if play the starting with a bar chord rather than the open G:

A (second fret)  |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I do?
  /   /   /   /   |  /   /   /   /   
 E (ninth fret)   |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
 A (second fret)  |
 Lost my  partner | what'll I  do?
 /   /   /   /    |  /   /   /   /   
E (ninth fret)    | A (second fret)
Skip to my lou my | dar-   ling
/   /   /   /     |  /   /   /   /

What frets would you use to play this tune in C? Or D?

Changing the strum
The four strums to each measure pattern we have been playing is probably getting a little boring by now. Let’s take a look at how the strum works and then we’ll be able to mess around with it a little bit.

I have been breaking up your strums into groups of four for a reason. Each set of four strums is a measure in 4/4 time. When I say that a song is in 4/4 time that four slash four or four over four is a time signature. A time signature tells us how many beats are in each measure and the type of note that gets the beat.

Notes can be divided in a lot of ways. A whole note in 4/4 time would be one strum you hold for a count of four.

Strum
  1    2   3   4

A half note is just that- half of a whole note. So you would hold a half note for a count of two.

Strum        strum
  1      2    3    4

A quarter note is, you guessed it, half of a half note. This is what you’ve been playing up to this point.

Strum  strum  strum  strum
   1     2      3      4

An eighth note is half of a quarter note and a sixteenth note is half of an eighth note.

The cool thing about all of this is that you can use any combination of note in a measure ass long as the beats add up to the time signature. In other words in 4/4 time you could play four quarter notes, a half note and two quarter notes, three quarter notes and two eighth notes or any other combination as long as the values of the measure adds up the same as four quarter notes.

For right now strumming four times in each measure is a good way to go simply because it will force you to get used to the rhythm. As you get more confident there are other picking patterns you can mess around with.

Let’s take a quick look at two other picking patterns- but first we have to talk about reading tab

Reading Tab
Tab is just a way to illustrate fingerings on a fretted instrument. You have six lines. Each line represents a string on your guitar. The sixth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top. When any string has a zero you play that string open. The numbers on a string tells you what fret to play. So in this example you would play your sixth string at the sixth fret, your fifth string at the fifth fret, your fourth string at the fourth fret, your third string at the third fret and so on.

|------------------1-|
|---------------2----|
|------------3-------|
|---------4----------|
|------5-------------|
|---6----------------|

A chord diagram is just a picture of the fingerboard. The “x” over some strings tells you not to play that string and the “o” means to play that string open. In the D chord above you don’t play the sixth string. The fifth and the fourth strings are played open. In plain text I usually just write out all strings of the guitar with “0” for open strings, numbers for fretted strings and an “x” for string that are not played. Here are the three chords you have been using in open G tuning:

      D             C              G
 7-7-7-7-7-7   5-5-5-5-5-5    0-0-0-0-0-0

New Picking Patterns The easiest way to start is to let your thumb roll off the sixth string on “one” and strum from the fifth string down on “two”:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|--0-------0--------|--0-------0----------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

We are still playing quarter notes, but by playing the one and three as bass notes we make things more interesting. If you practice that for a while you can get an alternating bass by playing a different bass note for the one and the three:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0----0--0-----|-----0----0--0-------|
|--0----------------|--0------------------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

Or:

|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|-----0-------0-----|-----0-------0-------|
|--0--0-------0-----|--0--0-------0-------|
|----------0--------|----------0----------|
   1  2    3  4        1  2    3  4

Once you get this down with your thumb try messing around with a flatpick.

Try playing The Wabash Cannonball on your own. Strart with the simple four strums to measure pattern and change the pattern as you get used to the feel of the song.

I have broken the first verse into measures with a rough count. You will have to listen to the song a few times (look around for a recording- it’s been recorded about a million times or more) to get the phrasing of the lyrics right.

In the first like {from the} is only a partial measure to “kick off” the tune. Your best bet is to sing “from the” and then start strumming.

Take your time with this and have fun with it.

The Wabash Cannonball
4/4 Time Key of G

             G
{From the} | great Atlantic | Ocean    to |
   1   2      1   2   3   4   1  2  3  4
                   C
the wide Pacific | Shore from the |
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
D
Queen of flowing | mountains to |
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
                          G
the South Belle by the  | door      she's
1      2      3    4      1   2   3   4
G
long and tall and | handsome    well
1     2    3   4    1    2   3   4
                   C
known by one and | all       she's a
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
D
modern combin- |- ation   called
1    2    3   4    1   2   3   4
                      G
the Wabash Cannon- | -ball
1    2    3   4       1   2   3   4

Chorus:

G
Listen to the jingle
                   C
The rumble and the roar
D
riding through the woodlands
                       G
to the hill and by the shore.
G
Hear the might rush of engines
                       C
hear the lonesome hobo squall
D
riding though the jungles on
                 G
the Wabash Cannonball

The Eastern states are dandies so the Western people say
from New York to St. Louis and Chicago by the way
through the hills of Minnesota where the rippling waters fall
no chances need be taken on the Wabash Cannonball

Here’s to Daddy Claxton may his name forever stand
he will always be remembered by the ‘boes throughout our land
his earthly race is over and the curtain ’round him falls
we’ll carry him to victory on the Wabash Cannonball

Give that some time. We have covered a lot of information pretty quickly here. In the next workshop we will go over some new chord forms for open G tuning, and take a look at other alternate tunings.

-Patrick Costello
3/21/04

Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar Basics

Back in 2004 I wrote this guitar workshop out in Notepad to help a friend understand some basic guitar concepts.

Fifteen years later the text-based guitar tab looks archaic as hell, but there is still some good and useful stuff here.

Have fun!
-Patrick
1/17/2018

Country, Folk, Bluegrass and Old Time Rhythm Guitar Basics

It’s a long title because these basic skills apply to a LOT of musical styles. Country guitar in general has always been kind of confusing because people keep trying to pigeonhole musicians into categories. Rather than worry about meeting somebody’s definition of where this stuff fits in a CD collection we’re just going to look at some basic concepts that can be used any way your little old heart desires.

If you are totally new to the guitar you may want to head over to http://www.funkyseagull.com and check out the free “One Finger Guitar” workshop. Standard tuning can be kind of rough for beginners when it comes to making chords so that workshop starts you out playing barre chords in open G tuning. It just gives you a chance to start playing without tearing up your fretting hand.

This is by no means a complete overview of the art and craft of playing rhythm guitar. It’s just enough to get you started. Like any other art form making music on the guitar can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

What this workshop covers is picking up a guitar, tuning it, learning some basic strums and playing a few songs. If you want to go beyond that you can pick up a copy of “The How and the Tao of Folk Guitar Volume One” (just $19.95) at http://www.pik-ware.com or visit http//www.funkyseagull.com and check out our CD ROM video music workshops. If you want to know how I started out on the six-string check out an excerpt from the book at http://www.funkyseagull.com/finding.pdf

For this workshop we are going to look at some basic rhythm concepts along with the bass strum and the alternating bass strum.

That’s enough introductory stuff. Grab your guitar and lets get that puppy in tune!

Tuning
In standard tuning:

  • Your SIXTH string (the wound string closest to your chin) is tuned to E
  • Your FIFTH string is tuned to A
  • Your FOURTH string is tuned to D
  • Your THIRD string is tuned to G
  • Your SECOND string is tuned to B
  • Your FIRST string (the plain steel string closest to the floor) is tuned to E
6 5 4 3 2 1
E A D G B E

Note: Never just crank on your guitar tuners. Always play the open string THEN tune it up. It’ll save you from changing a lot of broken strings.

I strongly recommend that you pick up a chromatic tuner. A standard guitar tuner won’t help with alternate tunings but a decent chromatic tuner can help you with open G and some of the other tunings that I’m going to talk about at the tail end of this workshop. Chromatic tuners can be picked up for as little as fifteen bucks so shop around and find one you like. You can also search under “guitar tuners” at http://www.google.com for tuners you can either download or use online with a microphone attached to your computer.

If you don’t have a tuner you can tune the guitar to itself by following these steps:

  1. Assume (I know, makes an ASS out of U and ME) that the first string is in tune.
  2. Tune the second string so that when you fret the second string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open first string.
  3. Tune the third string so that when you fret the third string at the fourth fret you get the same note as the open second string.
  4. Tune the fourth string so that when you fret the fourth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open third string.
  5. Tune the fifth string so that when you fret the fifth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fourth string.
  6. Tune the sixth string so that when you fret the sixth string at the fifth fret you get the same note as the open fifth string.

Take this slow and easy. Tuning a guitar is a skill you have to develop over time.

In standard tuning strumming the open strings isn’t going to sound all that great, but we don’t want to get into making chords just yet.

Now let’s work on some a basic rhythm pattern.

Strumming
Hopefully you are holding your guitar so that it’s balanced and your left and right hands don’t need to support the neck or the body to keep it from falling out of your lap. In terms of posture I usually recommend that you sit with the “S” curve of the guitar resting on the same leg as your picking hand. Sit up straight in a chair with no arms and make sure your fretting hand, and arm, is nice and relaxed.

Place your right hand or, for you lefties, your “picking hand” so that your thumb is resting on the sixth string and your little finger is resting on the top of the guitar after the first string. I usually plant my ring and little finger when I am strumming. Some folks just plant the little finger. Either way works as we’re only anchoring these fingers to give us a little bit more stability. Don’t press down with your hand or your fingers and don’t get all tensed up. Get comfortable and set things up so that when you draw your thumb over the strings towards your little finger you wind up strumming across all six strings.

REMEMBER:Strumming the open strings in standard tuning will sound discordant. Just work with me here for a while.

Make sure the strings all ring out. If your little finger is hitting the first string readjust things so that your fist string is free to sound clearly.

When you draw your thumb across the strings don’t move your arm or your wrist around too much. The movement here is more from your thumb than anywhere else.

Try this lightly a few times and then give it a good hard strum once or twice. Now strum across the strings four times fairly slowly. When I say “slowly” I don’t mean to drag your thumb across the strings so that each string rings out individually. Make the brush fairly crisp and count out loud each time you strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum

In order to make that a bit smoother start tapping your foot each time you count and strum.

Count:  "One . . . two . . . three . . . four."
        strum     strum      strum       strum
Foot:    tap       tap        tap         tap

Run through that group of four strums five or six times in a row without stopping. Make an honest effort to keep your speed the same all the way through.

What you’ve just played is a four quarter note strum.

What’s a quarter note?

Well, to understand that we have to talk a little bit about note vales.

Note Values
For this workshop we are working in 4/4 time. That just means that the song is sort of broken up into chunks of four beats. A beat is the term we use to describe the pulse of the music.

That four beat rhythm can be broken up in all sorts of ways by giving each note a value in terms of rhythm. A note can be played as a whole note for all four beats, a half note for two beats, a quarter note for one beat or an eighth note for one-half of a beat. The only “rule” is that the all of the notes in a measure have to add up to the value of the time signature. In other words, you couldn’t really play a measure in 4/4 time with three whole notes.

For this basic strum we are playing each strum as a quarter note. As a result we wind up with four strums for each measure in the song.

Chords
Now we can play a quarter note strum, but the open strings in standard tuning sound pretty cheesy. Lets look at some chords.

To simplify things (this is a pretty big workshop after all) we’re just going to use three chords for this workshop. The chord diagrams below use numbers to show you where to put your fingers on the fretboard and a “0” for open strings. An “X” signifies an unplayed string (I’ll explain why we don’t use some strings for these chord forms in a little bit)

Chord:          C             F               G
Strings:   6-5-4-3-2-1   6-5-4-3-2-1      6-5-4-3-2-1   
Fret:      X-3-2-0-1-0   X-3-3-2-1-1      3-2-0-0-0-3

I’ve marked the sixth string on the C and F chords with an “X” because beginners tend to have a hard time fretting all six strings. I’ll write out the “full” chords at the end of the workshop, but for right now take it easy. Making chords on the guitar can be tough at first and you don’t want to stress out your hands to badly- this is supposed to be fun after all.

When it comes to making chords you’re going to have to experiment with things a bit to find the best position for your hands. I’ll write out the chords one more time and add in a line telling you what finger to use:

l=little r=ring m=middle i=index

Strings:   6-5-4-3-2-1   6-5-4-3-2-1      6-5-4-3-2-1   
Fret:      X-3-2-0-1-0   X-3-3-2-1-1      3-2-0-0-0-3
Finger:    X-r-m- -i-    X r-r-m-i-i      r-i-     -m

As you might have noticed, you sometimes have to use a finger to fret more than one string. Mess around with your hand position until you can make the notes sound clearly on each string and then spend a little bit of time just moving from C to G to F chords. Try other random combinations until you can change chords smoothly while keeping the rhythm of the four quarter note strum smooth.

Now let’s take a look at playing a song using this strum. In order to do this without a lot of fuss we’ll use tablature, or “tab” for short.

Reading Tab
Tab is just a way to illustrate fingerings on a fretted instrument. You have six lines. Each line represents a string on your guitar. The sixth string is at the bottom and the first string is on top. When any string has a zero you play that string open. The numbers on a string tell you what fret to play.

So in this example you would play your sixth string at the sixth fret, your fifth string at the fifth fret, your fourth string at the fourth fret, your third string at the third fret and so on.

|------------------1-|
|---------------2----|
|------------3-------|
|---------4----------|
|------5-------------|
|---6----------------|

Let’s play a song!
I have tabbed out the quarter note strum over the lyrics so you can sing this one while you play it. Trust me, if you get used to singing and playing now the more complex rhythm stuff will come a lot easier. Besides, it’s a neat old song.

Boil Them Cabbage Down
    C                       F
|---0----0----0----0----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---1----1----1----1----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---0----0----0----0----|---2---2---2---2---|
|---2----2----2----2----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---3----3----3----3----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---x----x----x----x----|---x---x---x---x---|
  boil them  cab-bage     down     down
    C                        G
|---0----0----0----0----|----3----3----3----3---|
|---1----1----1----1----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---0----0----0----0----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---2----2----2----2----|----0----0----0----0---|
|---3----3----3----3----|----2----2----2----2---|
|---x----x----x----x----|----3----3----3----3---|
   bake them hoe cakes     brown      brown
    C                       F
|---0----0----0----0----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---1----1----1----1----|---1---1---1---1---|
|---0----0----0----0----|---2---2---2---2---|
|---2----2----2----2----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---3----3----3----3----|---3---3---3---3---|
|---x----x----x----x----|---x---x---x---x---|
 the on- ly song that       I  can sing is
    C         G             C     
|---0----0----3----3----|----0----0----0----0---||
|---1----1----0----0----|----1----1----1----1---||
|---0----0----0----0----|----0----0----0----0--*||
|---2----2----0----0----|----2----2----2----2--*||
|---3----3----2----2----|----3----3----3----3---||
|---x----x----3----3----|----x----x----x----x---||
   boil them cab- bage      down

Here are some more lyrics to this tune so you can keep it going for a while:

Went up on the mountain Just to give my horn a blow.
Thought I heard my true love say,
Yonder comes my beau.

chorus:
Boil them cabbage down, down.
Turn them hoecakes down, down.
The only song that I can sing
Is boil them cabbage down.

Possum in a ‘simmon tree,
Raccoon on the ground.
Raccoon says, you son-of-a-gun,
Throw some ‘simmons down.

Someone stole my old coon dog,
Wish they’d bring him back.
He chased the big hogs through the fence
And the little ones through a crack.

Met a possum in the road,
Blind as he could be.
Jumped the fence and whipped my dog
And bristled up at me.

Butterfly he has wings of gold,
Firefly wings of flame.
Bedbug got no wings at all
but he gets there just the same.

This is great, but the strum might get sort of monotonous after a while. To liven things up let’s change the strum a bit.

The Bass Strum
What we are going to play now is the bass strum. It works by playing a bass string as a single quarter note and following it up with a strum.

No, I’m not kidding. That’s all there is to it. I’ll add the lyrics to the first line of tab, but after that it’s all pretty intuitive so I’ll leave it out and save myself some typing.

C                          F
|---------0-----------0---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------1-----------1---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------0-----------0---|----------2-----------2---|
|---------2-----------2---|----3-----3-----3-----3---|
|---3-----3-----3-----3---|----------3-----------3---|
|---------x-----------x---|----------x-----------x---|
  boil  them   cab-  bage    down          down . . . 
 
    C                      G
|---------0---------0---|--------3-----------3-|
|---------1---------1---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------0---------0---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------2---------2---|--------0-----------0-|
|---3-----3-----3---3---|--------2-----------2-|
|---------x---------x---|--3-----3-----3-----3-|
    C                         F
|---------0-----------0---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------1-----------1---|----------1-----------1---|
|---------0-----------0---|----------2-----------2---|
|---------2-----------2---|----3-----3-----3-----3---|
|---3-----3-----3-----3---|----------3-----------3---|
|---------x-----------x---|----------x-----------x---|
    C           G            C
|---------0-----------3---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------1-----------0---|--------1-----------1-|
|---------0-----------0---|--------0-----------0-|
|---------2-----------0---|--------2-----------2-|
|---3-----3-----------2---|--3-----3-----3-----3-|
|---------x-----3-----3---|--------x-----------x-|

In the above bass strum version we are using the root note of the chord as our bass note. What’s the root note? Well, in order to understand that we will need to learn a little bit about scales and some basic music theory.

Basic Music Theory
A scale is just a sequence of notes. The formal term is something like “the key of E is a major mode with a root of E”, but we won’t be getting that technical here so thinking of it as a sequence of notes makes things easier for now.

In Western music we are only working with twelve notes. The twelve notes are named after the letters A through G with a whole or half-step between each pair of letters except between B and C and E and F.

Your half step is either a sharp (#) or a flat (b.)

The half step between A and B can be called either A# or Bb.

A# means that the A note is raised one half step higher. Bb is the B note lowered one half step. A# and Bb are the same note. The other half steps follow the same pattern.

So with all twelve notes laid out you have the chromatic scale:

A A#/Bb B C C#/Db D D#/Eb E F F#/Gb G G#/A

Once you understand the idea of half steps you can just write out the chromatic scale like this to save space and make it a tad clearer:

(The "| "symbol will be used to represent a half step)

A | B C | D | E F | G |

To hear this on your guitar play the third string at the second fret (an A note). Then play that string on each fret all the way through twelve frets. You have just played each note of the chromatic scale. This works because the fretboard is laid out to follow the chromatic scale.

Look at it this way. The third string of your guitar is tuned to G. If we fret the G string at the first fret we get a G#/Ab. Keep that idea moving down the fetboard and . . .

|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|---0----1----2----3----4----5----6----7----8----9----10----11----12-|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
|--------------------------------------------------------------------|
   G  G#/Ab   A  A#/Bb  B    C  C#/Db  D  D#/Eb  E     F   F#/Gb  G 

Each string on your guitar follows the same pattern. The first string is tuned to E so fretting the first string at the first fret gets you an F note and fretting at the third fret gets you a . . . come on, figure this one out on your own . . . if you said “G” you’ve got the idea!

Now that we know where the notes are on the fretboard the next step is to figure out how to organize those notes into scales.

To figure out the notes of the C scale we need to lay out a string of twelve notes starting with our root note.

In this case the root note is C so we start with the C note. Remember, because we are only working with the letters A through G the note after the G note is going to be A.

C | D | E F | G | A | B C

If you notice we started on C and ended on C. That second C is called the octave. It is the same note as the root but higher in pitch. What we have here now is a chromatic scale starting on C and ending on C.

In order to find the C scale we follow this pattern up the scale:

Root, whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step

C is the root. A whole step from C is D A whole step from D is E A half step from E is F A whole step from F is G A whole step from G is A A whole step from A is B A half step from B is C

So your C scale is: C D E F G A B C.

To play this on the guitar we could use the same formula that we used to play the A chromatic scale. We can start this on the second string at the first fret. Why? Because the second string is tuned to B and as a result fretting that B string at the first fret gives you a C note.

A whole step from C is D:

|--------|
|---1--3-|
|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
   C  D

A whole step from D is E:

|-----------|
|---1--3--5-|
|-----------|
|-----------|
|-----------|
|-----------|
   C  D  E

A half step from E is F:

|--------------|
|---1--3--5--6-|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
    C  D  E  F

A whole step from F is G:

|-----------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|-----------------|
    C  D  E  F  G

A whole step from G is A:

|—-v—————–|
|—1–3–5–6–8–10-|
|———————|
|———————|
|———————|
|———————|
C D E F G A

A whole step from A is B:

|------------------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-10--11-|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
|------------------------|
   C  D  E  F  G  A   B

A half step from B is C:

|----------------------------|
|---1--3--5--6--8-10--11--12-|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
|----------------------------|
   C  D  E  F  G  A   B   C

And that gives us a C scale.

That isn’t the only C scale on your guitar. You can play a C scale anywhere on the fretboard. Try playing a C scale staring on the fifth string at the third fret. That’s a C note because the fifth string is tuned to A:

|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|--------------------|
|---0----1----2----3-|
|--------------------|
    A  A#/Bb  B    C

So we start with C:

|-----|
|-----|
|-----|
|-----|
|---3-|
|-----|
   C

The next note in the scale is D- and that just happens to be the next open string:

|--------|
|--------|
|--------|
|------0-|
|---3----|
|--------|
    C  D

After D comes E and F:

|--------------|
|--------------|
|--------------|
|------0--2--3-|
|---3----------|
|--------------|
    C  D  E  F

The next note in the scale in G- and we can move over to the next open string for that note:

|-----------------|
|-----------------|
|---------------0-|
|------0--2--3----|
|---3-------------|
|-----------------|
    C  D  E  F  G

And you just keep that idea going until you hit the next C note:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C

And you can start another C scale from that C note:

|———0–1–|–3–5–7–8-|
|—1–3——–|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
|—————|————-|
C D E F G A B C

So playing a major scale isn’t a big deal. In fact, it’s nothing more than playing a simple pattern of whole and half steps on the fretboard.

Try working out some more scales on your own. For the rest of this particular workshop we will be using the C, F and G scales. To save time I’ll tab the bass-string scales out for you.

C:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C
F:

|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|--------------|
|---------------|-----0--2--3--|
|---------0--1--|--3-----------|
|---1--3--------|--------------|
    F  G  A  Bb    C  D  E   F
G:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|-----------0-|
|---------------|--0--2--4----|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
    G  A  B  C     D  E  F# G

ALTERNATING BASS:

Using the root note for the bass sounds good but it’s kind of boring. In order to give the song a feeling of motion we can alternate the bass. To do this we play the root note for the first bass strum in a measure and either the fifth or the third note of the scale to start the second bass strum:

C:

|---------------|-------------|
|---------------|--------0--1-|
|---------------|--0--2-------|
|------0--2--3--|-------------|
|---3-----------|-------------|
|---------------|-------------|
    C  D  E  F     G  A  B  C
  Root   3rd      5th

So if we use the root and the third note for our bass notes for a C chord we get an alternating bass pattern like this:

C

|-----0-----0--|-|
|-----1-----1--|-|
|-----0-----0--|-|
|-----2---2-2--|-|
|---3-3-----3--|-|
|-----x-----x--|-|

And when you apply that to Boil Them Cabbage Down:

C                 F               C
|-------0-------0---|-----1-------1-|-----0-------0---|
|-------1-------1---|-----1-------1-|-----1-------1---|
|-------0-------0---|-----2---2---2-|-----0-------0---|
|-------2---2---2---|-3---3-------3-|-----2---2---2---|
|---3---3-------3---|-----3-------3-|-3---3-------3---|
|-------x-------x---|-----x-------x-|-----x-------x---|
 boil them cab-bage   down    down  bake them hoe-cakes
    
    G               C               F
|-------3-------3-|-----0-------0---|-----1-------1-|
|-------0-------0-|-----1-------1---|-----1-------1-|
|-------0-------0-|-----0-------0---|-----2---2---2-|
|-------0-------0-|-----2---2---2---|-3---3-------3-|
|-------2---2---2-|-3---3-------3---|-----3-------3-|
|---3---3-------3-|-----x-------x---|-----x-------x-|
   brown  brown   the only song that  I can sing is
    C       G      C
|-------0-------3---|-----0-------0--|-|
|-------1-------0---|-----1-------1--|-|
|-------0-------0---|-----0-------0-*|-|
|-------2-------0---|-----2---2---2-*|-|
|---3---3-------2---|-3---3-------3--|-|
|-------x---3---3---|-----x-------x--|-|
 boil them cab-bage  down

Nothing to it, right?

Give this a shot with your thumb, and then try it with a flatpick.

Until next time, -Patrick 7/29/04