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from David Hamburger’s New School Fingerstyle Blues
Ham’s Blues is a 12-bar blues in E that uses a steady thumb or drone bass in the style of Texas bluesmen like Max Lipscomb and Lightning Hopkins. This straight-eighths, steady-bass groove is a great way to break out of the alternate-bass rut, in addition to freeing things up a bit to concentrate more on improvisation. We’ve added some hammer-on and pull-off double-stop licks and an alternate turnaround to give this tune a more modern feel. Once you’ve gotten the basic outline of the tune down and understand how you’re mixing in these double-stop riffs with the single note licks, try swapping in some other single note pentatonic licks in place of the examples here and make the tune more of your own.
The first thing we need to look at is the hammer-on/pull-off doublestop riff that this tune is based around. You have a steady bass note all the way through the tune, with either the double-stop riff or singlenote riff alternating on top. Let’s address the double-stop riff first.
Picture a D7 chord, and slide it up two frets, making an E7 chord. Now, lose the top note. Then make a bar with your index finger so that you can hammer-on and pull-off from the second fret to the fourth fret and back on the third string. You’ve got a hammer-on to the first fret, the bar on the second fret, then the hammer-on/pull-off combination. Then the whole chord comes off, bar again, and then play all three open strings, finishing with the hammer-on on the first fret.
All the while, your thumb is going, so you need to coordinate which finger strokes are happening at the same time as the bass notes, and which ones are happening in between. You need to do the same type of coordinating when you get to the single-note licks as well. Take a look at the tab to determine where to place the bass notes, then practice the phrase, nice and slow, with both riffs over the bassline. Just take those two measures over and over, until it is comfortable at speed, then proceed to the A phrase.
The A phrase is the same move, except the pull-off is a pull-off to nowhere, happening quickly enough that you don’t notice the open note isn’t really in the chord. Next up is the A single note phrase, which goes all the way down the neck, finishing up in the open position. Start with a slide into the 9th fret on the G string, going to the 9th fret on the high E string, then pull-off to the 7th fret. Then play the 8th fret on the B string with a little bend, then the open E, moving down to the open position, with the rest based on an openA7 chord shape.
The turnaround is an F#7, which is the II chord, moving to an open A7, and then finishing with the B7. Everything is pretty straightforward, until we get to the A chord, which is anticipated, so hit the A chord with your fingers before you hit the open A bass note. Your fingers are already there from the F#7, so it’s a simple change of the root note to go from one chord to the other. Just be sure to hit with your fingers and then your thumb.
The single note run at the end is a funky, sped-up version of a Muddy Waters turnaround, which entails hitting the open A, hammering on two notes, over to the D string and back, followed by two more pull-offs. The double hammer-ons and pull-offs give the riff a fast feel. Since we don’t have the bass going on that riff, incorporate your thumb into the run to help add speed.
The rake at the opening is really a classic blues guitar sound. Take your index finger and start on the high string, with your left hand making an E chord; get your left hand finger all flattened out and pull back toward your head, but when you get to the low E, your thumb is already there, underneath the string. Instead of picking it the normal way, pull it and release, letting the string snap to get the sound we’re looking for.
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