Winter can be a time for woodshedding, but summer heat and humidity can make a person want to hibernate, too, and if you’re gonna hide from the heat, you’re gonna need DVDs. Here are a couple new summer releases that are sure to teach, inspire, and make you want to pick up that guitar and do a little pickin’.
A Lesson with Steve Earle: Guitars, Songs and Picking Techniques
There’s no songwriter cooler than Steve Earle—gritty, honest, angry, snarky, and smart; he’s also prolific, gifted, and troubled, but mostly he’s a hell of a writer, and a darn fine picker, too. In a conversation format, Happy Traum does a great job asking questions and prompting Earle to teach picking techniques and talk about songwriting in this two-hour DVD lesson.
Earle states that he’s played “way more solo than with a band,” and so his style is very self-contained. He’s very concerned with what he calls “keeping the heartbeat going,” which is the thumb-pickin’ part—the alternating bass line. His style revolves around simple guitar riffs that more imply than convey melody, which is tougher to do than it looks.
Earle demonstrates eight of his best-loved songs, with a split screen showing left and right hand up close and personal at the same time. He takes us through “Tennessee Blues,” “Sparkle and Shine,” “Ft. Worth Blues,” “Hometown Blues,” “South Nashville Blues,” “This City,” “Satellite Radio,” and the iconic “Copperhead Road,” starting on mandolin, and finishing on his trusty signature Martin M-21.
He also talks about his collection of vintage acoustic guitars, which is somewhat of an obsession for Earle. We see a few different vintage Martins from his collection as he talks very lovingly and excitedly about them—an unexpected treat.
Fingerpicking Hank Williams: Guitar Arrangements for Western Swing and Honky Tonk Classics (taught by Toby Walker)
Toby Walker is a veteran fingerpicker who’s put together a series of lessons that will make you the most popular gittar picker around any campfire. Walker teaches the classic Hank Williams tunes: “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Move it on Over,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Honky Tonkin’,” on this 100-minute DVD.
In addition to teaching these particular songs, Walker talks quite a bit about the process he went through to arrange these tunes, which are some universal ideas that will serve you well when you find tunes you might want to arrange yourself. These songs all require the player to keep a muted alternating bass line going while playing a melody, and what Walker calls “tinsel:” the little extra flourishes and ornaments that bring a piece to life. I happen to be of the opinion that anything that teaches us to be more self-contained and complete guitar players is good, and I’m very impressed with the way this DVD goes about doing just that.
The instruction is remarkably detailed and clear, with a split screen showing close-ups of both right and left hands. Walker literally takes us note-by-note through each song, slowing everything down and talking through every riff. This is fantastic, because there are all kinds of licks and ideas that can apply to other songs, like walking bass, double-hammer-ons, slides, and little licks that imply chords without actually playing them. Even if you go through only one song, you’ll learn tons of techniques. Each song is arranged with multiple sections, so there are several styles being taught, from blues to boogie-woogie to honky tonk and Western swing, sometimes within one single tune.
The Power of Claw: A Complete Course in Clawhammer Guitar (taught by Steve Baughman)
Clawhammer banjo is one of the sweetest, happiest sounds out there. Steve Baughman brings that warm joy to fingerstyle guitar in a power-packed set of lessons that truly does go from the most elementary techniques to mind-blowingly complex and very advanced things like percussive slapping, tapping, “clawmonics” (harmonics done with claw techniques), and funk grooves, all in 70 tightly packed minutes.
Baughman is a wonderfully encouraging presence through this, despite having ferociously intimidating chops himself. He seems utterly relaxed, calm, and patient (of course, he really doesn’t have to show you that same lick 100 times with the miracle of the DVD lesson). The lessons are organized quite sensibly and progressively, starting with what he calls the “bum-ditty,” which is the nitty-gritty of the whole thing. Once you master the bouncing little groove with your right hand, everything follows on from that, from playing simple tunes to adding in the super fancy stuff. The “Bells and Whistles” section isn’t something you want to jump straight to, trust me! But once you get there, there probably won’t be much of anything you can’t do.
This DVD will probably take some time to get through, and the technique is something that I am confident I will use on a very regular basis. Clawhammer is, at its foundation, a gentle technique—a stress-free and soothing way to spend many a summer evening on the front porch.