Blues Again

Here is a video lesson on the basics of the blues.   This is a three minute video of the 8 bar blues. 

We started with 12 bar blues last time we had a blues theme and my understanding was and is very basic.If you know what a 1 4 5 progression in major chords means you can play any 12 bar blues as follows:1 1 1 1      for the first 4 bars   4  4   1  1  for the second 4 bars  and either  5  4  1  5   for a turnaround or 5  4 1  1   to finish the song.   The “rule of 41” means   1111   4411   5  41 5  and helps to remember the pattern.

Since then I’ve learned that most blues are played with a dominant 7th chord which just means a major 7th with a flat 7th.Stoo pointed out at out last session that jazz chords like  the 9th, 11th, and 13th  are all built on top of the dominant 7th.

We can take the basic 12 bar pattern and just play all 7th chords or we can play any mixture of major triads and dominant 7th chords.   I like the basic pattern because if you vary the right hand technique you can amuse yourself for hours just running the numbers, strumming and playing arpeggios.  We can even Jazz it up by introducing 9th chords.   The variations are endless and I’m learning something every day.

So what can we learn from the video?  First, 8 Bar is another common form.   This is useful as a basis for practicing chords and right hand technique.  It can also be used for song writing and for improvised performances.  Second it is a very good example of what I’m looking for as video footage for instruction.  Third it introduces some interesting chords both the 7th and 9th.   The shapes are basic I’m sure most of us know them.

The progression is just 1 5 4 4 for the first line followed by 1 5 1 5 for the second line with 1 5 1 1 to finish. The video uses A7 for 1, and D9,E9 for 4 and 5 but you can use plain ole major triads A D and E and it will still sound OK.

When we started this adventure I was trying to produce both workshop and performance videos.   I ran out of time.   These days the video focus is on performance.  That way we can all track improvements.   If anyone would like to offer a workshop please let me know off line and we can create the workshop video apart from the regular circle then we can share the workshop with the circle and have a brief Q&A.  This is pretty much the format we had with Stoo’s excellent workshop on non-standard tunings.

Jazz it up

Mar 10 7pm – 9 pm

The main reason for having a Theme for a circle is to give us something to talk about in our introductions to the music we play.  We don’t need to exactly follow a pattern.   We can have folks at a songwriters circle talk about why they don’t write songs.   The idea is simply to indicate a path in the direction of more and better music.
I was at a Foothills Acoustic Music event the other day that had a fine set of workshops delivered by very experienced musicians.  Barry Truter was there and talked about rhythms.  4/4, 3/4, 7/4,  5/4.   Another presentation was about adding color to your chords.   We learned about add 9s and suspended 4ths.   
What we heard was just what you hear every time you listen to a good folk or country performance.   Those hammers and pulls all have technical names.   The names are only handy if you need to change the key and when you want to talk about what you are playing.  Otherwise feel free to  play any note/fret that you can reach  that sounds good.  That is how most of us learned to play.   We were told to just use a basic grip then see what works.  This is very good advice and I really enjoyed the presentation.

Some thoughts on Theme and Genre

Thomas is blue. Charles is green.

Hello Charles.        I have been rethinking your suggestions for a theme for the next meeting. I was ok with classical and Jazz. But what about people who haven’t been into classical, and have nothing to present? Would they feel excluded, and possibly even choose to skip the evening? It takes me back to the evening which was supposed to be bluegrass, and although I don’t play bluegrass, I coped by suggesting that two main themes of bluegrass are “coal mining” and “moonshine liquor”.

I’m hoping that folks who might not care to participate in a particular genre or theme will still come to listen and perhaps hear something they can use for future circles.

        The thought came to me that bluegrass, like classical and jazz, is a genre, not a theme. But then the thought also came to me that “theme” for guitar pickers means something different than for folksingers. So maybe specifying the genre is appropriate in this context, but there is still room for caution.

         Of course, there is always the debate as to whether to have a theme at all. The only difference between a song circle and an open stage is that your 3 songs are spread out over the evening instead of all at once. We wouldn’t suggest to people performing at an open stage that there is a particular theme for the evening. On the other hand, one advantage of having a theme in a picker’s circle is that it opens up the evening to more than just the songs that are being performed. We get into exploration of the given genre which can lead to some useful insights. I wonder if this should be put to the whole gang for discussion.


This discussion goes to the issue of what are we doing here. My reason for hosting a Pickers circle was to improve my playing and to provide a forum for others to do the same. That was in response to a suggestion that we do something for beginners. I’m amazed at the quality of players who have showed up to help out. We must be doing something right.

Garth has suggested a number of other possibilities:

More blues, Celtic , roots, funny , hurt in’, prine,Dylan,Emmy Lou Harris,Beatles  ,sad ,old,happy so we have lots of things to do.

The You tube channel and the website give us the opportunity to build a resource for interested players. I’ve found that most of the learning is done creating the lesson plan. Explaining things to others makes us careful and leaving our work on the web is an incentive to continuous improvement.

My current thought is that we should move to Jazz and Classical guitar for a couple of sessions then circle back to blues and roots. If we are responsive to suggestions we can stay relevant to our audience. If we can improve on past workshops we may create a lasting resource for new performers.

Please email me or add comments to this post.

Back to the Blues

7 pm February 10 — Sign up for the Zoom Link.

We have a theme.   I might have something to say about playing the major scales and what changes make them blue.   We have been doing some research into software that will allow folks to Jam together.  So far Jamulus is the product I would choose.

If you join the circle you may listen or make a request of any other player.   They might say no but you can ask.   You can ask a question of any other player.  For example, “Why do people use alternate tunings?”.   Someone will have an answer.  You can give us a song or tell us why you want to play. 

If you have some political point of view that scans and rhymes and you can play along with the result, that is welcome too.  Political songs are a very old musical tradition.  With a day or so advance notice I’ll even provide a breakout room for those who just want to rant.   Everyone is welcome.  Banjo pickers, flat pickers, cotton pickers.  Live better through music.

The Cat Came Back — 12 Jan

Here is an old tune that should be good practice for beginner and intermediate pickers. (33) Harry S. Miller – The Cat Came Back – YouTube. This version fits the riff that Thomas describes in his recent post.

Another version by Cisco Huston (33) Cisco Houston – “The Cat Came Back” – YouTube has the melody I remember .

How many ways can we play the cat came back? If you have a favorite version post the link in the comments. We do the usual song circle when were done with the cat.

White Christmas


 A       3    2  0 2   Bm    F#6   9  
 I'm dream  ing of a   white Christmas
 D     4    5   E7   10 9    7  A
 Just like the ones   I used to know
        0    2   2    F#7    0   D        Dm7
 Where the treetops glisten and children listen
    A    3       2    0   2  Bm      E7  3 2 0
 To hear sleigh bells in the snow
 A       3    2  0  2   Bm    F#6   9  
 I'm dream   ing of a   white Christmas
 D    4   5   E7   10  9    7  A
 With every  Christmas card I write
 May your days be merry and bright
         A        D     E7       A
 And may all your Christmases be white 

This arrangement in 4/4 time has the melody mostly on the top two strings. The numbers are the fret numbers of the melody on either the b or e strings.  The E7 chord is usually played on the 7th fret 779797 except for the last line in each verse where it is the usual E7 in first position.

Pickers Circle Dec 23rd

Theme: Songs for Christmas

It’s holiday season and Thomas has generously provided us with material we can work on all year long.

Notes for Silent Night

This is a simple arrangement of “Silent Night” which is a good place to start if you have never done an instrumental before. It is at the beginner level, but is starting to get close to intermediate folk guitar. I’ll play it and answer questions on Wednesday, but in the meantime, you can start working from the tabulature. It is in the key of G, and although you might not recognize it, you will be in the G chord most of the song. Even if you have just been playing for a few months, if you are familiar with the G, C, and D chords, this arrangement might require a bit of work, but you will be able to manage it, and you could easily have it ready to go by Christmas day.

Right hand

      In this arrangement, the underlined notes are the melody notes, and should all be played with the thumb. Play it through a few times playing just the melody notes, and let your memory give you the timing, until you can hear the melody that you are playing. The other notes are played with the index and middle fingers, eg in the first measure, the thumb plays the first (melody) note which is on the 4th string, the index finger plays the note on the third string, and the middle finger plays the note on the second string. (If you have never done fingerpicking at all, the thumb strikes the string downward, and the fingers strike the string upward. Just play the first three notes over and over until it starts to feel natural, then play the first two measures until you recognize the melody coming out.) Notice that nowhere do you play two notes at a time (please ignore the smudge under the 3rd note, 2nd measure) , so in this sense, it’a easier than, say, Freight Train. Notice, also, that there are 6 notes in every measure, thus, the counting is simply “1 & 2 & 3 & “ all the way through, which gives you a nice, smooth 3/4 time. Once you start playing all of the notes, consciously play the melody notes as loud as possible , and the other notes somewhat quieter, to keep them in the background, just supplying the rhythm. You can cut back on the volume of the melody notes once you have a good separation between the melody notes and the rhythm (background) notes.

Left hand

     For the most part, the left hand is quite easy. Notice all of the 0’s. That’s where you’re playing an open string, and not using the left hand at all. Except for the C chord in the 3rd and 4th lines, the whole song can be played in the second position. This means that your first finger will be on the second fret, your second finger might be on the third fret, etc. The 5th and 6th measures are in a D chord, which you are probably used to playing with 3 fingers. In this case, it’s better to bar the first 3 strings with the first finger and use the 2nd finger on the 3rd fret 2nd string. To get from the D chord to the G chord in the 7th measure, just move your second finger over to the first string. In the 17th and 18th measures, you want to use the 3-string bar D chord again so that your 4th finger can reach the 5th fret without too much difficulty. These two measures are the most difficult, so work on them separately. In the 19th measure, which is a G chord, the only finger you are using is your 2nd finger on the first string, so for measure 20, add your first finger on the second string and your 3rd finger on the 3rd string. From here, you’re on the home stretch, which is easy.

Ps: If you haven’t read guitar tabulature before, the six lines represent the 6 strings of the guitar, and the numbers show which fret you play that string on. Eg, form a D chord, then look at the 5th measure in the tabulature. Your left hand is now ready to play the 5th measure. Read across from left to right, as you would with standard music notation or when reading a book.

Notes for “What Child is This/Greensleeves”

     This arrangement  is in 3/4 time and the key of Am. The melody notes are underlined, so you can go through it a few times playing just the melody. Note that there is only 1 note (a pick-up note) in the first measure. To preserve integrity, the last measure has only 2 beats, so that the two together add up to a full measure of 3/4 time. This arrangement was done from a folk rather than a classical approach, so think in terms of chords, and use the chords written in above the score, and it all falls together more easily.

    The verse is a steady flow of 1/8 notes, so count 1&2&3& throughout the verse, except at the end of the first phrase (measure 9), where there is one note missing in order to give a feeling of finality. Count 1 2&3& for this measure. The count in the chorus is just 123, as you are playing 3 1/4 note beats in each measure. This is done so that we can get more power at the start of the chorus by using block chords (measures 18, 19, and 20, then again at 26,27 and 28).  The 3/4 time rhythm in the chorus is carried by the bass, so use the thumb for all 3 notes. Eg in measure18, at the start of the chorus, you would use the thumb on the 5th, then the 4th and then the 3rd strings. Measures 19, 21, 23, 25, 27,29, and 32 have a melody note added between the 2nd and 3rd beats, so here you would count 1 2&3 in each of those measures.

     If you have been playing at the intermediate level for a while, and if you start learning this one today, you could be playing it by Christmas morning. I will go over it at the meeting next Wednesday Dec 23 (that is, if we have a meeting that day), and discuss any problems that have arisen. If you are new to the intermediate level (eg, you have just learned “Freight Train” as your introduction to Travis picking, you probably won’t have it ready to perform on Christmas morning. You can, however, play it all year as “Greensleeves” and have it ready for next year.

     If we are still doing Picker’s Circle next year, I’ll introduce more Christmas songs in about October or November.


Here is my arrangement of White Christmas — Enjoy Charles.

Frog went a courtin’

Wedderburn’s Complaynt of Scotland (1548) under the name
“The Frog cam to the Myl dur”

1 2 3 41 2 3 4
Frog went a-courtin’ and he did ride, Uh-hah
AA E7 E7
Frog went a-courtin ,and he did ride, Uh-hah
Frog went a-courtin’, and he did ride, With asword and a pistol by his side, Uh
-hah Uh-hah Uh-hah
Said He, “Miss Mouse,are you within?” Uh-hah
Said He, “Miss Mouse,are you within? Uh-hah
Said He, “Miss Mouse,are you within?”“Yes, kind sir,I sit and spin, Uh
-hah Uh-hah Uh-hah

[Verse 4]
He took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-hah
Took Miss Mousey on his knee, Uh-hah
Took Miss Mousey on his knee
Said, “Miss Mousey, will you marry me?” Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 5]
“Not Without my uncle Rat’s consent, Uh-hah”
“Not Without my uncle Rat’s consent, Uh-hah”
“Without my uncle Rat’s consent
I wouldn’t marry the president, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah”
[Verse 6]
Uncle Rat laughed shook his fat sides, Uh-hah
Uncle Rat laughed shook his fat sides, Uh-hah
Uncle Rat laughed shook his fat sides
To think his niece would be a bride, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 7]
Where shall the wedding supper be? Uh-hah
Where shall the wedding supper be? Uh-hah
Where shall the wedding supper be?
Way down yonder in a hollow tree, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 8]
What should the wedding supper be? Uh-hah
What should the wedding supper be? Uh-hah
What should the wedding supper be?
Fried mosquito in a black-eye pea, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 9]
Well, first to come in was a flyin’ moth, Uh-hah
First to come in was a flyin’ moth, Uh-hah
First to come in was a flyin’ moth
She laid out the table cloth, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 10]
Next to come in was a juney bug, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a juney bug, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a juney bug
She brought the whisky in a water jug, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 11]
Next to come in was a little black tick, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a little black tick, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a little black tick
She ate so much she made us sick, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 12]
Next to come in was a big black snake, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a big black snake, Uh-hah
Next to come in was a big black snake
Ate up all of the wedding cake, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 13]
Next to come in was the old gray cat, Uh-hah
Next to come in was the old gray cat, Uh-hah
Next to come in was the old gray cat
Swallowed the mouse and ate up the rat, Uh-hah ah hah, ah hah
[Verse 14]
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook, Uh-hah
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook, Uh-hah
Mr. Frog went a-hoppin’ up over the brook
A lily-white duck come and swallowed him up, Uh-hah ah hah, ah
[Verse 15]
A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf, Uh-hah
A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf, Uh-hah
A little piece of cornbread layin’ on a shelf
If you want anymore, you can sing it yourself, Uh-hah ah hah,
ah hah


1 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 61 2 3 4 5 6 1 2 3 4 5 6
An earthlynursesits andsings And
aye shesings alily wean And
little ken I mybairn’s father. Far
C 2 3 4 Em 6EmAm . . . . . D
less the land that he dwells in
An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye, she sings by lily wean -
And little ken I my bairn's father
Far less the land where he dwells in
For he came on night to her bed feet
And a grumbly guest, I'm sure was he
Saying - Here am I, thy bairn's father
Although I be not comely
I am a man upon the land
I am a silkie on the sea
And when I'm far and far frae land
My home it is in Sule Skerrie
And he had ta'en a purse of gold
And he had placed it upon her knee
Saying - Give to me my little young son
And take thee up thy nurse's fee
And it shall come to pass on a summer's day
When the sun shines bright on every stane
I'll come and fetch my little young son
And teach him how to swim the faem
And ye shall marry a gunner good
And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be
And the very first shot that e'er he shoots
Will kill both my young son and me

Pickers Circle 9 Dec

Theme: I got rhythm?

I got a question about strumming the other day and I realized that there is a lot about this that I don’t know so I thought an evening devoted to the topic would be in order.

For a dancer the basic rhythms are Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep and Tango. The more adventurous can try swing/jive, Cha-cha, Rhumba and Samba. Each of these has an associated time signature and tempo and a count for the basic step. How many examples can we play in a circle?

Guitarists starting out can stick to 4/4 time, think foxtrot or twostep count 1 2 3 4. Waltz time, 3/4, would be next then the fast waltz in 6/8. For me the best way to keep time has been using a metronome and tapping my foot. This is harder than it seems but worth practicing.

Here is the music for Freight Train in 4/4 time and here is a metronome. Strum this at 60 beats per minute and read the bar number off the top of the sheet. One of the easiest songs to play in 6/8 time is Silkie, from an early Joan Baez recording. Here are the chords and the timing in 6/8.