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Fingerpicking Guitar in Dropped D Tuning

One simply cannot talk about people of importance to this genre without tipping the hat to the most masterful musician, teacher, musicologist, producer, folklorist and preservationist of the traditional blues. By now, Stefan Grossman is a venerated, iconoclastic and respected acoustic blues figure of mega-proportions. He came out of the vibrant Greenwich Village, New York, 1960s scene around Washington Square, where so many American folk and blues musicians launched their careers. His friend and occasional collaborator, Steve Katz, formerly of the Even Dozen Jug Band, the Blues Project and Blood, Sweat & Tears, once half jokingly told this writer: “There we were, all these New York Jews playing the black blues.” Indeed, the blues had a strong influence on young New Yorkers during the folk revival. These musicians, Stefan Grossman, Happy & Artie Traum, Danny Kalb, and many others, in turn had a powerful influence on the acceptance of the blues by the American baby boomer generation at large; and, they significantly helped to launch the folk, roots & blues revival, thereby reinvigorating the careers of many original blues musicians whose careers had waned.

Many people know Stefan Grossman as the paramount teacher and entrepreneur in what has become the world’s largest “blues school”, Stefan Grossman’s Guitar Workshop. He is one of the most skilled guitarists in the genre, having been a student of Rev. Gary Davis in New York City. He also picked up lessons directly from Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and others.

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    Fingerpicking Guitar in Dropped D Tuning

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    I love playing in the Dropped D Tuning. The guitar is tuned D A D G B E and this allows you to easily play in the keys of D and G. Playing in the key of D is especially enjoyable as having the low bass sixth string tuned an octave below the fourth string can create a powerful alternating bass. Lonnie Johnson was the "governor of blues guitar" in the 1920s and 30s. He played hundreds of blues in a Dropped D tuning. He was able to contrast a fluid melodic line against the low bass. Blues For Lonnie puts together some of these licks and hopefully will give you insight into his musical world. 

    But the Dropped D tuning also works well for arranging Celtic airs and dance tunes and to move away from the alternating bass. Pretty Girl Milking A Cow features a beautiful and evocative melody. The chord voicings create a lilting feel. Likewise, Amazing Grace works well in Dropped D. The tuning allows the melody to sing in both the treble and bass. Each passage creating its own distinct coloring.

    Contrasting against these two slow melodies are The Blarney Pilgrim and The Drunken Wagoner. Both have three distinct sections. The Blarney Pilgrim is an Irish jig and is played in the Key of G. The Drunken Wagoner is an American fiddle tune in the Key of D. Duck Baker arranged this and I learnt it from him. It's a challenging instrumental with a dynamite first section. The arrangement features various right and left hand techniques. 

    Midnight on the Water was written by the legendary Texas fiddler, Luke Thommason (father of Benny Thommason). It is a stunning waltz and has been played by many musicians. Duck Baker showed John Renbourn and I his arrangement in Dropped D and we recorded it as a duet. The solo version stands up well and is lovely to play.

    So there you have it. Over two hours of music and instruction. Blues, Celtic Airs and Jigs, American fiddle tunes and an English hymn make up this lesson. Hopefully these arrangements will give you hours of challenges and enjoyment. 

    Titles include: Pretty Girl Milking A Cow, The Blarney Pilgrim, Blues For Lonnie, Amazing Grace, The Drunken Wagoner and Midnight On The Water 

    130 minutes • Level 3 • Detailed tab/music PDF file on the DVD

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