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Talkin' Blues: Using Tremolo Picking to Pump Up a Simple Melody

Tremolo is the technique of sustaining (actually rearticulating) a note with fast, controlled alternate picking (not to be confused with amp tremolo, which varies the volume). Tremolo originated as a way to maintain notes on acoustic stringed instruments beyond their natural decay time to emulate the long, sustaining notes of the human voice or a wind instrument. While the electric guitar offers other options for sustaining a note, tremolo picking a simple melody gives it a kinetic quality that can transform it into something energetic and memorable and create a virtual “wall of sound.”

Talkin' Blues: Rhythm and Touch

A blues phrase is made up of three ingredients: what you play (the notes), when you play (rhythm) and how you play (your touch and sound). When players focus mainly on the what—scale patterns, arpeggios, picking technique and so on—the result tends to be a solo with lots of notes in constant motion, but if you change your focus to the when and how, you can deliver a breathtaking solo while barely moving your fretting hand.

Talkin' Blues: Using Your Pick-Hand Fingers to Pluck Strings and Create Licks That "Pop"

Last month we examined the role of the picking hand, particularly the use of bare fingers, in creating dynamics and adding dimension to your phrasing. Early in the electric blues era, this bare-handed approach was especially popular among “down-home” (rural southern) players, who also developed a variation on bare-fingered technique called chicken pickin’. The musical potential of imitating hens clucking in a barnyard may be somewhat limited, but the technique also opens the door to a variety of funky, percussive phrases.

Talkin' Blues: Lonnie Mack and the Birth of Blues-Rock

Fifty years ago, during the short interlude between Elvis and the Beatles, there was a brief sighting of that rarest of species: the “instrumental hit record.” Riding on the coattails of surf music came a spate of non-vocal bestsellers in styles ranging from cool R&B (Booker T. & the MGs’ “Green Onions”) to funky piano jazz (Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd”) to shuffle blues (Freddie King’s “Hide Away”).

Talkin' Blues: How to Play Soul Blues

By the early Sixties, the blues branch of the popular music tree was rapidly thinning. One of the main factors contributing to its demise was rhythm. After decades of dance-floor popularity, triplet-based shuffles and swing grooves had started to be viewed as decidedly old-school, eclipsed by the straight-eighth-note-based rhythms of R&B and rock and roll.

Talkin' Blues: Chromatic Phrasing

Talkin' Blues: All-In-One Shuffle Rhythm

Thirty years ago this November, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble laid down the tracks that would become Texas Flood, and among the many jaw-dropping skills Vaughan displayed on his debut album was the massive shuffle groove on "Pride and Joy."

Talkin' Blues: Pedal-Point Licks

A pedal point is a single note sustained (or repeatedly articulated) against a moving melody. It adds dimension to a melody by highlighting its "push and pull" against a central note, which is usually, not not exclusively, the tonic of the key or root note of a chord.

Talkin' Blues: The Gospel of Pops Staples

Ask 10 guitar players who epitomized the sound of 20th-century blues guitar and you might get 10 different answers. Ask the same question about gospel guitar and the list is likely to shrink to one: Roebuck "Pops" Staples.

Talkin' Blues: New Orleans, Part 2

Last month, we analyzed the densely layered rhythmic blend of tresillo, backbeat and triplets that powered many classic New Orleans-based R&B hits. This month, we'll look at the city's unique spin on one of the fundamental grooves of humanity itself: the two-beat.