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Old 01-10-2021, 06:06 AM
JonPR JonPR is offline
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Originally Posted by NormanKliman View Post
Yes, of course there is. Thanks for such a considerate and thoughtful post.
Originally Posted by NormanKliman View Post
Gary Davis said on several occasions that he played with only thumb and forefinger, sometimes adding, “because that’s all you need.” It seems clear he greatly developed that style, but I assume he wasn’t its creator.
Yes! I forgot about him. He did indeed play with thumb and index alone, as can easily be seen here:
Originally Posted by NormanKliman View Post
It sounds to me like Blind Blake played almost entirely with thumb and forefinger. You might remember that I was asking about West Coast Blues a while back. That’s the only one of his that I’ve spent some time studying, so maybe I shouldn’t be talking (you’ve studied more of his material than I have, as I recall), but it seems to me he used mostly thumb and forefinger. When I play West Coast Blues, I have to slip in a middle finger once in a while, and I assume he did, too, but nearly all of it can be played without the ring finger. Once you start using the thumb with a little more oomph on beats 2 and 4—enough to carry through to the trebles—, it’s surprising how much can be done with just thumb and forefinger.
Good points. I don't know that many Blind Blake tunes; I'd find it difficult to use thumb+1 for Diddy Wah Diddy or Southern Rag (IMO they were played thumb+2, they're certainly much easier that way), but I'm sure you're right thumb+1 works for most. He was certainly busy with his thumb, much like Merle Travis was.

Skip James, meanwhile (like Mississippi John Hurt) used thumb+2: (mainly index obviously, but plenty of middle there too.)
Originally Posted by NormanKliman View Post
I haven’t heard anyone in the first half of the 20th century use their ring finger as part of their approach to playing guitar (to be clear: using it frequently and in American blues and folk music). Now then, there are plenty of old players I’ve never listened to, or maybe I’ve heard it done and haven’t noticed, so it’s just an educated guess.
OK, if we're talking use of ring finger, I agree.
But then not many of the later players use their ring either - at least not when paying the alternating bass style. It would be different when acoustic fingerstylists play in a more arpeggiated style - i.e., more like a classical way of playing chords.

IOW, maybe this comes down to the style of the music being played - specifically whether alternating bass is used. I know I have seen some beginners attempt alternating bass using their index instead of thumb on bass beats 2 and 4 - a real no-no! That might well be how a classically trained player might approach it, especially when bass notes occur on the 3rd string. But the whole idea of that style is the thumb leads, striking every beat. Get it right, and you really do only need one finger for most standard patterns; a second finger comes in when a treble line requires an additional note. The ring would only be used when a 4-string chord was required - and even then, a lot of those old players would just rake with the thumb (as those videos show).

I.e., I guess you're right that the post 1960s players might choose to use the ring occasionally, perhaps to get a cleaner sound (for pretty folk styles ) than those thumb rakes (or index strums) you hear in the old blues tunes. One wouldn't have to be classically trained to think of that: it would make sense of you're arpeggiating a chord with 4 or more strings to allocate one finger per string as much as possible. (I'm thinking something like Paul Simon's Scarborough Fair, that he got from Martin Carthy. Here's Carthy in 1963, using thumb+3: Obviously that's a much more classically-influenced style than "Travis picking"!)
"There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." - Leonard Cohen.

Last edited by JonPR; 01-10-2021 at 06:13 AM.
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