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Mississippi John Hurt

I owe him a lot. After I had picked up which fingers went where as regards fingerpicking I got a book published by Oak Publications (long gone now, I think) containing the notation (this was before the days of tablature) of this man’s tunes. And I learned and practiced just about every damn’ one. Even tried to sing them. “Stagolee” and “CC Rider” readily spring to mind. I spent so long with this book that his style has been irrevocably embossed onto mine – or the other way around. In fact, my style is largely predicated on his. Which is a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing because it’s easy to learn and alternate bass fingerstyle sure provides your tunes with plenty of forward momentum, when needed.

The downside is that the very regularity of the thumb movement becomes so firmly embedded in the muscle memory that it can be hard to break out of without having to think about it. Or to put it another way: for a long time whenever I picked up my guitar and start noodling, I just fell into an alternating bass style which became limiting and frustrating after a while. It’s no longer as inevitable as it once was although when I’m putting together some up tempo stuff, it still permeates the results.

For a listener, the boom-chick-boom-chick of an alternating bass fingerpicking style can be infectious. For the player, recuperation can take a long time.

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I used to play with a flatpick…

… but gave it up after it flew out my fingers and struck an audience member in the eye!

Well, that’s the story I tell, anyway. Consequently, I’ve had to arrange some songs for fingerstyle which involved many happy hours of figuring out new nail-breaking preventative measures. A number of songs haven’t lent themselves to be rearranged for fingerstyle, so they’ve bitten the dust except for a few phrases that could be cannibalized and reconfigured. A few others have proven to be susceptible to recasting as fingerpicking tunes and I think have even been improved, thereby. It’s been interesting finding ways to pick out melodies with the fingers that previously had been picked with plastic which has involved using two fingers on the same string – or thumb and fingers – which, while it maybe common practice of a classical guitar player, is a bit of a unusual discipline for a “folk” guitar player who is used to anchoring fingers to particular strings.

The end result is a few songs, having been thus rearranged, that have a quirky feel. A challenge to play, yes, but worth it.

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Fingerpicking or Fingerstyle?

If I’m playing something up-tempo and aggressive then I’m definately a down-home, primitive fingerpicker. If, on the other hand, I’m doing something moody or contemplative then I’m a sophisticated, city-slicking fingerstylist.

Another thing ’bout pickin’ nomenclature: whence the “Travis Picking” terminology? I learned alternate bass picking mostly from Mississippi John Hurt, whose style, I think I’m right is claiming, predated Merle Travis just a little.

Do either of the above musings matter a jot?

In my lifelong search for inner peace it is necessary that I contemplate and, through understanding, exorcise the irritants that get under my skin.