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Free Fingerpicking Blues Guitar Lesson #1 - Deep River Blues Chords - Doc Watson

Updated on July 25, 2014

Blues Guitar Lessons - Doc Watson

What Is So Special About Doc's Fingerpicking Guitar Technique?

Although I make my living as an acoustic blues guitar player, I'm fascinated by all great finger picking guitarists and I always wanted to learn how to play Deep River Blues.

Doc Watson's 'Deep River Blues' stands out at as a perfect example of the style known as 'Travis picking' and anyone wanting seriously to learn how to play the blues should delve into Doc's style.

Doc's performance of 'Deep River' is at a slower tempo than we first think, but is chock full of subtleties and little complex movements. Like all brilliant acoustic blues guitar players, he first puts down the basic pattern and chord structure before progressively adding variations as he moves through the song. It's been said that the professional guitarist makes an easy technique sound difficult, and a difficult sounding technique look easy!

The Best Blues Guitar Teachers Deliver Effective Techniques

Often, we find guitar instructors delivering an approximation of his sound, which is understandable, as it's difficult to reproduce. Unfortunately, some tend to over simply what's going on, and therefore devalue his incredible style.

Some other teachers may use two or more picking fingers in an attempt to encapsulate Doc's picking pattern, which tends to over complicate the process. In fact, Doc uses just one thumb and his index finger to create that beautiful, relaxed and flowing guitar sound.

In the embedded video above I attempt to unravel and demonstrate a little of Doc's technique, also suggesting ways in which we can approximate his sound, without reducing the appeal of this great song. Whatever path we take to learn how to play blues guitar, legendary figures like Doc Watson show us how it should be done. Learn Deep River Blues slowly and remember to keep the feeling.

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Is There Any More To Doc's Guitar Playing Than That? Well, Yes There Is! Lesson #2

The first Deep river Blues guitar lesson was posted on Youtube and it was prompted by the fact that other lessons I had seen simplified either the technique too much, made it to pretty, or worse still, didn't convey that special flavor that we look for.

The leisurely pace of Doc's picking is punctuated now and again by some subtle moves which pass by without registering much. However, they are extremely important in conveying the overall effect of the music. When learning blues guitar in the old style, we need to investigate the variations that the master 'snuck in' and try to copy them - in this way we get a better idea of where they are coming from. In this next video I take a look at a couple of these subtleties - go for it!

Fingerpicking Doc Watson Style - Deep River Blues Guitar Lesson #2

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OK - On we go ...

Blind Willie McTell
Blind Willie McTell

Where Can I use Travis Fingerpicking For Acoustic Blues Guitar?

The great thing about learning any guitar picking style is that it can be adapted and absorbed into our own techniques and be used in our arrangements. in this way we can spread the love and have more fun, which incidentally folks, is what it's all about! Learning acoustic guitar should be fun.

In the video below I take a blues song written by Blind Willie McTell, the Georgia ragtime blues guitar master, and apply Doc's Travis style guitar picking to it. The song is called 'Search the Desert' and the original is nothing like this at all - search on Youtube for McTell's rendition.

So Much Trouble by Brownie McGhee

Comments - Go On - It Won't Kill You!

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      blues lessons 6 years ago

      No problem guys - don't forget to Tweet or Facebook 'like'. It does me a power of good!

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      andy 7 years ago

      BRILLIANT i have been tryin to figure out those first two chords for along time, now deep river blues is goin in the set list thanks jim.....

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      fred 7 years ago

      thanks Jim

      as usual your lessons are nice and easy and nice to learn.

      (excuse my english)

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      Mike 7 years ago

      A really great video lesson.

      Thanks Jim!