Class outline

Posted by Michael M. on 16th July 2010 in General

Wednesdays, July 14 – August 11, 2010 8:00 – 9:20 PM

“Mississippi” John Hurt was born in the early 1890s in Teoc, Mississippi, the plantation of the famous McCain family. He moved to the Avalon community as a baby and spent the majority of his life there. He learned to play guitar at about age 10 by sneaking to play the guitar of a family friend who frequently stayed the night. He developed a thumb and two finger style and accompanied it with a gentle voice. He earned a recording contract in the late 1920s when his neighbor fiddler Willie Narmour recommended him to OKeh records. After years of obscurity, he gained fame in the Folk Revival during his final years after fan Tom Hoskins working with Dick Spottswood rediscovered him using the lyrics of “Avalon Blues.”
His picking style features a bass line, typically alternating, picked with the thumb and melody and harmony notes picked with the index and middle fingers. His favorite key probably was C, but he also played in G, D, A and E as well as playing in open D and open G tunings. Using his style, he played blues, gospel, country, ragtime and popular songs.

Class goals and outline

  • History
  • Keys and chords
    • G with the ring finger on the bass E string
    • F using the left thumb on the bass E string
    • A with the index finger flat
  • Thumb picked alternating bass
  • Melodic lines
  • Singing
  • Core songs
    • “Spike Driver Blues” (G)
    • “Creole Belle” (C)
    • “Coffee Blues” (A)
    • “Stagger Lee” (D)
  • Your goals and requests

Recommendations and requests

  • Listen often. I enjoy the 1928 recordings the most. The St. Louis Public Library has a variety of recordings. Find whatever you like and listen.
  • Use a recording device. I think the way to learn the music is by listening, not by sheet music or tablature. It helps to be able to hear it repeatedly, though. I will attempt to record the classes, but distributing the recordings might be difficult.
  • Practice often. You are training your brain. It takes repetition. Keep your guitar handy. I used to play very short parts over and over while watching television.
  • Watch others. Seeing someone else play the music can help you get your fingers in the right places at the right times. There are commercial DVDs and many freely available videos on YouTube and other sites. St. Louis has some great fingerstyle guitarists to see in person.
  • Ignore the details. I do not think there is a perfect way to play this music. If there is, I am nowhere close to it. Learn the style and use it to your own ends.
  • Sing. The real music happens when all three parts, bass strings, treble strings and voice, blend.
  • Advise me. Let me know what you want from this class. Let me know what is not working and what is.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.