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Robert Johnson's Thumb Bass Style

Jim Burger (4613) · [archive]
Style: Blues · Level: Intermediate · Tempo: 150
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Robert seemed to do the most interesting variations in the first 4 bars of his 12-bar progression, perhaps because he was most comfortable playing off of A chord fingerings. Here are 3 different ways that he played the first 4 bars of his 12-bar progression in the song "32-20 Blues," which is one of my favorites. Notice that the first example switches between 2 A fingerings for the first 3 bars, whereas the 2nd and 3rd examples go from A7 to G#7 back to A7. In all of the examples, the 4th bar features a simple 3-note run from A to G with slight variations. In the actual song, Robert played lots of variations on that little 3-note run, sometimes extending it to 2 measures and fitting lots more notes into it. Try experimenting with it -- you can play pretty much any note out of an A7 arpeggio or A blues scale and it will sound OK.

Oh yeah, by the way, the 3rd example doesn't really utilize the thumb bass, but it sounds real cool when Robert does it...
Robert Johnson's Thumb Bass Style - Page 3
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