Tip #65 – Alternating Thumb Influences in Part Writing

In the past I have been very vocal about many things; in particular, advising that people should not write music to their own performance ability.  I caution against this because it places creativity in a limited space, it doesn’t challenge the composer/performer to grow, and it boarders the high probability of regurgitation of common predictable themes.

That being said (in all irony), I will be talking about taking influence from different blues fingerstyles of guitar playing to inspire part writing for compositional purposes.  While this will limit the compositional ability as to what can be done using the physical limitations of the described guitar style, I do encourage people who are reading this to “think outside the box” and experiment to how these style can transverse over into new creative applications.

Today, I will be talking about the “alternating thumb” playing of blues music that is predominantly found in the “Piedmont” area of the United States (east of Appalachian Mountains).

Alternating thumb is pretty much as the name goes.  The thumb alternates playing different bass notes on the guitar (usually in a pattern from low to high) while the index and middle finger play syncopated lines in the treble area.  This occurs on every primary beat, or in a “slower” equivalent of every other beat.  Counterpoint can be made with the division between what the bass is playing and what the other fingers are.  Plus, the thumb can alternate with the fingers to form a conjunct melodic line in moving motion to another harmony.

In this tip, imagine yourself playing in that style and understand what is physically possible as well as typically normal.  Mentally practice this, and then write/play/annotate/record it.

Remember, always be creative above everything else.  While keeping to rules and limitation can help focus on certain aspects on your composition, never go for less than what you are capable of.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read! Feel free to comment, share, and subscribe for more daily tips below! Till next time.

Author: Bryan M. Waring

Bryan Waring is a graduate of USM's School of Music with a B.M. in Performance – Composition and is now attending Belmont University for a M.M. in Commercial Media – Composition & Arranging. During his time at USM, he studied violin with Dino Liva and composition with Dr. Daniel Sonenberg, as well as has premiered several pieces during the semiannual Composer's Ensemble concert series. In 2017, Bryan was a writer for the original musical theater work of "Molded By The Flow," directed by Paul Dresher and Rinde Eckert. Outside of school, Bryan has been involved with writing music for videogame developers at Portland's CI2 Lab, collaborating with the King Tide Party, and studying with Larry Groupé (Straw Dogs) in San Diego. Now living in Nashville. Along with composing, Bryan teaches music to children, receiving the Master Teacher Award for his work at ESF Camps; and does audio engineering for live ensembles. Besides talents in music, Bryan is a team-player in any competitive work environment; equipped with skills in leadership, organization, mathematics, creativity, communication, and managing. On the side, Bryan has worked as a model for several skilled artists in the New England area. Among his other accomplishments include obtaining the rank of Eagle Scout in April 2013 with a project of building a side parking area with guide rails for Webb Mountain Park in Monroe, CT.

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