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.


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