Using the guitar as a drum kit with Jon Gomm

A tutorial from the percussive acoustic whizz

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ACOUSTIC EXPO 2014: A true individual, Jon Gomm has carved out his career the hard way, shunning the mainstream record industry in favour of hard graft, extensive touring and building a worldwide following of fans drawn to his baffling guitar technique and his melodic and soulful songwriting style.

"There's nothing new to [percussive guitar playing] at all," he modestly asserts. Nevertheless, we reckon you'll pick up something different with this video lesson…

In the first of our video lessons, Jon strikes different parts of the guitar to mimic the drum kit - for example, beating on the strings over the soundhole for a bass drum or flicking the top with his fingernail to ape a snare drum.

This is unusual stuff, so you must take baby steps. Try Jon's strikes one at a time and practise his grooves slowly, focusing first on clear-sounding percussion and then on the timing. Try each example in turn, slowly assembling all the elements.

Jon's guitar is tuned to Bb, F, Bb, F, F, Bb, using gauge 0.015 to 0.068 strings to compensate for the low tuning.

Percussive tab - an explanation

Percussive guitar is an unusual playing style and no-one has established a definitive way to notate it. We're using an extra stave underneath the tab with different symbols to denote the various percussive strikes. Each strike equates to one of the instruments of a drum kit.

Percussive tab explanation (right-click to download)

Kick and snare drum groove

First, Jon builds basic a drum groove that, in drum terms, is a simple kick/snare backbeat. For the kick drum, Jon slaps the strings over the soundhole allowing him to double up the notes of a bassline in time with the kick later on. He creates a snare sound by flicking the guitar top just below the soundhole.

Kick and snare drum groove tab (right-click to download)

Adding toms

Taking the idea of mimicking a drum kit a step further, Jon creates tom-tom sounds by using his thumb to knock the guitar's top above the strings. He creates higher and lower pitch sounds - emulating larger and smaller tom-toms - by moving between the neck joint area and the bridge.

Adding toms tab (right-click to download)

Adding hi-hats

To imply hi-hats, Jon flutters his fretting fingers on and off the strings, causing them to gently slap against the fretboard. These strikes fall between all the others, so when you practise, bear in mind that you should not be hitting anything else at the same time.

Adding hi-hats tab (right-click to download)

Adding a bassline

Here, Jon introduces a bassline to the percussive part. To sound the bass notes, lift the first finger of your fret hand to reveal the open fifth and sixth strings in between the hi-hats. This is extremely difficult to play, so we'd advise practising the bassline first, then introducing the kick/snare groove and finally the hi-hat.

Adding a bassline tab (right-click to download)

Percussion, bass and slide

Finally, Jon adds a Bukka White-style Delta blues slide riff. For the most part, the hi-hats are limited to the brief moments when the slide is not involved, the idea being that with so much happening, the listener barely notices! Once again, this is difficult stuff, so add in the percussive parts one at a time.

Percussion, bass and slide tab (right-click to download)

More Jon Gomm video lessons

Jon Gomm and Lowden Guitars

Acoustic sensation Jon Gomm and his companion "Wilma" (from the Lowden Original Series) are both dear friends of us here at Lowden.

We're proud that Jon has chosen Lowden and delighted to see him featured in this year's Acoustic Expo. This year Jon is featuring as both a judge and as a prize in the first ever Lowden Young Guitarist of the Year competition (click the link to see Jon discussing the competition).

The Lowden ʻO,' sought after for its bass and overtones, is well suited to Jon's innovative style and has traditionally been the preferred choice for fingerstyle and open tuning. It has a deep and resonant tone. Lowden Guitars are hand-built in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland by a dedicated team of craftsmen that includes George Lowden and his two sons.

George designed and hand built the first ever Lowden in 1974, and four decades later every Lowden guitar is still shaped and voiced by hand from the finest materials to exacting specifications.

Visit the Lowden booth at the Acoustic Expo for more about the Lowden Original Series, Fan Fret, and Thomas Leeb Signature model.

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