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Learn to play guitar in 7 different acoustic styles including Delta blues, gypsy jazz, country, medieval, folk and bluegrass

Acoustic guitar
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Guitar lessons: There’s much to be gained from trying your hand at different styles of music. Aside from potential improvements to your technique from the challenge of playing new music, you’ll be training your ear as you listen to material that might be off your radar. 

Here, our aim is to help you get to grips with some basic elements of a handful of different styles of acoustic guitar playing. It’s far from extensive, so treat these as bite-sized ideas that you can develop your own music around.

1. Country groove

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For things like this, it’s important to be organised about which picking hand fingers play which string and develop a routine. Here, the thumb plays the bass notes and the first three fingers of the picking hand are assigned to the three treble strings. 

As you develop more complex patterns, you might benefit from deviating from this routine slightly, but this is the foundation of fingerstyle – a platform from which to continue to greater things!


2. Delta blues intro 

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This Robert Johnson-style intro lick has become such a staple in both electric and acoustic blues since it first appeared on record in the early 20th century. Notice the brief statement of the root note on the sixth string E note before each two-bar phrase, giving a clear context for what follows. 

This technique allows more complex parts to be played without the need to be constantly holding down a full chord.


3. Gypsy jazz vamp 

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This rhythmic chord style is the driving force behind Parisian ‘gypsy’ style swing jazz. Swing and jazz chords are very different to country, blues and rock. Instead of the open, ringing voicing of these styles, these chords are usually just three or four notes, with any unwanted strings muted out. 

In this plectrum-strummed example, the fifth string is hardly used at all. Check out Biréli Lagrène, Remi Harris, Jimmy Rosenberg or early pioneer Django Reinhardt for inspiration.


4. British folk

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During the mid/late 1960s, the acoustic guitar played a major part in a folk revival. Players like Bert Jansch took the art of creating self-contained rhythmic and melodic parts to a new level. 

It might be easiest to view this as a melody with a separate bassline played with the thumb and lightly palm-muted to give extra clarity and ‘thump’. Use the first three fingers of your picking hand to play the melody/chords on the second and third strings.


5. Medieval 

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The acoustic guitar has origins stretching back centuries, and this example is inspired by the lute music of medieval times. Also, by the revival in this style inspired by players such as John Renbourn – though even Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page have been interested in this style. 

The opening chords in bars 1, 2 and 3 use the thumb and first three fingers in quick succession to spell out the shape. In bar 4, simply strum gently downwards with your first finger.


6. Flat-picked bluesgrass 

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Using a pick generally gives greater volume and projection, plus opens up greater possibilities for playing rapid-fire runs of notes. The first part of this example plays a melody on the bass notes. 

Between the bass notes, the pick is used to strum lightly on the treble strings, giving a self-contained musical and rhythmic arrangement. The single note line that finishes the piece is played with alternating down and upstrokes of the pick.


7. Modern indie-folk

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Using a capo at the 7th fret gives an almost ukulele style effect – especially if you confine your playing to the higher pitched strings. This works well on its own (as in our audio example) or as an overdub over another lower-pitched acoustic guitar part, giving a complex ‘layered’ sound. 

The regular strumming pattern is also an important ingredient, calling rhythmic ukulele playing to mind. Using a lighter pick can also thin out the tone a little, which is ideal for what we’re going for here.

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