By Pete Madsen
Part 1 of this lesson focused on my ragtime piece “Pete’s Barrelhouse Rag”—inspired by the piano-based jazz-blues form that’s heavily syncopated and that was popular in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Now, as promised, here’s a look at three additional variations on the piece.
Variation 5 returns to the standard eight-bar format, but gives the bass line a rest and allows you to navigate up and down the neck with a series of single-string runs. You’ll start out with some ascending sixth intervals (which suggest a C chord), then some descending thirds (suggesting E). For the A7 chord, you’ll use a shortened version of a C shape. In the second bar of this passage, remove your third finger from string 3 and place it on string 5, fret 12 and then on string 6, fret 12. Then use your thumb on the ninth-fret C# on string 6. The D chord once again uses thirds to descend the neck; for the G chord, some minor seconds close out this verse with a quirky flavor.
Variation 6 is essentially a repetition of the opening verse from the previous lesson, but with a single-string run at the end. This segues into a half-time section, which is built on four-bar phrases that are divided between G and C chords. The first four bars have you playing open G and G7 chords; the second two bars contain a turnaround in C that I borrowed from Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late,” moving between the chords C, C7, F, and Fm. The second four-bar pass uses a series of CAGED-voiced G7 chords, followed by another Johnson-style turnaround. The third pass through these adds another higher voicing to the G7 and returns to the “From Four Until Late” changes. You exit the half-time section by bouncing back and forth between G#7 and G7 chords, then hitting a chromatic octave run that lands on a C chord.
Play Variation 7 a tempo at 180 bpm. The last seven bars use the C–C7–F–Fm turnaround, which switches back to half time at the end. The last phrase is a nod to the Third Man theme by Anton Karas, the Viennese zither player and composer who scored the 1948 soundtrack to the British film noir.
A lot is going on in these variations, and they’re a bit of a workout. To make them more approachable, try one eight-bar section at a time. And don’t be afraid to compose or, better yet, improvise your own variations—a practice that’s in keeping with the ragtime tradition.
Pete Madsen is a San Francisco Bay Area-based author, instructor, and performer who specializes in acoustic blues, ragtime, and slide guitar. His latest titles are A Guide to Bottleneck Slide Guitar and Improvising and Variations for Fingerstyle Blues, both available at learnbluesguitarnow.com.