Play a Ragtime Blues Thumb Roll

One of Blind Blake’s signature rhythmic ideas was a “thumb roll” in the bass. This quick note before the downbeat of the measure adds a unique bounce to the groove. To pull it off, let your thumb roll off the lower string, come to rest on the next one for a split second, roll off that one, and then pick up the regular alternating-bass line until it’s time to change chords and do it all over again. In Example 4 the thumb roll doesn’t happen on every chord change. It’s the kind of technique that spices up your rhythm but if you put it in too much, it becomes predictable. After you get this little rhythm bump happening, use it to season the groove to your own taste.

Work on this piece for a while and try to get it up to a moderately quick tempo. If you play it too fast, the thumb roll will lose its bouncy quality and the whole thing will get robotic. Think jaunty!


This blues lesson is excerpted from Acoustic Blues Guitar Basics.

To buy the complete guide from Acoustic Guitar, including 3 hours of downloadable video instruction, click here.

Orville Johnson
Orville Johnson

Orville Johnson is a guitarist, dobro and lap steel player, teacher, recording artist, and writer based in the Pacific Northwest.

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