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Student Emails

One of the most important benefits of joining the community is direct email access to to Jorma and the guys. Learning is a two-way street - they instruct, but your feedback and questions are an important part of the process too.

Here's a selection of student emails and the responses they got from the crew at Some are technical questions about the lessons, some are song requests and some folks write just to check in and say hi.

Jorma - Working on the Water Song..
Jorma - 1st and 2nd finger, or 2nd and 3rd?
Jorma - Which guitar stand?
Jorma - Uncle Sam Blues chords?
Jorma - playing solo vs. in a combo?
Jorma - watercolor portrait
Jorma - lyrics to Roads and Roads and?
Jack - you are my favorite bassist
Jack - Goldtop Bass Tone
David Wolff - right hand pattern for Hesitation Blues double time?
Woody Mann - cedar tops vs. spuce tops
Jorma - improvise in rag time blues, country blues?
Jorma - how to get the chick-a-boom sound
Jack - happy Thanksgiving and thanks for all the music
Jorma - why Martin over Gibson?
Jorma - which kind of finger picks?
jorma - condolences for the loss of your friend Steve Mann
David Wolff - Mistake in Hesitation Blues
Jorma - request for Hesitation Blues
Jorma - currently working on "Let Us Get Together"
Jorma - anchor picking hand, or not?
Jorma - am I a student or a guitar player?
Jorma - see you in Alaska
Jorma - seeking pick wisdom
Jorma - guitar on Hot Tuna Live in Japan
Jorma - advice on new guitar amp?
Jorma - Blue Railroad Train transitions
David Wolff - mastering Embryonic Journey syncopation
Jorma - Embryonic Journey...putting it together
Jack - string setup
Woody Mann - Mean Old World
jorma - what are you listening to?
Jack - trying to groove, stuck in patterns
Jorma - what type of pickups?
Jorma - Dime for Beer chords
David Wolff - why only two songs a year?
David Wolff - Embryonic Journey syncopation very challenging
David Wolff - Quicktime pro to slow down songs?
Jorma - "legal" to use my own runs or chords?
Jorma - focus on one style, or learn many?
Jorma - open E tuning bad for guitar?
Jorma - confused by Uncle Sam chord progression
Jack - fuzz on Water Song recording?
Jorma - Blue Railroad Train E break
Jorma - internet the future of learning
jorma - should I retrain my right hand?
Barry - smooth out Cruel Willie upper position
Jorma - what kind of effect boxes?
Jorma - practice with a metronome?
Jorma - chords between the two Gs on "Dime"
Jorma - Guitar on "Sally" video?
David Wolff - Police Dog 1st verse doesnt sound right
Woody Mann - Mean World "ghost notes"
Jorma - should I use my right ring finger when fingerpicking?
Jorma - Guitars...Martin D45 vs. Bromberg
David Wolff - thank you for posting Police Dog Blues
David Wolff - love the sound of Police Dog Blues
David Wolff - fingerpicking...problem with first and middle fingers
Jorma - thank you for all the years of extraordinary music and spiritual inspiration
Jorma - what Gibson on Search my Heart & Dime for Beer?
Jorma - online feedback on what I'm doing
Jorma - do you use picks to play electric?
Jorma - I dont understand the relative minor
David Wolff - Police Dog Blues as our next Timebender lesson?
Jorma - What do I have to do to master the Big G7 chord?
Jorma - eternally grateful to be here enjoying this lovely ride
Jorma - just wanted to let you know how much I am LOVING BDW
Jorma - want the sound, but it's hard to use picks
David Wolff - picking with pinky...breaking the law?
Jorma - an encouraging note from Jorma
Jorma - been waiting 20 years to take lessons from you
Jorma - curious about the use of the right hand ring finger
Jorma - left hand fingers go numb
Jorma - having trouble grabbing the G7 chord
Jorma - how to get the percussive effect on "Waiting for a Train"?
Jorma - thanks for the fingerpick help
jorma - which type of picks on which fingers?
Jack - any music notation for Good Shepard?
Jorma - how do you get the vibrato on How Long Blues?
Jorma - my fingers hurt too much to play
Jorma - tips for singing an playing?
Jorma - achieving solid thumb groove
Jorma - am I developing bad habits?
Jorma - timing when walking up from D to D9
Jorma - any advice on "jamming" or ear training?
Jorma - love the partial chords and theory explanations
Jorma - right hand picking order during the descending line
Jorma - picks pop off my fingers when I strum
Jorma - alternate fingering for the D9 chord in How Long Blues
Jorma - what do you do with your thumb in the "wild thing" rhythm
Jorma - hitting all the strings in the "Wild "Thing" rhythm?
Jorma - Acoustic Guitar magazine 17th best guitarist



Dear Jorma

First, thanks for all the great tunes and excellent lessons both here and working on Water Song for a while and mess around with open G - or better understanding open G scales? I'm going to try police dog in E soon.

Ps. If you take request for lessons please put Hamr Promenade, Day to Day, and of course Hot Jellyroll Blues on the list. Thanks again   John

Fan and student for 35 years and counting.


Hey John

I play songs in alternate tunings but I do not really play in alternate tunings if you dig the difference. With that in mind, all my tuning stuff is by its nature very simples. Hot Jelly Roll is pretty much all first position stuff. Police Dog is a little more complex but not much. As always, it's more right handed than left handed techniques.

Keep me posted...


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Dear Jorma,

I'm 26 and have been playing the guitar for 11 years now. I have joined BDW to sit down and refine my fingerstyle. I learned basic picking skills a couple years after I started playing and developed it enough to get by the following years. The only thing that's kept me from polishing off my technique is knowing that I would have to get in the mindset and put forth the same kind of dedication as when I first saw the (guitar) light. But here recently I said I was going to get my thumb trained. I gave "Deep River Blues" a stab and a couple of weeks later was proud of my accomplishment. Not just learning the song, but more importantly keeping timing and rhythm with both my thumb and melody fingers. I have tasted the blood of fingerstyle...and it left me wanting more. I then decided to check BDW out and it seemed perfect for what I was looking for. Being an admirer of the ranch, I cherish each concert I have ever attended dearly. And being from Southern Ohio I can't express how genuinely special it is to have the opportunity to be introduced to the artisans, the atmosphere, and most of all, the music of the Fur Peace Ranch....Finally to my question. When I learned Deep River Blues, I played the melody strings mainly with my second and third fingers- I worked in accents here and there while keeping tempo with my first finger. Now I know you as most primarily play melody strings with the first and second fingers (and dammit if the old guys didn't make it sound adroit with just the thumb and first finger). From a practicality standpoint, would you recommend that I try and break myself of this now?

P.S. Thanks again to You, Dave, Vanessa and the guys for the great BDW website.

                       Cordially Yours,

                        Dustin Herbert


Hey Dustin...

Sorry for the tardy reply. I'm still on the road. Anyway... If you only use two finger as opposed to three as I do, it is difficult to play triplets. If this is not important to you then it doesn't matter. If you listen to the Rev. Davis or Merle Travis, two fingers certainly seems to do the trick. As Book Binder says, 'Your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.' Too true... whatever flows for you is what's right. I used two fingers when I was just starting out, but I quickly moved to three. Whatever works, my friend.

Good to hear from you...

Hope to see you down home one of these days...

Be well


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On 2/26/2010 11

Hi Jorma,

I'm looking to buy a good guitar stand.

Can you recommend a few good choices?

See you in April.




Hey Geoff

We use Ultimate Stands... they're all pretty much the same though.



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Hey Jorma,

John, NYC here. I have spent quite a bit of time on "Uncle Sam Blues". It’s not an easy song until it clicked then it sort of became very natural. Now I don't know why it took more time than other songs, but question is why do the verses resolve in A rather than E? Is it just a technicality of how Snooks wrote it or is there a musical reason?

Just wondering. I love your arrangement  and it is a wonderful song to play because of its versatility.


Thanks again for allowing us access to your music on this level.


John NYC


Hey John

Sorry for the delay... I'm on the road with David Bromberg right now. Anyway... All those chord changes we've burned into our brains for 'blues' numbers are really so much poppycock. As you know there are lots of ways to skin this cat. I do a number of blues numbers that do not use the five chord as a pivot for the turnaround. It is implied but not stated... and I've always thought it was incredibly hip. Snooks did play the tune that way (see Folkways, Snooks Eaglin, New Orleans Street Singer circa 1958) but lots of people including me use that variation of the form. I must say say, thanks for the compliments about my arrangement... I've always loved that tune and it's grown with me over the years.

I hope my answer was not too befuddled. Keep on pickin' brother...


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Dear Jorma,

I've started playin' with a duo/trio (guitar, contrabass and sometimes drums).

I would like to know if you have some suggestions about the guitar arrangement playing with a duo/trio. Playing with a contrabass, can I play in the same way I play solo? I tried to compare your solo performances and your Hot Tuna's performance and I didn't find any differences in guitar arrangement (maybe my ears aren't so good :)). Are you used to change your guitar approach when you play with a bass player (i.e. J. Cassady)?

Thanks and best regards. Mario


Dear Mario

This is a good question and you are observant... when I play acoustic with Hot Tuna I do my thing and Jack adapts to it. When I play with other people in other configurations, however this is not always the case. In any ensemble every instrument fulfills a function. If you have a bass player, not only do you not need your right hand thumb in the same way you do when you play solo... sometimes it is counter-productive. When my friend Barry Mitterhoff is playing leads, I play as solid rhythm as I can, even if we are playing with a bass player. When I solo in that configuration, I approach the solo more as if I were playing lead guitar. When we do some of the songs with the electric band that we also do acoustically I sometimes switch to a flat pick to avoid my thumb cluttering up the rhythm section. All this being said however, there are many ways to skin this cat. There are many creative decisions you can now make. Don't be afraid to try stuff out. You'll know if it isn't working. If you are playing a song where your guitar work drives the rhythm matrix I would suggest that the bass player follow your lead... so to speak. If the rhythm section is driving the bus, make your parts fill in the holes around them. Again, these are merely suggestions. I hope this has been of some help to you.

Let me know how things progress...


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Hey Jorma, I’ve been a fan for some time.  Love this break down way.  You are a great teacher, and I love these songs.  I am a painter primarily but I have taken this music pretty seriously.  Unfortunately I am close to being a starving artist, so I gave myself a month for xmas and thought I might go for more as my finances permitted but it looks like I'll have to cancel for a time.  But I want to share a watercolor portrait I did of you a few years ago.  I like it and would surely give it to you if I could afford the framing and you liked it too.'s the URL to the image: 

I was going to work on it further when I initially did it, but I came to feel this was the spiritually appropriate state.  It is 22x30.  I hope you enjoy.  Keep on keepin' on, regards, William


Thanks for the comments William. Economic times are tough... I can dig it. I'm sure you have plenty to work on and we'll be around when you can get back. Just keep listening and playing. I'll check out your image... and don't worry about a thing. I'm glad you dig what we're doing.

Be well


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Your friend Rockin Ricky from Bay Shore here. I have a very quick and hopefully easy question for you today. I have been working on your new lesson "Roads and Roads &" but I have a problem making out some of the lyrics. In particular can you tell me the remaining lines of the last verse after: “High upon a mountain top...”

Thanks very much. Incidentally I like your Martin. Oh one more quick question while I have you. Just wondering if you ever had the opportunity to play with Kim Simmons of Savoy Brown? I caught his recent show at the Bay Shore Boulton Theatre. This is the first time I have ever had the opportunity to see him perform live. I have never seen anyone play a flying v like he does.

Thanks and Happy New Year.

Rockin Ricky


Hey Ricky

Here ya go


Roads & Roads &

By Jorma Kaukonen


D                               A              G

Walking down that lonesome road

D                       G  A

Set my soul on fire

D                           A        G

Thinking back before I left

D                        G   A

The passions I desire

D                             A     G

Can’t you help me anymore

D                                G     A

To live my life more freely

D                               A        G                 Bm      A
A7     D

Instead of twisting like a rope that’s falling at your feet


D                           G  D     A        G     A

Well all right the future paved the way

D              G        D    G  A

But still I could not follow

D               G          D     A        G    A

Blindness caught and made me slave

D            G D   G   A

Serving royal sorrow

D               G      D   A    G      A

You could free my captive soul

D              G D      G    A

From hesitation madness

D           G   D      A     G  A

For my life just ain’t nowhere

D                G     D G   A

When all I see is sadness


             G              A

Well all right, all right

D                             Dsus4          D

Find my blindness changed to sight



              G             A

Well all right, all right

D                              Dsus4 D

I Still wait for you in the night


All right…


Walking down that lonesome road

Flying with feet of fire

Looking for that windy place

Soaring ever higher

High above some mountain top

A smoke drift beckons fondly

With thoughts about a brighter day

Together in the sun

Well all right… etc.

Happy Holidays Jorma (and to your family also of course),


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Name: Steven H
To: Jack Casady

I'm a jazz bassist in Chicago, and you are my favorite bassist in the world, and have been since I first heard the Airplane in the old hippie days. When I tell people around here that they're surprised, expecting me to say that Jaco or Mingus or Ray Brown are my biggest influences. Of course they're all great, but you are why I am a bass player.

Dear Steven,
Thank you for the kind and complimentary words. I was inspired, especially for the tone, by Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, Scott LaFaro, as well as tone from the great horn players, Eric Dolphy, Roland Kirk, Jimmy Jiuffre. As a young lad, I was fortunate to have heard all the above,  live during the late '50s and early '60s, in the Washington, DC area, before leaving for San Francisco, to join the two month old Jefferson Airplane, at my friend's, Jorma Kaukonen's invitation. Although not a jazz player myself, I am sure I brought along much influence from the great players.

Keep playing Steven, when done well, there is nothing like it!
Take care and best wishes for the Holidays,

Jack Casady

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Dec 15, 2009

Name: Bill B
To: Jack Casady

Hi Jack (has anybody been dumb enough to greet you like that on an airplane?)

I've been a fan since the 60's.  I've got one of your goldtops - a genuine delight to hear and play.  I've always liked your sound, but was never out to sound like you--else I'd have gotten what you got your sound out of.  It was lust at first sight (not intersted in the other colors).

Your degree of personal involvement with the axe bearing your name is what sold me.  It is pictured with me on my band's Myspace page at

Hey Bill,
Great shot of you and your band! You make that Goldtop look mighty fine!
Thank you for the kind words. When teaching at the Fur Peace Ranch, I tell my students to always search for their own tone. This bass I believe allows one to do that. Thank you for the compliments.

Jack Casady

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To: David Wolff

Hey, I'm getting pretty good at playing Hesitation Blues, thank you very much.  My problem is the double time section.  Is there any right hand pattern out there I can use to achieve this sound.  Please a tab or description would go a long way.

Thank you very much,



Hey Tom

Sorry for the delayed response. I'm glad you're enjoying playing Hesitation Blues, one of my favorites for sure. It opened the door to so much more for me as far as advancing my skills and techniques.  Any help that lesson provides to you on your musical journey brings me great pleasure. I'm not a tab user so I'll do my best "verbally" to help you along. (Another option is to arrange a vidchat if you have the wherewithal. I've been giving short lessons to many folks that way.)

As is usually the case for me, I hear what it is I'm after and and my fingers follow. Of course that sounds a bit crazy but that's why I'm not a tab guy. What I'm trying to express is that first and foremost it's a sound that is my goal not specific notes that I search for. Of course it ends up being specific but my right hand is the key and especially with this double time technique. It would be easy for me to tell you just to speed it up and that is part of it but more to your question of a pattern I find that the 5-4 bass for the Aminor and the 6-4 bass for the E are th e key. During the regular timing those are the "call" and the treble notes are the "answer" to what Jorma likes to call the "call and answer" technique. The bass notes are very pronounced and clean. During the double time they are indeed rapid and provide a backdrop so to speak for the treble notes. I also find that hammering on for the index finger of the Aminor chord helps to get the sound I'm after as well as helping the timing.  Using your pinky to make the E an E7 also helps in the same way.

Good luck with it. I find that this is one of those "easier done than said" instances and for that I apologize. You got my best verbal shot at it. Hit me if you can do a vidchat and I'll gladly arrange a time with you. Until then, be well and thanks for being a part of our BreakDownWay community.  We
truly appreciate it!!

Happy Holidays to you and yours...


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From: David
To: Woody Mann

My question this month has to do with cedar tops vs. spuce tops. I think new players such as myself are turned off to cedar because they hear that it doesn’t project as well or that it has a volume limit. These things don’t sound very good for someone about to spend 2 or 3 thousand dollars on a guitar, how hard do you have to play a cedar top to reach its volume limit and does it start sounding bad when it gets there?

Although the general characteristics of the two top woods are correct, it all depends on the guitar - the way it's built, body depth etc.  The volume level and tome qualities will vary with both woods. My new Martin is Adirondak spruce and the projection is pretty astounding. The harder you play the more it gives back - no compressing or choking of sound.  So, I would try a bunch of different guitars and put it through your own playing testing process. It aint just the wood or tree - only you know what will work.

Good luck. Woody

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Dear Mr Jorma Kaukonen. My name is Mario Galiano and I'm writing from Rome, Italy. Congratulations for this website (and for your last concert at Crossroad Club: great!!!)

I have a question about improvisation. It's easy to improvise on simply 12 bar blues or 8 bar blues: I usually use blues licks on minor pentatonic scale (for instance: Blues in key f C: C blues scale or minor pentatonic + "blue" notes). Playin' some old blues (Blind Blake; Rev. Gary Davis; ecc.) I have some difficulty to identify which scale to play. For instance: if I play Gary Davis' "Cocaine blues" (key of C) It sounds good to play A blues scale and not C blues scale. Have I to play major pentatonic in this kind of old country blues? When I play "Come back baby" in key of A, I can play A minor pentatonic or blues scale. I'm a little bit confused. Could you suggest me some tricks or advice to better improvise in rag time blues, country blues.

I look forward.

Thanks a lot and best regards



Dear Mario:

These are good questions. Of course you know the C major scale is the same as the A minor. Come Back Baby would tend to be a 'minor' song and Cocaine would tend to be a major. That said, there really are no rules. Experiment... if you like the sound no matter whether you are in major or minor it's OK. If you don't like it, don't play it again. From your letter I believe that you are in a place where you can trust your ears completely. Don't be shy. Try anything.

Let me know if this helps.


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Hey Jorma,

First and foremost, thanks for such a great site and thanks to Roman who solves each and every problem I have encountered! I have been a member for a while and this is my first request for info.  I have been trying to figure out how you get that, as David calls it, the chick-a-boom sound. I am working on Trial by Fire and Dave instructs without the picks and can strum down or up and get that percussion sound. However, when I attempt this it seems to go against the curve of my finger picks and all I do is lose the pick off my finger to the floor! I tried watching your lessons and just don't seem to get how you're getting that sound without losing a pick. I have been listening to some of these songs for over thirtyfive years and to be able to make some of these come alive on my own guitar is certianly a thrill to be sure. One of life’s many unexpected pleasures. Sometimes in music it isn't so much the notes as the space in between and that chick -a boom sound seems to fill that spot perfectly. I want that sound! Sooo, my question is this, how can I strum down to the high string without losing the pick. Thanks so much for your help and inspiration,


Your friend, Bake

See you in Albany with David Bromberg--- Can't wait!


Hey Bake

First... be sure to stop by and say HELLO...

OK... you want the pick to fit nice and tight on the finger and not stick out like a claw. You want the backpicking finger to cross the strings more or less at a 45 degree angle so that only the lower part of the blade of the pick crosses the strings. Remember to mute the strings immediately after the down stroke. Does this help? If not, when I see you in Albany I'd be happy to take a few moments to show you.

Your pal


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Hey Jack,

John from NYC here. I'm a guitar player and have had the pleasure of a few emails to and from Jorma over the years, but I just figured it would be in order to send my Thanksgiving wishes to everyone via you, the greatest bassist alive!

Thanks for all your music with Jorma over the past 45 years. You guys
have brought me lots of joy with it.

Please send my best wishes to all and your families as well.

Happy Thanksgiving and warmest regards,

John NYC


Thank you John, and thank you as well for the kind words and thoughts.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

Jack Casady

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Greetings Jorma,

John, NYC here. I hope all is well. Jorma, I wrote you several months ago and asked when we could expect to see a JK signature guitar from Gibson and you said that a J35 was slowly making it to the drawing board. I was very surprised to see that you have been honored with a signature model from Martin.

I cannot help but ask why. I know that you have been a Gibson man for many years since I have listened your music for the past 40 years when I first saw you live with JA. Your influence on me was a major reason for my becoming a proud owner of a few new and one vintage Gibson guitars. Please tell me why you chose Martin over Gibson. I an curious more about  the technical reasons rather than any politics that may exist.

Jorma, you are greatly responsible for my becoming a guitar student for  the past 15 years. Your thoughts and approach to music on many levels is important to me as I have enormous respect for your gift.

Another question is do you use alternate tuning, besides drop D and the variations in many songs and alternates in Water Song and Embryonic Journey, what are your thoughts about using these tunings and have you ever used a slide in your carer?

I hope you and your family have a joyous Thanksgiving and I hope to see you at the Ranch soon.

As always, kind regards,

John NYC


Hey John

Actually... if we were talking Gibson, it would have to have been several years ago.  I've been working on the Martin for two years now. I love my Gibsons, but the company just wasn't interested. Anyway my friend... For someone who didn't own Martins before, i now own three and am about to own four. I wasn't into rosewood before either but now I am. Mandolin Brothers in Staten Island is taking pre orders on the Jorma M-30... a beautiful guitar if I do say so myself. As David Bromberg would say, 'Jorma, they're just making a better guitar.

A man needs rosewood as well as mahogany.

Take care


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From: David S Henry
To: Jorma

my question this month is, as you know there is a huge variety of picks on the market. I have already spent a small fortune trying out many of them. What brand and model do you prefer for your thumb and finger picks?

Hey David...

Yeah... there's a lot of stuff out there. I use Jim Dunlop Medium thumbpicks and Dunlop .0125 brass finger picks. You still have to try the thumbpicks on.  The fingerpicks are consistent.


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Hi Jorma,

Rockin Ricky here. I hope all is well with you and your family.

My lessons are coming along well, so again I want to thank you. Its been a year since I started fingerpickin' and I have come a long way, usually practicing 1-2 hours per day.

I really do not have a question related to the lessons for you this time, but instead I wanted to offer my condolences for the loss of your friend Steve Mann. I only just now read the news. I know you and he went back a long way. I also know that he was quite troubled over the years according to your comments from your web site. No matter how long it’s been since you may have seen someone, I know it can be distressing to hear about the passing of a friend. My heart goes out to you. So that said, I suppose I would ask you this question:

What is your favorite memory of Steve?

Lastly, I want you to know that I recently pulled out your homespun video and learned Mann's Fate. I keep a log of when I start a lesson and it just so happens I began that particular lesson on August 16th 2009.

Perhaps you might say it was "fate"...Mann's Fate as it turns out.

Your friend Rockin Ricky


Hey Rick

Steve was one of a kind... his own worst enemy in many ways. Still and all, he blazed the trail for many of us.



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I just went thru the great tutorial on hesitation blues.   Wow – what a great job and something i will refer back to many times.  I noticed what i think is a mistake in the chalkboad section when you are teaching the G chord licks in the 'double time' section. I was able to follow it no less, but at the end of the run there is some confusion where you have the wrong string named (mostly 3rd instead of 2nd) - however the notes are correct.  small detail - just wanted to pass it on.

Thanks Justin...

Hey Justin,

Thanks for the note and we truly appreciate your feedback. I'll check out the mistake and see what we can do to fix it. I hope you continue to enjoy  all that BreakDownWay has to offer and stay tuned for much more coming soon.

David Wolff

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I can't even put into words what an honor it is!  I saw this site mentioned in acoustic guitar magazine and signed up immediately.

Quick question for you:  The first Hot Tuna song I ever heard about 20 years ago was Hesitation Blues.  That song has always been special to me since I was so blown away from the first listen and then progressed into all of your other material.

Anyway - just wanted to check and see if you would be posting a lesson on this song in the future.  I've gotten most of it down from various tabs and sources but would love to see you teach this one.

BTW - I really liked your new CD especially your take on Operator - keep them coming.

Best wishes,

Justin Valente


We'll ponder all this.


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Greetings Jorma,

I always get a kick out of writing that!!!

Anyhow, John from NYC here. I'm currently working on "Let Us Get Together" and I'm just writing to let you know that I'm having a great time with it. You are a natural born teacher and I hope I will be able to get to the Ranch soon.

It is so very satisfying to learn the chords and licks of songs I have listened to for 40 plus years and whats so good about it is that I'm getting it directly from you. Thanks again and keep at it. Just a suggestion but how about "Come Back Baby"?

Take care,

John NYC


Hey John

I'm Italy right now. Glad you're getting a lot out of our stuff. We love to hear that. We'll think about Baby.


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Is there any advantage to either "anchoring" or "not anchoring" the picking hand? 

I use thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers for picking and anchor with my pinky. It looks like you do the same even though you don't pick with your ring finger. (Looks like your RH ring finger just sort of moves in sync with your middle finger but neither picks nor anchors)

I've tried not anchoring and this really throws off my picking precision, but sometimes after a long practice session it feels like I've put lots of strain on my poor 50 year old anchor finger and maybe, since I'm still relatively new to fingerpicking, I should un-learn this habit sooner rather than later.    

My guess as to the correct answer is if it works for you, then do it, but just wondered if there is any "proper" school of thought on right hand anchoring.

Thanks Jorma



Hey Brett...

I usually anchor with my ring finger and my little finger... but not always. Some people do and some don't... It makes me more precise but  the beauty of the guitar is that if it works... do it... there is no  right or wrong. Actually as I reread your note... we're both saying the same thing. Remember, you don't need to press down on the face of the  guitar. The finger is really just a locating point as well as an anchor.

Be patient and don't hurt yourself.

Just wait until you're 68 brother... then the fun really begins. I'm always adapting to my changing physiology. Getting old ain't for sissies.

Rock on brother


Thanks for the feedback Jorma....

Realized this weekend I've always anchored when flatpicking and actually find myself tapping (or pounding sometimes)the pickguard with pinky and ring when doing some serious strumming (or "flogging" I think Marjorie call's it)'s to unlearn if I go anchorless....I think I'd be lost without it and would take several steps BACKwards if I tried this new approach and that can't be a good thing  

I think because I don't use fingerpicks and go flesh only I struggle with volume at times and when I really dig in for volume I REALLY tense up the right hand and press down with the pinky, so I definitely need to work on a relaxation and finding a lighter touch.

By the way, I had a long session with the Full Go Round lesson this weekend....The lesson pretty much filled in all "the gaps" from when you taught it to us last Summer....I got it sounding like a song now!!!

Thank you Sensei!!


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Greetings Jorma,

John from NYC here. I will be active until the 18th of this month. periodically I need time to "digest" the enormous amount of material you have made available. No doubt that because of your web site my acoustic fingerstyle, and guitar playing in general, has progressed dramatically. I thank you for making your body of music available. I have been a member, on and off, for quite some time. I have only asked two or three questions, but honestly for someone whom I have followed musically for the past 40 years it is difficult to ask a simple technical question when there is so much I would care to ask more along the lines of philosophical approach to guitar playing, such as the reason why we place so much energy and time and importance in the guitar and where we expect it to take us if anyplace. To me it’s a lifelong journey and as time progresses, the more ground I cover, the more enthusiastic I become. The more I learn it makes me understand how much more there is to know. Its been about 15 years for me and I still do not like to call myself a "guitar player" I still consider myself a student. Will I always? When do you get to a point that you feel you have acquired enough knowledge or ability to at least qualify yourself as a guitar player. Well, this is no place to ask the questions I would like to ask you. Hopefully someday I can make it to the Ranch and we will have the opportunity to chat a bit and ultimately jam up on the great stage of yours. A dream of mine.

Best regards to you and yours, don't pay too much attention to the small minds looking to bait you on 40 year old not so great decisions. G*d knows, we all have a pocket full of them. I always tell my sons, although they are grown and have children of their own, it’s not the problems we have that make us who we are, it’s how we handle them that counts.

Enjoy life my friend and love the guitar. You are a great teacher.

By the way, how about adding "Come Back Baby".

John, NYC


Hey John

Thanks for the letter. Chet Atkins bestowed the title Certified Guitar player on Jerry Reed and Tommy Emanuel. Jerry is gone now so that just leaves Tommy holding the title. Frankly, it is deserved. Most of us, myself included, will always be students and frankly what could be better. I have a friend who is a great guy but also a complete know-it-all. This makes it difficult for him to learn new things. For myself, my journey with the guitar is also the journey of my life... except the guitar doesn't have cholesterol issues. I hope to see you at the Ranch some day and I'm glad are little site is helping people like yourself. I must say, it helps me to do it.

Gotta run... motorcycle ride at the Ranch today...

Be well...


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Hello Jorma,

Geoff, in the Yukon, here.  Due to a family emergency I have to go to Vancouver as a result I will not be able to attend the shows in Edmonton.  I will try to see you the next time you get to Alaska.  I
hope the shows go well and maybe you could have one of the shows available to download so I could hear what I missed.

Geoff Scherer

PS.  Could you do a breakdown lesson for Genesis sometime in the future?


Hey Geoff...

A family emergency is never a good thing. I hope that things are as good as they can be for you all. Edmonton was a blast... and I hope we get to do more festivals in Canada. Those folks sure support the arts. Anyway, I will take you recommendations under consideration. Thanks for writing.

Be well


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hey jorma - dr. phil here

i've trashed my fingernails in the woodshop and on the sailboat one too many times. glue-on's suck. i'm trying to start finding my way with picks; thumb and two. i'm seeking wisdom and advice tho there may be none to communicate but "put them on, shut up and play."

in case there is anything you might bring to bear i send this out to you. hope you're well. see you in october with bromberg. regards.


Hey Dr. Phil

I'm at the Ranch... Tommy Emmanuel is playing tonight. Tommy plays with a thumbpick and no fingerpicks.  What's up with that. Forget the glue-ons. The 'put them on, shut up and play,' is pretty good advice. Bend them around until you feel them comfortable. What do you think?


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May 30, 2009

Hi Jorma

Joel Winnig here in Madison, Wisconsin.  I haven't written to you in a while and I have a lot to say.  However, as Luca Brassi said to the Godfather, "I know you ARE busy.", so just respond to as much as you feel like.  First, I can't tell you how thrilled I was to get the email that "Been So Long" was posted as a lesson.

anyway I had been listening to that song on the Hot Tuna Live in Japan and I loved it.  I wanted to ask you about that album. Your guitar sounds better than on most recordings (in my humble opinion) and I was wondering if you agreed and what the reason was.  The strings?  The mix?  Did you do something different with the sound because you were playing with a keyboard player? Pete Sears was great on that, do you play with him still, and what might he be up to?  Also I really like everything on that album, but I would like to start working on "Walking Blues" on my own if you could give me a little start please. It sounds like a pretty standard blues progression but you seem to have some trick going on with the I chord.  so if you could give me any idea and the key you use, I could go from there.  Thanks so much.    I love your lessons.



Are you coming anywhere near Wisconsin soon?


Hey Joel:

I used my Gibson Chet Atkins SST with Gibson strings through an Aguilar tube direct box... It is a good sounding rig. Pete Sears plays with Moonalice now. I see him occasionally and he is doing fine. Walking Blues has a key lick in the one chord that involves the third fret sixth string... open fifth to the third fret fifth and up to the A  Chord at the fifth fret.

Does that help?  Rock on...


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Hi Jorma,

Your friend Rockin Ricky from Bay Shore here. I have an equipment question for you this time. I am in the market for a new amp for electric music and wondered what brand you might recommend to get that fabulous "Jorma" sound.

I play a Gibson ES 335 and use a Vox wah wah along with a Big Muff distortion pedal. So if you have a particular amp or brand you would recommend I'd love to hear it.  Additionally is there a particular distortion pedal or effects you recommend also?

By the way the lessons on BDW are coming along nicely. I just learned Dime for Beer. What a great song that is while remaining quite simple too. I love the Jelly Roll Morton songs.

Thanks and Regards from Rockin Ricky


Hey Ricky

I've been using a Carr Slant 6V for the past five years or so and I love it. It's built in overdrive is the cat's ass. I also (After my tour with Robben Ford) got a Louis Electric piggy back. Louis is in New Jersey and he builds great stuff. With the Louis I use a Zen Drive overdrive. I wouldn't use anything else... (well, maybe a tube screamer if I had to) It's the best overdrive pedal I've ever heard.
Crybaby Wah... that's it brother...

Rock On,


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Subject: Jorma Question
Ted sent a question on 5/14/09

Hey Jorma, What an honor learning from you.  I bought your 3 DVD set from Homespun just a few weeks before seeing the ad for  So I have more Jorma than I can handle -- except I'll give it my best shot. :-)

My question:  On Blue Railroad Train, I can't make out the transitions between the solo segments.  Especially into the triplets and then from the triplets into the two-string A, G, A, A7, E.  I just can't seem to make that fit or get that A, G, A A7, E to sound right.

I haven't soloed much at all so any tips, reference material I should look at/buy to help me get going in that direction would be great. All the best and many thanks for helping bring the guitar alive for me. - Ted

Hey Ted

Jorma here at some hotel in Seattle. I don't have my guitar in front of me right now, but I've got my thinking cap on. As I recall, the key to Blue Railroad Train's solo sections (and any song that has freeform solos) is cues to get out of the solo and return to the tune. We use that E boogie line... and we watch each other closely. Sometimes it works better than others... that's live music. Anyway, if you can capture some friends to take turn playing rhythm with and for you just experiment with solos until you can't stand it anymore. I have never been able to even think of solos without playing with some live buddies.  I realize this is probably not much of an answer, but it's the best I have right now.

Keep on pickin' Ted... the more we play, the better we get.


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Subject: David Wolff Question
Brett sent a question on 5/11/09

David: I just wanted to let you know I've been SLOWLY working on Embryonic Journey the last couple of weeks (my wife is soooooo sick of hearing it) and when I started, I thought I would NEVER master the groove / syncopation of the tune. Doing it at a snail's pace always just felt plain wrong to me (too pedestrian), but I patiently kept at it, knowing or hoping at some point the muscle memory would finally take over and fingers would start flying..... Well, last couple of night's it DID take over, and what a cool moment it was when it finally happened!! I can still not play it as fast as it probably should be played, but I am now definitely honoring The Song with what I can do....I suddenly realized what an Epiphanous Journey I am on with my pursuit of a membership in the fingerpickers club. Thanks a bunch David!!   

Brett - I can't thank you enough for sharing that! It's extremely gratifying to hear that the process does indeed work for others. I hear ya on every front i.e wife being sick of hearing it (she will one day soon enough also enjoy it all me), the realization/epiphany that you can learn it all if you put the time into it, etc..

I know from firsthand're hooked!! enjoy the journey. Lots more coming soon on BreakDownWay and from all us (I shared your email with Jorma), thanks for the feedback. It truly means a lot to us. Be well - David Wolff

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Subject: Jorma Question
Thomas sent a question on 3/1/09

Dear Mr. Kaukonen,

First and foremost, I want to thank you for all the years of great music.  You've long been my favorite guitarist and I was grateful to be able to check out the show last week.

I've been trying to learn Death Don't Have No Mercy, following your lesson.  It's great, but hard.  My one question is this:  I can easily play and get the melody on the upper strings, and I get the (sometimes) alternating bass.  My problem comes with putting the two together in the instrumental introduction.  I know you will say: "count it out!" And, I know this is the key to fingerstyle guitar.  Is there any way you can help me to figure out how to put it all together in the intro/instrumental?  Any tips?

Dear Thomas

Actually, Death don't have no mercy is not one of the best songs to 'count out.' As you know, it's one of my favorite Rev. Davis songs... it is not, however, one of those chunky bass songs... you know what I mean. In your general playing, you want to have control over your thumb so it does what you want when you want it. I see Death as a more interpretive song from a rhythm point of. Sometimes the bass is there, and sometimes it isn't. That said, bass or not, the groove must always be there. I realize that I'm not being very enlightening but I suspect that you are closer to making the song your than you think. With a tune like this, think 'feeling,' but don't forget the groove. Let the thumb live where it needs to... with definition. In the intro, the thumb is definitely there as you begin with that Em chord on the third fret. When you get up to that next part on the ninth fret, the bass is a drone on the sixth string. As you build the following chords, put it where you see fit. These days, I change things around from time to time. Have confidence with your own insights. I don't do it the way the Rev. or ian did, and in fact, I don't do it the way I used to.

Thank you... Jorma

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Subject: Jorma Question
Joel sent a question on 2/2/09

Hi Jorma, My name is Joel.Well, I have been working real hard on the version David Wolfe is teaching, and I keep making progress. 
I want to thank you for all you are doing to bring me closer to making your music a part of me.  It is one of the best things in my life, and gives me reasons to keep working at it, every chance I get.

I love working on the fingerpicking but I always loved your electric sound too.  You have the unique "whine" that is distinctively you, such as your work on Wooden Ships or actually everything on "Volunteers".  Would you be willing to write back and say a little about how to get something like that sound out of my Strat or Gibson E335?  Thanks.

Hey Joel

Thanks for writing. On those airplane tunes I used an ES 345... the stereo version of the 335. The bridge pickup went through a Crybaby to a Fender Twin... the neck pickup went through an ampeg Scrambler which was a sort of a fuzz tone through another twin. Your 335 should serve you well in search of these sounds... you don't need the stereo guitar. I use a 335 myself these days... through the wah into a Carr Slant 6/V amp. You're going to want a good tube amp to get these sounds. The strat is not really the right guitar for this application... anyway give it a shot and let me know about your progress.

Keep on pickin'

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Subject: Jack Casady Question
Kat sent a question on 1/28/09

I am wondering what do you do about when you put on other that the stock strings, and the and the part of the string where it wraps on itself lays on the bridge saddle so the normal part of the string is sitting higher than it should and is not making contact with the saddle. Mine does this on the E and maybe the A. not looking at it right now.  thank you - Kat

     I use Dean Markley strings, with a rather long exposed winding near the ball.  It does not sit quite right for my setup either.  It does not seem to bother me much.  However, you can experiment with different sets.  In the final analysis, listen to the difference in sound, if there is any.  I hope this helps. Best regards, Jack Casady

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Subject: Woody Mann Question
Mitch sent a question on 1/21/09

hello woody, I found the words for mean old world on line but am not sure how they apply to the song as you don't sing it through. if the song is broken down: 1) intro 2) C chord part (phrase 1 on video) 3) riff 4) D chord part (phrase 2 on video) 5) riff 6) C chord modified (has C, C7, and then small riff to F)(phrase 3 on video) 7) Finish by building C chord to A to D7. etc (part of phrase 3 on video, but I am seperating this out seperately) 8) riff to turnaround or end song how do the lyrics match up below? I think I understand this part: phrase 1: Its just a mean ole world you live in 'til you die phrase 2: It just a mean ole world you live in 'til you die phrase 3: (C) Without a father, (C7)without a mother (riff to F)Without a sister and your brother Finish by building C part: Its just a mean ole world you live in 'til you die But I am not sure of the following. do the words get sung faster and sqeezed in as shown, or is there more music to the song that you did not show, or did I lay it out wrong: phrase 3(C part):Just one moment in glory - To satisfy my weary mind (C7 part):Eating of the honey -Be drinking of the wine (riff to F chord)Going to sit down with With Peter, James and John Finish by building C part:It's a mean world you live in 'til you die Thank you. Mitch

Thanks for your email Mitch, You got most of it. The last line : It is a (C)mean (A7) world to (D7)live in (G) till you (C)die. Hope that helps - let me know. I don't know what CD of Davis' this tune appears - but I'm sure it's online somewhere. Good luck, Woody

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Subject: Jorma Question
Manny sent a question on 1/5/09

Here's my question: what have you been up to- what's in your music player??? Have you been focusing on your own stuff or are you always looking to hear new things? (I love the fact that you are versatile enough to go back & forth between electric & acoustic). I know i go through stages- this week it's Van Morrison, last week it was trane/monk/miles/bird... and one last follow up- where's the klezmer flavored Tuna? some Hot Gefilte Tuna??? I really need to have a talk with Barry. Jack's hearing is gone, I don't think he'll listen... I'm sure he'd play along though. But Barry... Some hot friggin' klezmer... Maybe Jack can sing. In Yiddish. Or not...

Thanks again for all the joy and inspiration over the years!!! - Manny Falcon

Hey Manny:

Happy New Year!

Believe it or not, I've been eaten up with blue grass and the like these days. There is some great music and mighty fine pickers out there. Our two and a half year old daughter also takes up some serous listening time.


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Subject: Jack Casady Question
Paul sent a question on 12/13/07

Hi Jack - My bass playing has slacked off a bit since I moved and started flying a new airplane. Now that I started playing again I am trying to get back into the "groove", but am stuck in "patterns" on the neck. Should I just go with just playing 1 to 3 notes and follow the grove? or continue with scales? Thanks for your help - Paul


I find that playing actual songs brings one back into the grove, involves you right and left hand dynamics, and in general get you "thinking" the music. If no one is available for you to play with, play along with recorded material of your favorite music. After all, playing the bass guitar really only works while you are involved with other musicians. Good luck........


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Subject: Jorma / David Wolff Question
Nancy sent a question on 12/8/07

What type of pick-up(s) you / Jorma use on your acoustic guitars? I'm in exploratory mode for a pick-up suitable for small coffee house gigs, deck parties, ...and am leaning towards the Fishman Matrix Natural II for my (incredibly rich-sounding) Gibson J-185. The reviews appear mixed on the Fishman ... apparently very temperamental ... 'spot on' installation appears critical.

btw, ... REALLY enjoying the lessons (but admittedly, I remain among the camp who'd love tablature in addition to the awesome instruction you all provide!)

Keep up the great work! - Nancy

Dear Nancy:

The positioning of all under the saddle pickups is critical... no
exceptions. I love the J-190's but since the Fishman Aura came around
that's all I use. I have a Fishman Matrix under the saddle of my Gibson
J-35 as well as one of my advanced jumbos. These go through the Fishman
Aura and right into the PA. I can't adequately explain what the Aura does,
I just know it sounds great and I have used it literally around the world.
Check out the Fishman website... they can explain it better. I think you'll
like the set up. My Gibson certainly does. I am also using the small
Fishman Loudbox amp as an onstage monitor, but it would work we for small
to moderate sized gigs by itself. I like Fishman stuff and have used it for
years. There are, of course, other ways to go, but that's what I use.

Again... spot on installation is critical. I always have a pro do it.

Good question. Pick on!


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Subject: Jorma Question
Beth sent a question on 12/1/07

Quick question, I'm not sure I understand the order that the chords are played in "Dime for Beer". I've picked up some of them, but the video is just moving too fast for me. Would you be kind enough to email me the chord progression?

Thanks again,


It's a sophisticated way to handle essentially first position. You're going
to love this. It starts in G using a 6-4 bass. It goes to G7 but the 7 is
on the third fret of the fourth string... so that second chord is3rd fret
of the 2nd string...3rd fret of the 4th string and 3rd fret of the 6th
string. You're not playing the fifth string so don't worry about it. At
this moment you're not playing the first string either. So...

G G7 C G... Don't you leave me here
then there is that little descending double stop run 3rd fret strings 2 and
4... 2nd fret... first fret... then
5th fret strings 1 and 3... strings 2 and 4 at the 5th fret to the C
chord... then another descending double stop run strings 1 and 3 from frets
3,2, back to the C chord Don't you leave me here
D major, D7, strings 2 and four at the fifth fret, strings 3 and five at
the 3rd fret G Chord followed by the descending run on strings 2 and four.
Pretty baby, if you go, leave me a dime fore beer.

I'm in Australia right now and I'm typing this with the guitar in my head,
but I think it's right.

Let us know.


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Subject: David Wolff Question
Beth sent a question on 12/1/07


I am enjoying BDW tremendously. Had a quick question from your intro letter. Why do you only give mastering 2 songs a year as a goal? And, What is your definition of mastery? Everyone's is a bit different. Thanks much - Beth

Hi Beth

Thanks for joining our BDW community and I am thrilled that you are
benefiting from what we are trying our best to offer and share. I am
especially glad that you took the time to read the intro letter.

There is no question that you are right in pointing out that we all share a
different sense of mastery and because of that the time each of us spends
learning these songs will obviously have a correlation to how long it will
take to "master" them. For me, mastering is simply a standard I set for
myself which really boils down to recording myself, then listening and
seeing how it sounds. Is my timing on? Am I consistent in keeping "the
groove"? Have I made the song my own in some way? Am I confident enough to
play it for an audience?

In order for me to attain these goals I break down a song into very small
clips and "master" each one before moving on to the next. This is why for
me, I can "master" but couple of songs a year. Of course it is also
dependent on the level of difficulty of the song and also as I improve as a
player things begin to come easier to me.

I hope this helps to explain what I was referring to in the letter.If I can
be of any other help just say the word. We look forward to getting as much
feedback from you as possible. So please don't be shy.. Thanks again and
good luck with the picking!!! - David

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Subject: David Wolff Question
Barry sent a question on 12/1/07

David, I just signed up today to BDW, primarily because I want to learn Embryonic Journey although I'm looking forward to learning other songs as well. I'm a reasonable beginner, I can play La Derviche Tourner (Marcel Dadi), Crow River Waltz (Leo Kottke)... but damn, I am finding the syncopation of Embryonic Journey to be very challenging. I've tried to follow you through the intro, but without the tab, I cannot seem to catch on to the timing of the hammer-ons and the alternating bass. In the video you say its easier to do than say, but...

Can you help me with this?



Hey Barry
Welcome to BDW!! Just so you know, Embryonic Journey was one of the first
Jorma songs I attempted to play. I remember exactly what you are going
through and feel your "pain"..but hey we both know it's worth it and you
will be able to get to that day where it's all muscle and ear memory.

I suggest really breaking each part down into the smallest and still
tolerable pieces. For example, I would take the 3/4 speed of clip one and
just focus on the part that corresponds on the timeline approximately to
8:25-8:31. I would listen to it first over and over again until its
ingrained in my ear and brain. Then I would pick up my guitar and begin to
try and capture the timing without the help of the lesson. Then I would play
along with that 6 second clip as much as possible before I would move on.
BTW, for me that would mean hours and hours if not days..simply mastering
that 6 second part. This is how I learned and it worked for me. I still
learn songs that way and I love this process because I end up developing a
special relationship with each piece. When I play the song in it's entirety,
it seems to just flow from one section to the next.

Stick with it as you already know that it's just a matter of putting the
time in at this point. I hope this helps. Please let me know and if you have
any other questions, just hit me with them at your leisure...
Good luck Barry and thanks for joining the BDW community!!!

- David

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Subject: David Wolff Question
Nancy sent a question on 11/29/07

Do I need to install QuickTime PRO in order to be able to slow down the lessons / clips for Embryonic Journey or any of the lessons via Timebenders? (Currently, I'm using the 'free' version of QuickTime.)


Hi Nancy

Unfortunately, yes. In order to do that as well as to loop certain segments on your own you do need to upgrade. I am cautiously optimistic that before long we will be able to do it all with the free version. Enjoy the lessons and if I can be of any more help at all, just shoot me an email.

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Subject: Jorma Question
Beth sent a question on 11/29/07

First I have to tell you what an honor it is to be able to learn from you and ask you questions!

In Uncle Sam Blues, you give us several different options for cool runs and chord changes to use as fillers and add interest to the song. It also seems like blues players never play any song exactly the same way twice.

So, here is the question: As long as I keep the structure of the song the same, it is "legal" to use my own runs or chord changes to get back up the neck?

Thanks so much!

Dear Beth

A superb question and a liberating one. I have always approached songs I have learned from other people this way. I try to maintain some of the key licks and sounds so the song is recognizable as what it is. That said, I believe it is always important to make your own musical presence felt. It is more than 'legal' to use your own runs and changes. Make it yours. Let us know how it works out.

You are so welcome... Jorma in Australia

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Subject: Jorma Question
John sent a question on 11/17/07

Greetings Jorma, What an opportunity to email you directly. Hopefully soon I will be at the Ranch. I'll attempt to keep this brief and to the point. My question to you is more about the approach to the music and knowledge of blues. Is understanding a wide cross cut of blues styles such as Freddie King, Jimmy Rogers, T Bone, Muddy, Robert Johnson, Hooker, Rev. Davis, et al have any real meaning in terms of what comes out of my right hand? You know, who I am vs. what I know (referring to Roy Book Binders comment). Personally I feel I am developing a basic sense of several different styles which will ultimately make me a better guitar player. Is this approach good or should I be focusing on only one style of playing. My goal is to become as proficient as I can in finger style guitar. I would appreciate your opinion on this.

Thanks for the past 40 years. Looking forward to the next. Regards to all, John

Hey John -

Who you immerse yourself in is totally personal and depends on what your musical goals are. If you like the music... listen to it. That said I have never filleted the electric blues players the way I did some of the acoustic 'Masters' when I was young. All the guys you mentioned are great and influential players. Knowledge is all good. Take what you want and leave the rest. These days, I listen mostly to bluegrass. Go figure. I you find yourself playing the same CD, or the same song on a CD, obviously this is something you need to hear over and over. If you have to make yourself listen to someone, no matter how great he is, he's probably the wrong cat. Follow your heart. It won't steer you wrong.

Anyway, relax, find your groove and love to play. You won't go wrong.

My very best to you and yours and, by the way, a very happy Thanksgiving!


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Subject: Jorma Question
Angela sent a question on 11/16/07

Hi Jorma, I've been working on Police Dog Blues, and I read somewhere that having your guitar tuned to an open E chord is stressful on the neck. I have one of my guitars tuned to an E all the time, so I can just pick it up and practice that song. Is this bad? Should I tune it up to the E only when I play it?

All the best, Angela

Hey Angela

With the E tuning two strings are up a whole step and one up a half step.
If your guitar is set up for that kind of tension, it should be all right.
The key word for me is 'one of my guitars.' Perhaps you now have a dedicated E tuning guitar.
Another approach is to use the D tuning and put a capo on the second fret. Your choice.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Peter sent a question on 11/15/07

Hi Jorma,

First let me say I love your music and the site. Thanks for a great resource. Also, I saw you at McCabes last month and really enjoyed the concert. Now, on to my newbie question. I am learning Uncle Sam Blues and am confused on the twelve bars. using the intro as an example I see A|A|A|A|D|D|A|A|E|D riff|A Robert Johnson Tag. But isn't that only 11 bars. Can you clarify what I am missing.

Thanks, Peter

Hey Peter:

A A7 D D
A A7 E D
I got my questionnaire baby/you know I'm headed off to/ war/ /I got
my questionnaire babe/you know I'm headed off to/ war/ /If I have to
kill somebody/won't have to break no kind of/law/ /

The bar lines are not precise vis a vis words, but the chords are. Twelve Bars. What do you think?


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Subject: Jack Casady Question
Rich sent a question on 11/3/07

I learned my style from you, Jack Bruce, Felix and Mel, (the guy from Grand Funk) and my biggest question is - I almost got the Water Song down but did you use "a little fuzz" on the original recording on "Burgers"?? - Rich

Hi Rich-

Yes, I used a Versatone 35 watt amp along with a clean amp for that track on Water Song. The Versatone amp turned up to give some sustain and distortion.

Jack Casady

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Subject: Jorma Question
Mitch sent a question on 11/3/07

Hi Jorma,

In Blue Railroad Train, you do an "e" break (the first break on the recording). first you do a little run on the 4th and 3rd string at the 11 and 9 fret - fine. You do a little run where you compare it to a "c" progression in the key of e - fine. Then you do a little triplet up on the 4th string (9 and 11 fret) to the third string (9 fret) - fine. Then that leads to a quick little thing still on the neck around the 9th and 11th fret. what do you do there?

After this part you then go to the sliding of the A (5th fret) to the G (3rd fret) to the A to the A7 (open positions) and then E. That one part above is the only thing I can't conquer. Thanks for your help. Regards, Mitch

Hey Mitch

I don't have a guitar in front of me right now so I'm trying to reconstruct
this from memory... always dangerous. I think it's a slide up to the ninth
fret, string 3 ... while holding that bend the eleventh fret of the 3rd
string up and then play the 9th fret of the 1st string. You are still
holding the bend on the 3rd string... pluck it again let it come back the
natural note at the 11th fret and then play the 3rd string at the 9th fret.
That should do it.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Dale sent a question on 8/28/07

Hi Jorma, I've been a member now for 2 hours and I'm blown away with what I'm seeing. I'm fortunate enough to live in Brigton, Maine where the Stone Mountain Arts Center and the Big Kahuna Cafe are located. I've seen Don Ross, Frank Fotusky, Paul Geremia, Harvey Reid, Roy Bookbinder and I'm about to see Shawn Colvin and Ritchie Havens at these venues. I've bought all 3 of your Homespun acoustic dvd's along with many other artist's work from Homespun. I truly believe this is the future for amateur guitarists like myself that are constantly online etc. looking to improve their craft. Thanks for helping. Dale

Dear Dale

There is so much wonderful music out there, believe me when I say we feel blessed to be able to contribute in some small way!

Welcome to 'The Way!'


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Subject: Jorma Question
Brad sent a question on 8/15/07

I have a question regarding technique. I learned to use my right hand ring finger to pluck the 6th string, the middle finger to pluck the 5th and my index to pluck the 4th. I kind of assign each finger a string. I notice that you, and most other pros, use only your index and middle to do all the work on the 4th, 5th and 6th strings.

Do you recommend that I invest the time in retraining my right hand.

Hey Brad

Jorma here. Good question. If you can actually use all your fingers, how can that be wrong? It may or may not change your 'sound,' although that is an individual thing. If your approach works for you, go with it. As Bookbinder says, 'your left hand is what you know, your right is who you are.'


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Subject: Barry Question
Bryan sent a question on 7/24/07

Barry, Thanks for the Cruel Willie lesson. I have the lower position down OK, now just have to smooth out the upper position. The New Five Cent that you taught at camp goes well with this tune although I am sure others fit well also. Looking forward to the next lesson. Will it be out anytime soon? Bryan

Hi Bryan,

Thanks for signing up for the Breakdown Way Mandolin lessons. As we talk about in our class at the Fur Peace Ranch, tunes in same key, i.e. tunes in D tunes in A will all use similar vocabulary and when we start noticing those similarities, we are on our way to improvising and jamming in those keys. They tell me the next lesson will be available in September. Let me know how it goes.

Thanks, Barry

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Subject: Jorma Question
Darren sent a question on 7/17/07

As an aspiring guitarist, I am looking for that very unique Jefferson Airplane sound. My VOX amp, and Gibson guitar just doesn't cut it when it comes right down to it, and I need help. I would love to sit back and play some of my favorites like "Wooden Ships", "Eat Starch, Mom", and of course "Today". What kind of effects boxes did you use? Where can I find and/or build them? This young hippie really needs to know. I'm not kidding. The old Jefferson Airplane sound sends me right into heaven. May peace be with you! - Darren

Dear Darren

The gear that I used back then was quite simple. My guitar was an ES-345 Stereo with the Varitone switch. My amps were two Fender Twins... one for the neck pickup and one for the bridge. The bridge pickup was through a Crybaby and the neck pickup was through an Ampeg Scrambler. That's it. They are making Crybaby's again, of course and every now and then you can find a Scrambler in a music store or on Ebay. I sold my last one four or five years ago. I find that the Carr Slant 6V amp that I'm using now does everything without outboard stuff. Remember, back in the day pedal world as we know it today did not exist. For my sound today when I play electric there's nothing like a good guitar and a good tube amp like the Carr or the old whiteface Deluxe that I used on Spare Chaynge which I still have. Remember my friend as cool as gadgets are, it's the man not the machine. As for Vox amps, I don't know much about them. I could never get the sound I wanted out of them. Many people love them... it's really personal.

I'm sure you will wind up with a sound that you love.

Thanks for asking... Your friend - Jorma

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Subject: Jorma Question
Sal sent a question on 7/14/07

Hi Jorma,

I have a question on how to approach practicing with a metronome. Right now I try to figure out what speed the performance part of the lesson is played at and then work to build up to that speed. I try to get each increase in beats per min. to sound perfect and I pay particular attention to getting difficult passages to be correct. Am I approaching this the right way? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks again for your input. - Sal

Dear Sal

Yeah... the M-42 is a winner. I don't yet have a road case for mine so I've been using my Gibson J-35. A man needs a mahogany guitar as well as a rosewood one.

As for metronomic practice... we don't call it the humilitron for nothing. I think you re going about it the right way. Don't push yourself too hard for tempo. The tempo will increase in proportion to your ability to play the passages. Personally I don't think it's necessary to replicate the original tempos, unless that is important to you. Learn to feel the groove of the metronome. It's hard to do and I struggle with it too. If you can play in a passable way with a metronome, you will truly be able to swing on your own.

These are great problems to have. You are certainly on the right track.

Keep me posted! - Jorma

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Subject: Jorma Question
Brad sent a question on 6/12/07

Jorma, I love your new "dime" lesson (I remember it from Hot Tuna, also Jack Elliot's version) but when going over the chords at the very beginning you don't clearly show the two chords between the two G's:

(G)Don\'t you
(G) Here

Everything else is real clear, and thank you. - Brad

Hey Brad- It starts in G as you know...

Just the regular cowboy G

third finger 3rd fret 6th string
first finger 2nd fret 5th string
3rd finger 3rd fret 2nd string

then it's 3rd finger 5th fret 2nd string and 2nd finger 5th fret 4th string
(this is a little double stop thing which is actually part of the C chord
to be found on the fifth fret on strings 2, 3 and 4.)
then on 'me' you use a fragment of a C7...3rd fret 3rd string, 3rd fret 5th string

Let me know if this confuses you or enlightens you. Sorry about the slur... Pick on - Jorma

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Subject: Jorma Question
Frank sent a question on 6/11/07

Hi Jorma, I'm a new member and a big fan. Just curious, I saw a video of you playing Sally Where'd You Get The Liquor From on a very interesting looking Gibson (I think). It looked like a natural top AJ with special fretboard inlays. Also looked to be a banner headstock. Just wondering what it is. Is it a special or limited edition, or possibly a really well-preserved vintage? I personally have a custom short scale mahogany AJ on order right now. Can't wait to get it and start working on Police Dog
Blues... Take care, Frank

Hey Frank

The guitar is a J-35 from the Custom Shop In Bozeman that was made in 1992. It is a short scale mahogony box. I love it... and you will love yours too. Bookbinder took me to task for the banner and the inlay. He pointed out that they never built a guitar like that. 'Yes they did,' I said. 'Mine!' Thanks for asking,

- Jorma

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Subject: David Wolff Question
Gene sent a question on 6/8/07


I have been picking apart Police Dog Blues and just simply love it. One thing I don't understand is the 1st verse--- Can you clear something up for me? How do I play the A/B/E chords (standard)? It looks like you don't always play the B chord. Do you play the A twice, B & E once then the riff??

It just doesn't sound right the way I play it. I tried some variations but want to do it the right way.So, can you HELP!



You are correct: You don't play the B chord in the first two lines of the verse but you play a fragment of the B with that stretch of the D note (3rd fret, second string) with your pinky at "Staying alone and"......then you slide up one fret for "Doing the...and then back down a fret to that B fragment for "best I.....and then to the Open E chord for "can"..... I hope this helps to clear it up...please let me know.

E A E riff
All my life I've been a traveling man............

A E riff
All my life I've been a traveling man..........

David Wolff

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Subject: Woody Question
Sal sent a question on 6/1/07

Woody, I was wondering if you might share the "ghost notes" on the 2 runs ending phrases 1 and 2 on Mean World- Enjoying your lessons- sorta have Top Hat-sorta and now doing Mean Old World. Forgive me for being too lazy to figure it out on my own-but...!! Thanks for all your work


Dear AJM,

I believe the "ghost notes" you are referring to are the pull-off's and open strings used between the fretted notes. For the low riff, try pulling off the D string first fret. For the high riff, I think the open high E and B string are in there somewhere. If you can, slow it down to make it easier to hear the same pitch on different strings - and feel the rhythm of the phrases. Good luck and keep me posted.

Cheers, Woody

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Subject: Jorma Question
Ulf sent a question on 6/1/07

Jorma thanks for your great lessons! Simplest question in the world - should I use my right ringfinger when fingerpicking?
I've been trying to for some time now but it doesn't seem to have the same sense of rhythm as the rest of my body. :) On the other hand - if I pursue, it might be a good thing to be able to use it. What do you say? thanks, Ulf

Dear Ulf

A simple but good question. I never use the ring finger of my picking hand. My style just wouldn't know what to do with it. That's why there are so many triplet formations in my style... because I just use three digits. Bookbinder says, 'Your left hand is what you know, your right hand is who you are.'

How true... I don't say using four or five fingers like a classical player is a bad thing. Knowledge is never a bad thing. I personally wouldn't know how to handle that.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Sal sent a question on 5/21/07

Hi Jorma,

I am in the market for a Martin guitar. I have played all variations of d-28'a through 45's etc etc. .. What is the thing that makes your Bromberg so special? I am SERIOUSLY thinking about buying a martin and was about to buy a d 45 ...again i like the d 45 but i don't LOVE it .... is there something about the Bromberg that will make me LOVE it?

I would also love to know if you had the standard electronics installed in yours or if you made any modifications?


Hey Sal

Well, it goes without saying that you will love any Martin more than the Baby Taylor... not that there is anything wrong with that.

Dreadnaught guitars as a rule, do not make great finger picking guitars. There are notable exceptions, but that's really not what they are designed for. The M-42 (Bromberg) is a OOOO size guitar... a little smaller than a triple O. It's comfortable to hold for hours and the balance is right for fingerstyle stuff. That said, it is also a great flatpicking guitar. Now they only made 71 or 72 of them so they are a little hard to find. One of my friends got one from Elderly up in Michigan and another at Mandolin Brothers. They are around, but they're not plentiful. For me, it has all the abalone flash of the D-45 (which I must admit I like) AND it's a great fingerstyle guitar. If I was around, I'd let you play mine but I'm sure you will find one somewhere in your area.

I love mine... What more can you say. Hope to see you around either down here or up there.

Be well!


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Subject: David Wolff Question
Gene sent a question on 5/18/07

Thank you David for posting Police Dog Blues. I promise to stop being a Whinnin Boy. This song is GREAT! - Gene

Hi Gene-

You are most welcome. I agree Police Dog Blues is great. I hope the lesson helps you out with it. Keep On Truckin'!

David Wolff

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Subject: David Wolff Question
Amy sent a question on 5/17/07

David, Hi, hope you are doing well. I just wanted to say thanks for 'Police Dog Blues'! I love the sound with the open E tuning. I was recently watching some deep southern blues and wow, lovin the sound and the way they were doin this bass chord with their blues licks and sayin, man Id love to do that! So, on that note, once again, thanks for you patience in doing so, it is the best when it actually comes together like this! Good to see you and many thanks once again to Jorma and all of you for this cherished stuff! Take care David and god bless, Amy


Thanks for the input and the good wishes. You have no idea how much it means to me and the rest of those involved in Break Down Way!!! I hope you enjoy Police Dog Blues and gain something from it. I have to tell you it was quite a bear to tackle. Stay in touch....

David Wolff

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Subject: David Wolff Question
Mike sent a question on 5/17/07


I enjoyed your lessons on beginning fingerpicking. I have practiced the samples and my thumb is coming along nicely. My problem is my first and middle fingers. I just can't seem to get them to "think" independently. I can maintain the base line pretty good, and when I add my first finger things seem to work out ok, BUT when I start trying to use my middle finger also everything falls apart.

Could you recommend a few more exercises I might practice to get all three right hand fingers thinking for themselves? Thanks. Mike Cragin


This is a process that has its fits and starts but stick with it. We are planning on teaching Know You Rider soon and that will be a good place to work on getting the fingers to work together. Actually that is what you're after ...not for them to work "independently"..I understand what you're asking but once you get to the "promised land" of picking, you'll look back and understand what I'm talking about here. One thing I can share with you now is to try and focus more on the sound/notes you want to hear and try not to focus too much on exactly which fingers are making it happen. This can seem a bit difficult to grasp at this point but give it a try.

As far as more exercises to help you along, I would suggest doing just that. "Exercise" your fingers by say making an A chord or a D chord and simply using your index finger to pick the 3rd string and use your ring finger to pick the 2nd and 1st strings. Simply come up with some patterns on your own that sound cool and play them until you can't listen to yourself anymore. I also still exercise my fingers when I'm not playing by tapping them hard on a table or desk surface to strengthen the muscles all the way up the right forearm. Good luck with it and trust me if you stay at it it will come when you least expect it. We'll be offering more beginner lessons in the not to distant future and will further get into this aspect of playing . Be well!

David Wolff

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Subject: Jorma Question
Michael sent a question on 5/17/07

Jorma - At last I finally got the opportunity to meet you, I was the guy with the J-45 at the Bat & Moth show in New Jersey. I sent away for the 4-DVD set on Rev. Gary Davis, thanks!

Thank you for all the years of extraordinary music and spiritual inspiration. Peace to you and your family especially your latest addition. God Bless, Michael

Back attcha Bro


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Subject: Jorma Question
Jay sent a question on 5/7/07

I'm really getting a kick out of your site. It's loads of fun & provides some serious challenges. Thanks for that. I'm curious... it looks like you're using Gibsons - right? What Gibson are you playing on Search my Heart & Dime for Beer? Many thanks

Dear Jay

I can't remember what I had for breakfast. Here are the choices: J-50, J-35, Advanced Jumbo, J-190. I'll have to research it more. Thanks for the interest.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Bob sent a question on 4/28/07


I'm a big fan of BDW, but it has one serious disadvantage compared to getting a lesson live and in person: I don't get any feedback on what I'm doing wrong and most need to work on. Any hints on how to better evaluate myself? (I'm thinking of things like playing with a metronome to check for problems maintaining a steady rhythm.)

-- Bob

Hey Bob, If you can handle the humilitron I mean the metronome, you don't have to prove your manhood in any other way than that.

Seriously... see if you can find an open mike and/or get together with like minded musical spirits and play. In my opinion, that's where the rubber meets the road. Hope to see you at the Ranch.. or elsewhere for that matter.

Let me know how it goes...


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Subject: Jorma Question
Brett sent a question on 4/19/07


I was wondering if you use any kind of pick when you play electric or if you fingerpick...I do not recall from when I saw you play awhile back if you used one or not... I seem to recall you were pretty much doing "standard" strumming on the electric versus fingerpicking, but I may be totally wrong here.

Reason I ask is since starting with BDW a whole new world of possibilities has been set in front of me right hand wise (not to mention that other hand too) and I am thinking about giving up the pick and trying fingerpicking for the "electric thing" I do... I tend to be more of the rhythm guitar guy in the band, so my fear is that I will not provide as much groove if I switch up.

I use no picks by the way when I fingerpick...just flesh..... I have always used small "teardrop" picks in my 30 years + of playing geetar....until now of course

Just curious about YOUR "electric thing". Thanks, Brett

Hey Brett

When I play electric with the band, if I'm just doing leads or a dedicated finger style tune... obviously I use my finger picks. For the more straight rock stuff I use a 1mm nylon flat pick. This helps me play more distinct rhythm and my thumb doesn't get in Jack's way.

Ya gotta have both.. Hope that answers your question.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Paul sent a question on 4/13/07

Jorma !!! I dont understand the relative minor. I know its the same notes but does not make sense. - Paul

Dear Paul

I'm probably not going to explain this well since I learned it when I was nine years old taking piano lessons... but here goes.

For example:

If you look at a piano key board... think about the key of C. The octave from C to C is all white keys... no sharps and no flats. Now, the key of A minor is from A to A all white keys... no sharps and no flats. Therefore A minor is the relative minor to the key of C. The relative minor of any key starts on the 6th note of that scale and has the same sharp and/or flat signature. Play C, Am, F and then G and you will hear a progression you have heard a million times. In terms of the Nashville number system those changes would be illustrated thus. I, VI-,IV and V. The VI- would be the minor of the six chord. I chose C because it has no sharps or flats, but with the number system whatever key you are playing in is the root or the 1. Em is the relative minor to the Key of G etc.

Let me know if this makes any sense to you. If not I'll try to be clearer. Do you need to know any of this stuff to play music? No... but it helps to know it to talk about it.

Good luck with this...


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Subject: David Wolff Question
Gene sent a question on 4/12/07


When will you offer Police Dog Blues as our next Timebender lesson? I would like to see Embryonic Journey and Water Song launched as well.


Hi Gene - Police Dog Blues will be available by the end of April at the latest. After that we will be offering some more Jorma, Woody Mann, & also a mandolin lessons by Barry Mitterhoff.

We will do our best to get the other Timebenders out there as soon as possible. I do believe that Police Dog Blues should keep you busy for a spell. Thanks again for the question and we're all ears with any questions and comments you may have. - David Wolff

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Subject: Jorma Question
Gene sent a question

Jorma, What do I have to do to master the Big G7 chord? As my father would say 'practice, practice, practice' but this does seem to be going anywhere. Should I start sucking my thumb to see if iw will grow an inch? Is there a technique?

Hey Gene-

Jorma here. Experiment with different arm and guitar positions. Try putting the guitar on your left leg instead of your right... bring your left elbow out so your thumb pivots more towards the third fret. My hands are not that big... with practice, I know you can do it.

Plus... your dad is right...

Rock on


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Subject: Jorma Question
Amy sent a question

Hi Jorma,
I just wanted to say thank you for all the lessons... I am learning something new everyday. I love life and I feel like for the first time since I was a child I am really enjoying life. I love your music it is beautiful and so are you! Besides, you are way cool! I am eternally grateful to be here enjoying this lovely ride with you and the gang! Keep on rockin n see ya soon! Oh yeah, the pickin is great!

Dear Amy

Thanks for the thoughts. Life is good indeed, isn't it?


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Subject: Jorma Question
Brett sent a question

No question (s) here, so no need for a response from you...just wanted to let you know how much I am LOVING BDW!!!!! I have been playing geetar for over 30 years and have lately gotten quite bored with meself and my same old chord positions and pentatonic scales...learning fingerpicking has really opened up a whole new world for me with the guitar....I've got an "electric" thing I do with the guys on Saturday nights and it is waaaaayyyyy cool how I am even using the BDW stuff in that context...thanks Jorma!! I can't wait to see you with Hot Tuna again in July and also my 1st time at the FPR in November.....(will miss you a bunch at Merlefest this year BTW).....enjoy your 1st session at the Ranch this weekend!! ........and keep on doing what you're doing.

Thanks Brett

Back attcha!


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Subject: Jorma Question
Joe sent a question

Hey Jorma,
I just became a member of Breakdown. I've been playing guitar on and off for a few years. I learned some finger picking but I've always used my fingers and not picks. I'm finding it really hard to use the finger picks, but I want that sound. Any suggestions on types of picks and techniques for the crossover from fingers to picks? Thanks, Joe

Dear Joe

Jorma here in Italy. Is this a great time or what?

Here's the way I see it. Lots of people play without picks. I have always used them, so it has become part of my sound. I use Dunlop Medium thumbpicks that fit next to the first joint of my thumb. I use Dunlop finger picks... gauge .025. My picks do not stick out like claws... They are just a hard surface at the end of my fingers... short so I can back pick as needed. Be patient... they are not comfortable in the beginning. Bend them so they fit and wait for some calluses to build up. Let me know if this helps you any.

Thanks for being a part of this...


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Subject: David Wolff Question
Gene C. sent a question

I've been finger pick'n with my pinky. Am I breaking the law?

Hi Gene

The good news is there are no laws to be broken here!! I use my pinky as an anchor so to speak as do many other fingerpickers. So-called classical guitar 'aficionados' would frown at this technique but hey as Jorma likes to say, we're not doing brain surgery here. Rev. Gary davis used only his thumb and index finger. Other masters use 3 or 4 fingers. So the answer is essentially whatever works best for you. That being said, I think you should always explore different never know what you may discover.. Good luck and keep on picking!!

- David Wolff

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The following is a note from Jorma to one of our students who canceled their subscription - the reason for cancelation was "I am just no good at guitar no matter how much I try." This caught our eye, and we thought a note from Jorma may offer some encouragement:

Dear *******,

Jorma here. Sorry to hear you canceled you BDW subscription. I guess you know best, as my wife would say. I just felt constrained to comment. Fingerstyle guitar is a long process... when I was a kid learning, I didn't care how bad I sucked I just loved holding the guitar. As an adult, I hate to suck. I have had some experience with this as every now and then I get to take a steel guitar workshop which is a humbling experience to say the least. Anyway, in my case, success is predicated on how much time I can fritter away practicing. I know this is tough to achieve sometimes... maybe even most of the time, but a little practice every day really pays off... for me at least. Anyway, Roman asked me to mention the Time Bender which allows you to slow down passages. When I was a kid, we just played the LP's at 16 or slowed the tape down. It changed the pitch but we could kind of hear what was going on. Timebender doesn't not change the pitch. Is this a great time or what?

Anyway, to get back to the specifics of finger picking. As I'm always babbling about, the thumb tends to play only quarter notes and the fingers tend to play only eighth notes. This means that any time a melody note falls on an up beat (one AND two AND etc) it is a finger by itself. Anytime the melody occurs on a downbeat (ONE. TWO etc) it is a pinch. It is not a natural thing to do but it is doable.

Whether or not you returned to BDW or not, don't give up. If you keep at it you cannot help but get it. Trust me on this one. I'm a slow learner and I got it.



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Subject: Jorma Question
Wesley sent a question

Have no question yet, but must tell you I love the site. Have been waiting 20 years to take lessons from you. Plus I get to say Jorma sent me an email, so for now just tell me something like I need to grow my thumb longer!

Dear Wes

Glad you like our humble site. Nevermind the thumb length.. just keep it working!


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Subject: Jorma Question
Richard sent a question

A very good day to you,

The lessons I've seen at Break Down Way have be very clear in their content. Thanks for the professional presentation.

The question I have actually references a short passage from Hesitation Blues but could probably address any of your finger-picking songs.

As a preface to my question, I'm finding in it easier to learn 'picking' songs without picks. Plus, I haven't found any that are comfortable to wear for any length of time. When I do try, it is frustrating. I feel like I'm ten years old again. What a minute, maybe that's a good thing! I'll have to look at the possibilites that offers.

Anyway, I'm curious about the use of the right hand ring finger. It doesn't appear you are using a pick and I can't tell if you use it to pluck with. So, when a chord voicing calls for the plucking of four strings simultaneously, do you tend to sweep the top two strings with the thumb pick, the middle two strings with your index finger, the bottom two strings with your middle finger, the bottom string with your unadorned ring finger or am I over-thinking this? An example would be this passage from
Hesitation Blues using the middle four strings:

D7---C7---C#7---D7---C7---C#7---D7---C7---D7---D7 where the first four instances of the D7 are sounded by plucking the middle four strings simultaneously. This example comes from a tablature publication from the Guitar Extra! 1990 Fall edition. The passage begins in the ninth full measure.

P.S. "Genesis" is one of my favorite songs of all time. Like Jerry Garcia said of original songs, they're just there in the air. Was it? Wow! Maybe I need some new air.

Hope this wasn't too long. I can be more direct next time.

Best regards,

Dear Richard

A very good day back to you too. I'm just getting ready to go down to
Asheville, N.C. for a show but I wanted to address this before I started
driving. I have used a plastic thumb pick and two Jim Dunlop .025 brass
fingerpicks for years. Actually, in the beginning, they were made by
National. Anyway, the guy I learned from used them and so did I. It is
certainly not necessary to use either finger or thumb picks. Many great
players do not. I don't know how this plays into the ten year old metaphor
(which I like). If they are impeding your progress, don't use them. As for
the fingers of the right hand. I'll have to be more clear about this in the
future. Roy Book Binder says, 'Your left hand is what you know, your right
hand is who you are.' I like that. What you do with your right hand will
define your sound. I am what they call a three finger picker. Thumb and the
first two fingers is all I ever use. The Pinky and the Ringfinger are only
used for support as needed. Using three fingers mandates the use of a lot
of triplet figures, which indeed I use. That's pretty much the long and
short of it. When I need to sound four or more strings I would do it by
brushing either the thumb, or probably, the second finger.

Right hand fingering is very personal in our kind of music. What do you
think? I'm curious.

I hope I was able to shed some light here.



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Subject: Jorma Question
Jim sent a question

Sometimes while fingering the fretboard during my performance my fingetips become numb from lack of blood flow. Releasing my hand regenerates the flow nad numbness goes away. Is this common or is this my own personal handicap? Is there a remedy for this?

Dear Jim

Jorma here. I've never heard of this particular one... sometimes when I put
my picks on too tight the fingers of my right hand get numb, especially my
thumb. However, perhaps you are holding the neck too tight with your left
hand. If the action of your guitar is set correctly, you should not need
much pressure. I hope this is a remedy. Let me know if there is any change
of feeling.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Jim sent a question

Hey Jorma, hope all is well. My hands are not big at all and I have trouble grabbing the ending cord (G 7th). I simply can not reach with my thumb over the top in this position. No matter how much I have practiced or tried repositioning my hand, I simply can not fret the E string on the 3rd fret in the G 7th position. Would a smaller neck help? I would like to move on to other songs but noticed you use this cord often. I leave out the note, but it is the root of the cord, and does not sound full leaving it out. Thanks for your advise.

Dear Jim

This chord is a pain in the you know what. Unfortunately, as you observe,
it's really an important voicing. My hands are not that big either and here
is what I learned to do. The thumb of my fretting hand does not really wrap
around the neck. Over the years I have developed a callus on the inside of
the first joint of my thumb. It doesn't take too much pressure to fret the
sixth string that far down on the neck. Try the inside of your thumb. If
the note is a little thuddy, don't worry... Start there and see what
happens. Please let me know if this helps.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Ted sent a question

On "Waiting for a Train", how is Jorma getting the percussive effect throughout the song? Is he using his thumb or fingerpicks? Is he palm muting?

By the way - this stuff is GREAT!

Dear Ted

Jorma here. As best I can figure it out myself, I am back picking with the
pick on the middle finger and them palm muting.

Good question.... I'll think about it more myself.

Thanks for asking


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Subject: Jorma Question
Richard sent a question

Dear Jorma,

Thank you for your insights into my discomfort and frustration in using fingerpicks versus
pickless fingers. I stuck with the picks for the better part of an evening playing songs that I know
passably well and went to bed with a little bit of improvement but moreso questioning my potential. By the time I got back to it the next day, it was like night and day. I was actually getting finger to string the way I wanted to. Talk about the old adage to sleep on it! And the pain went away too, probably as a result of having finally gotten the adjustments right on the Dunlop .025s.

No need to respond to this. Just a word of thanks to you.

My first month at Break Down Way comes to a close today. It has been well worth it. And I look forward to next month.

All the best,

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Subject: Jorma Question
Jerry sent a question

hi jorma
what type of fingerpicks do you use? are they metal or plastic? on which fingers ? thanks i look forward to seeing you at atlantic city,

Dear Jerry

Jorma here...

I use Jim Dunlop plastic thumbpicks (medium) and Jim Dunlop brass fingerpicks gauged .025.


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Subject: Jack Question
David sent a question

Hello Jack,
I really enjoyed "Good Shepard". I play on a worship tem at church. I also have your lesson dvd which is also great. I'm planning on coming to the Fur Peace Ranch next spring to meet and learn from you in person. I've been playing bass for about 3 years now. My question is, Do you have a lead sheet or any music notation for Good Shepard, if so how do I get it? Thank you.


Thank you for taking an interest in Breakdown Way, and enjoying my first posted lesson. I have looked and do not find lead sheet music for Good Shepherd. I look forward to seeing you out at Fur Peace Ranch next year. Until then, keep on playing.

Thank you,
Jack Casady

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Subject: Jorma Question
Dave sent a question

Hey Jorma. I'm currently enjoying the "How Long Blues" lesson. How appropriate. I can easily alter the lyrics to "How long will it take before I can play this confounded song"...

Anyway, I've got one question that's been bothering me since I've been learning guitar - How do you get such a beautiful (and apparently effortless) vibrato? Specifically on this song when you are playing the solo and playing the 5th and 7th frets on strings one and two. I can wiggle my hand back and forth all I want and I usually get zip.

Are you actually pulling on the strings, or is it more a bending of the neck? My fingers just seem to slip on the strings and I have to exert what seems like an enormous amount of pressure on the neck to affect the sound. I used to blame it on the guitar, but now I've somehow ended up with 6 guitars and they all ignore my attempts. Perhaps you could create 'mini-lessons' on specific techniques, priced similarly to the 'concert' performances.


Dear Dave:

Thanks for taking the time to try out Break Down Way.

That's a good question. First of all, do not bend the neck. That's a whole other can of worms for other effects... and it's hard on the guitar. There are two ways to approach this, each with a different sound. The tremolo is the pivoting of the left hand, using the ball of the first finger as a fulcrum. Tremolo actually throws the string in and out of tune, much in the way a whammy bar does. The vibrato is the rolling of the fretting finger gently back and forth on its callous to get a shimmering sound. This is much like what a steel guitar player does with his bar. You're not looking for a slide guitar rock sound, but a more subtle color. This does not take strength... your fingers should not hurt... it is all technique. It is easiest to do on the first two strings, but works well on all.

Take it slow and easy... concentrate on technique and effect. Let me know how it works.

Thanks again Dave...


ps If it still confounds you... I'll show you next you're at the Ranch.

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Subject: Jorma Question
Jim sent a question

First question that I have is really not based on the song. I truly love your teaching style and easy way that you break down the song to capture its true feeling. I am hoping that you can give me advice on my left hand. No matter how long or how much I play, my fingers begin to hurt so bad that I just cant grab the strings anymore. You would think that my fingers would build-up to this after awhile. Do you have any suggestions and or remedies? Thanks and have a great day! Jim PS I look foward to the up-coming Beecon Theater show on the 26th.

Dear Jim

Jorma here. We were just discussing the finger sensitivity thing at the Ranch this last weekend. The great guitarist Tommy Emanuel say if your fingers hurt, your guitar needs to be set up again. There may be some truth to this, but there is more. When my fingers hurt, it is usually because I am grabbing the neck too tight. When you work on your left hand technique, try to use just enough pressure to fret the strings cleanly... and no more. This works for me most of the time... Occasionally, they just hurt no matter what you do.

Lighten up on the touch and see what happens...

Keep us posted.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Howard sent a question

Howdy (Jorma?)! I suppose my playing level is lower intermediate. The basic chords to the song are pretty simple, and I'm concentrating on that, want to really nail it before moving on to the instrumental breaks. I like way the lyrics are presented too, and my question is about the singing: what tips do you have for someone who's never sung before, in terms of coordinating it with the playing? Just go sloooowly, talking it through? The lesson is wonderful, very clear and concise and the isolation on left and right hands is terrific. And your IT guy Roman is very helpful.


Dear Howard

Thanks for taking the plunge into Break Down Way. We have spent a lot of
time working on this project, and are
truly glad it is working for you.

As for synchronizing singing with playing... that is a really good
question, and to be honest, one I have not yet dealt
with. I've been concentrating on the guitar playing. However, I will tell
you what I have been doing for years and
still do today.

Even when you are practicing the piece on the guitar, always try to sing
along with the parts, even if it is only in your head.
Try to get familiar with the feeling of doing two things at once, playing
and singing. Don't be shy about your singing, it's a learned skill
just like anything else. Be patient and practice, which I fear is the key
to almost everything. Try not to get into the habit of talking the song.
Jump right into the singing immediately... as soon as you have the basics
of the playing part going on. Trying singing along with the lesson
without playing. Concentrate on pitch and just getting through the tune.

It sounds from your question like you already have the right attitude for
the learning process.

Thanks so much...


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Subject: Jorma Question
Andy sent a question

Hello Jorma, Can you share successful methods to build the thumb work (that steady
six-four, five-four)?
I was thinking of playing the songs with only thumb work for
an extended period. When steadiness is achieved, then work in the fore and middle
finger work. Any suggestions appreciated- Andy O'Sullivan P.S. Plz come back to the
Barrel House in Cincinnati soon

Dear Andy:

This is a good question, as the solid thumb groove is the key to making it sound as if you have 'arrived' as a guitar player... Well, at least it does for me. Anyway,
of course whether you are using a five-four-five-four, five-four-six-four, six-four-six-four
or six-four-five-four bass line depends on what you feel is right for the song. The
emphasis is on the quarter note thumb rhythms. To play the song with only thumb work
is a great idea as a departure point. However, you want to integrate the thumb parts
with the fingers as soon as possible so you begin to feel completely confident with
the quarter note bass, eighth note finger rhythms. When I was learning, there was
a point when all of a sudden I felt that I was beginning to 'get it,' and what a
great day that was.

Please keep us posted on your progress... and

Good picking,


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Subject: Jorma Question
Dave sent a question

Hi, Jorma. I'm tackling That'll Never.. and I'm trying to take it slow and make sure I get the individual licks down correctly. I've found that for the opening riff, where you walk up from the 3rd string to the G on the 1st, I have a lot of issues doing so and keeping a steady 6-4 bass going. In the same riff on West Coast blues, I tend to suspend the bass after the first note, then pick it up on the G. I'm trying to play it right in this song and I have a problem in that if I try to double pick with my first finger, my thumb wants to break the rhythm and keep up. I can, however, do it better if I use both 1st and 2nd fingers on each string, with the second finger providing the second note. I know this violates the principle of 1 finger, 1 string, but I find it much easier to play. What I need to know is will this cause problems later on? Is it acceptable or will developing this habit cause problems with other songs and/or techniques up the road? Thanks, Dave

Dear Dave

Excellent questions... and the good news is... that you will probably like
the answers. First of all before we get into right hand fingering, keep in
mind that the bass in this songs is always quarter notes... one... two...
three... four. The melody is only eight notes. One and... two and... and so
forth. With this in mind, in the beginning of this song, any time the
melody falls on a downbeat, that is to say a one, two, three, or four the
right hand will pinch a bass and a melody note. Any time the melody falls
on an upbeat, that is to say on an AND (one And, two And and so forth) one
of the fingers of the right hand will play the note by itself. So, in the
beginning of That'll Never Happen No More, it's pinch, finger, pinch,
finger, pinch, finger, thumb. Which brings us to the next question... right
hand fingering. Right hand fingering is extremely personal. In other words
what works for you is what is right. Here's what I would do in this case.
The first melody note on the open G string would be plucked my the first
finger of my right hand... the second note or A# would be plucked by the
second finger...the third note or B (open second string) would be plucked
by my first finger and the fourth note or D (third fret second string)
would be plucked by my second finger. For some strange reason the fifth
note or open E string would be plucked by my SECOND finger as well as the
sixth note or G. Why this is, I can't explain... It's just the way my right
hand likes to do it. Remember what Roy Book Binder says: 'The left hand is
what you know, and the right hand is who you are.'

In any case, I do not think doing it your way will create problems on down
the road. What you need to do right now is to strive for smoothness NO
MATTER HOW SLOWLY you have to play the tune. You are definitely on the
right track though. Please keep me posted on your progress.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Steve sent a question

Mr. Kaukonen. Forgive my confusion. I'm a newcomer to this. My question is about walking up. In "walking up" from Dmaj to D9, do you substitute the "walk" for the last quarter note of the Dmaj? What is the first note of the D9 you strike after getting to the second fret? Does the same timing convention hold true in going up to G7, i.e., do you use the last beat of E9 to walk? What is the first note in G7. Congratulations on establishing an excellent teaching tool.

Dear Steve

Another good question. When I started teaching seriously, I realized that
it would be nice if I had more of a formal music background with an
established vocabulary to describe things. Such is not the case, however,
and I sometimes have to create my own vocabulary. Anyway, 'walking up' is
simply an ascending line into the next chord change. In the case of
'walking up' into the D9 chord you are not really transitioning directly from the D major chord. Remember, as guitarists, our goal is to make
transitions appear seamless... to make it seem as if there is always
something going on. In this case, you play the figure in D major, then the
ascending line is on strings 3 and six. The walk up starts on the up beat
of the last quarter note... In terms of the melodic line, it is really the
pick up note of the next one. I know I'm probably not explaining this well.
Truth be told, I never really thought about this little part in this light,
which is why it is a good question.. The same timing convention does hold
true for the G7. Remember, the up beat of the four is the pick up note of
the next one. Same, beat... just a different way to describe it. The first
melody note of the D9 is on the 2nd fret of the 3rd string. You are now in
the D9 chord. The first melody note of the G7 is the open 3rd string.

Steve, this is a really good question and I'm going to think about this and
figures like it. I hope my answer just doesn't confuse you more. Please let
know if this helps or confuses... and thanks so much for joining us in our
little world.

Have a great Holiday Season..


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Subject: Jorma Question
Pat sent a question

I just have one general question, not really having a lot to do with any of your lessons because you really do explain them well. I do "okay" with the fingerpicking part of the lessons....Any advice on "jamming" or ear training? I'd like to put on a cd and be able to play along with it. and.. on practicing.. Any tips you can give to get to a point of proficiency on guitar would be greatly appreciated. Thank You

Dear Pat

I personally find jamming with pre-recorded stuff a contradiction in terms although I understand that it is better than nothing. That said, see if you can find a small support group of friends with similar tastes in music. Get together once a week and just play stuff... trading off leads and comping. I know this is easier said than done, but see if you can scare up some buds to jam liver with. As far as listening to CD's etc and playing with them, try to train your ear to recognize the proper voicing for each chord being played. The good news is that most people tune to pitch these days which makes it easier. After a while, you will be able to listen to even an old blues master who doesn't care how he tunes and recognize the chord positions. Patience, I'm still working on it too... but it is rewarding!

Season's Best to you and yours!


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Subject: Jorma Question
David sent a question

dear jorma, just bought "waiting for a train", and have to tell you that the song is great, and your playing kicks ass.i absolutely love all those partial chords, and your explanation of the theory behind them makes the lessons worthwhile. for us hackers (in my oponion) there is nothing worse then learning new licks and tricks,and not knowing what they are, and why they work in the song context.your explanation is knowledge gained and gives players like me the ability to take these new ideas and use them somewhere else in our playing. great job, although i`m kind of bummed that you didn`t yodel!(only kidding) can`t wait until next month; the audio clip preview is a great (and needed) touch. best wishes for the new year, david mclean

Dear David

Glad Break Down Way is working out for you. We're doing our best here, and
love to know when we succeed... or fail. Keep on picking and enjoy life.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Rich sent a question

I am having a little trouble getting the exact right hand picking order during
the introduction with the descending line, and the beginning of the chord
. During the descending scale, it seems to me to be 6 1 3 4 1
4 and repeat. But that doesn't account for the 6 4 bass line., and when it
gets to the C, the rhythm varies and the picking order seems to change. Also,
when the chords go from the Em to G D G D, etc. I am a little unsure of the
right hand picking order there.

Dear Rich:

Jorma here. I'm in Scottsdale, Arizona right now without high speed
Internet connections, so I'm going to have to try to work from memory. What
I hope to be able to do is to give you a constructive overview of the parts
you are having trouble with. Let's look at the descending line part of the
intro first. Note wise, that would be E, D, C#, C... back to D and then
repeating the phrase. In terms of strings and frets: Open E, 3rd fret
second string, second fret second string, first fret second string... back
to the third and up to the open first. Now, in this part the bass is simply
a 6 4 alternating bass... quarter notes all. Try doing the intro without
using ornaments or eighth note triplet rolls in the melody. That would be
to simply play the important melody notes stated above, following the
timing in the lesson. Remember, the feeling for the thumb should be boom
CHANG boom CHANG... or one TWO three FOUR etc. Remember that unless you
feel that it is absolutely imperative that you learn exactly what I played
there, it is the overall feeling that is most important.

Now...when you get to Em, G D G D etc... the right hand will be playing a 6
4 bass throughout that set of changes. In order to make this work, the D
chord you will use will be the normal first position D with the thumb of
the left hand on the second fret of the sixth string... the F# which is the
third of the D chord. It would be counted like this.

Em 2 3 G/ 1 2 3 4 /D 2 3 4 /G 2 D 4

Em 2 3 G/1 2 3 4/D 2 3 4/Em 2 3 4

I think that change to the G chord on the 4 of the first measure of each
phrase is what makes it seem a little tricky. If you look at the melodic
phrases in this more simplistic way, I think it makes a little more sense.
Once you get a feeling for the groove, you can begin to add ornaments as
you see fit.

I really appreciate this question. It brings up things I probably should
have thought of when I did the lesson. Please let me know if this helps you
or if there are any more layers of the onion I can peel back... or if I'm
just being confusing... in which case, I'll try to be more concise.

Best of luck with your playing...


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Subject: Jorma Question
George sent a question


I've tried several times in the past to use finger picks but when I strum something like in this song the picks will pop off. How do you keep the picks on your fingers? Are they from a particular manufacturer? If so, from who? I see that I have three question marks in this question. Does that mean I've exceeded my two question quota? Thats four questions now.

Dear George:

Easy big guy... I'm getting a one question feeling from this.
Anyway...Here's the way I look at the finger pick thing. Some people use
them (like me) and some don't. There are some things you can do with them
that you can't do without etc. The reverse is also true. I use Jim Dunlop
brass finger picks. Why brass? No real reason. I just like them. The gauge
is .025. I wear them fairly far back on my cuticle. They are not like an
extension of my nail, they are just a hard surface to pick with. My right
hand position has the blade of the thumb pick parallel to the strings. The
fingers approach the strings at a 45 degree angle so that when you pick a
note, the upper side of the pick touches the strings. Thusly, when you back
pick, the lower side of the pick touches the string. This minimizes the
possibility of the pick getting tangled up in the string, although it does
sometimes happen. It's embarrassing. Open the picks a little bit so that
when you put them on your fingers they feel comfortable. Once you have them
on tighten them on your fingers by squeezing gently. Right hand technique
is extremely personal. I've been working on mine for years. See what you
can come up with. Please let me know if this is of help to you or if you
would like me to try to peel more layers off the onion.



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Subject: Jorma Question
Stuart sent a question


I hope that I'm doing this right. This will be just one question. I'm saving my 2nd question for when I get further into my lesson. I'd like to ask you about an alternate fingering for the D9 chord that is used in How Long Blues. I've used this chord before in another tune, but I fingered the bass note with my thumb over the six string instead of using my second finger as described in the lesson. To some extent, I find that using my thumb in the bass for this chord allows me to be efficient when moving from the chord before - and to the chord after - at least in this tune. What are your thoughts about fingering the D9 chord this way? My main concern is that I don't develop a bad habit for the future with this. I'm just starting to take on more challenging material, so I'm not so able to distinguish between what my own personal playing style might be or what might be just bad technique. If I decide to finger the D9 chord with the thumb in the bass, is that OK? Thank goodness that I have your guidence on this. Regards,

Dear Stuart:

Jorma here from Hawaii. This is a good general question. In this particular
case, it probably doesn't make much difference if you use your thumb or
not... especially since you are moving into a G7 with you thumb on the
third fret of the sixth string. Obviously there are some chords which must
be made using the thumb. Generally speaking, the thumb tends to be a clumsy
way to fret strings. It would be a good idea at this point to try to learn
to make the chord comfortably both ways. First position finger picking uses
a lot of thumb in chord fingerings. When you start getting into more
sophisticated chords it may not work as well. That said, fingering is
extremely personal. I have seen people do some very strange things, which
just sound terrific. Since your concern seems to indicate you are
interested in learning the guitar and not just songs, I would say get
comfortable with alternative fingerings. it will stand you in good stead on
down the road. Let me know if this answer was helpful to you.
Thanks a lot for joining us in our little corner of the musical world.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Stuart sent a question

My question is regarding your description of the "wild thing rhythm" and the use of the thumb. You say " put your thumb and brush with the second finger" What do you do with the thumb? Unfortunately I am having problems with the video portion of your lesson( which I hope to fix)and can not see what you are doing.

Dear Stuart:

I apologize for the ambiguity of this technique. It has been pointed out
to me that this rhythm technique is essential to my style of playing...
I'll try here to peel a few more layers off the onion.

Consider the 'boom chick a' rhythm. This is sort of a Mother Maybell
Carter rhythm. If you were playing with a flat pick (let's use a five
string first position C chord as an example) your pick would pluck the
fifth string, fall to the fourth and brush across the remaining four
strings then picking back across the first two or three strings... it
doesn't matter. The rhythm generated would be Boom (5th string) chick (the
next four strings) & a, the back stroke. Now for the so called Wild Thing
Rhythm... or however you relate to it. I presume"Oh this is in Good
Shepherd where the lyric goes 'Oh Good Shepherd, feed my sheep...'

Starting with the D chord, 'Oh' is the thumb on the fifth string, 'good'
is a brush with the second finger over strings 3,2, and 1, change to the C
chord and brush again with the second finger over strings 3,2, and 1
damping immediately so you create a snare sound... immediately pick up on
the second string with the first finger bringing the thumb in on the fifth
string and the brush strings 4-3-2-1- with the second finger

Do the some thing with the Em to A change..although in this case your
thumb starts out on the sixth string and moves to the fifth when you change
to the A.

The rhythm in this case is boom, chick, chick a boom chick
Remember.. boom is the thum... chick is a back brish with second finger
and 'a' is an up stroke with the first finger.

Please let me know if this helps.


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Subject: Jorma Question
Ernie sent a question

Hi, Jorma

In Good Shepherd, when you're doing the "Wild Thing" rhythm and heel-muting for effect, are you hitting (back-stroke-and-heel muting) all the strings or just a few?

Thanks for these lessons (and great Blues Cruise show!),

Ernie from Manhattan

Dear Ernie

The back stroke simulates a snare sound... hopefully. It really doesn't
matter how many strings you hit as long as you mute them immediately and
don't lose the rhythm feel. To be more specific to your question... 'just
a few.'

Thank you Ernie...


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Subject: Jorma Question
Jim sent a question

This is not a question. I just wanted to inform you that in the July issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine, you were rated # 17 among the readers pole of most favorite acoustic players. Also your first song ever written, "Embryonic Journey" was rated # 9 as favorite acoustic songs. Quah was rated # 11 amoung favorite acoustic CDs.

I think this is great and you deserve it. Really I fell you should be rated higher. Thanks for the wonderful teaching style on breakdown way.

My freinds are amazed when I play your style and songs for them.

Have a great holiday weekend!

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