Anyone who plays guitar can learn a great deal from old masters of solo acoustic blues.Their strategies for playing solo guitar are useful across different genres of music.
Solo blues players employ chord forms and strategic uses of the open strings. Their techniques allow guitarists freedom of movement on the fingerboard while providing sufficient harmonic support.
My goal as a teacher is to serve the people who present themselves before me.
In a workshop setting, this involves finding material that is both within and just beyond their reach, while pointing them down the path with the least obstacles to their personal success.
– Scott Ainslie
In order to amplify Scott’s value in their communities, educational, concert and folk club presenters often add a guitar workshop or master class for guitarists in their area.
The content of Scott’s guitar workshops are always tailored to the musicians who show up, guitars in hand, ready to learn.
Workshops can focus on basic right and left hand posture and technique; examine standard and open tunings; and look at the strategies that solo guitarists of all stripes use to create full and interesting song accompaniments.
In his Slide Guitar Workshops, Scott has also refined his teaching of basic right and left hand playing and muting techniques necessary to control the sound of the slide on the guitar.
Students should bring their guitars, a sound recording device,if available, and for slide guitar workshops, a slide that fits securely on their little finger.
Read Scott’s advice on choosing a slide for acoustic instruments
Over the past twenty years, I have offered a variety of courses as an instructor at The Swannanoa Gather, Common Ground On The Hill, the Summer Acoustic Music Week, Augusta Heritage Blues Week, and other residency camps.
Without restricting our work to these topics, the descriptions below will give you an idea of what I have taught and played, and may be useful in choosing what we’ll explore together.
The list below will give you ideas of what I might do in a scaled-down version in a 2 to 3-hour workshop.
Course Descriptions for Week-long camps:
Song Accompaniment Lab: Quick Arrangement Enhancements
The problem with most guitar instruction is that you have to learn on the instructor's territory. This popular course flips that on its head and takes advantage of the fact that guitar technique is easier to retain in the context of an existing accompaniment.
Do you have a guitar accompaniment that you think could sound better? Feel stuck in what you know? Bring a song you're in the middle of working out (or have played forever) and we’ll listen to your accompaniment and dress it up, expanding your technique, knowledge, and musical thinking in the process.
We'll look at guitar alternatives in the accompaniment you already have established: chord forms, altered tunings, strategic use of the capo, bass runs, use of dynamics, delivering on the emotions of the lyrics with both guitar and vocal coaching. Most musicians get through building one accompaniment, heave a sigh of relief and turn to the next song. Our goal is to take the next step, make another version of the accompaniment and strengthen the piece by using all the artistic tools at your disposal.
The beauty this course is that these are five minute fixes, not "Go home and practice your minor pentatonic scales in all keys starting on the sixth string, the fifth string, the fourth string---then play them in thirds, fourths, etc." We’ll explore concrete guitar instruction built solidly on the foundation of what you already know.
The goal of each class is to take you a few steps further down the road that you are already walking, not transplant you. This is a perfect crossover class for singer-songwriters who play guitar, as well as, for guitarists who sing.
Robert Johnson in Standard and Dropped-D Tunings
In this course, we’ll take a look at how to play and understand chords in several different positions on the neck in the context of learning a couple of Johnson’s songs. Of the 29 songs that Johnson recorded, thirteen (including Kind Hearted Woman, Me and the Devil, The Phonograph Blues) recycle the same A-chord forms, common throughout the solo blues repertoire. Johnson’s Dropped-D work follows on the recorded work of Lonnie Johnson and Tommy Johnson (and he sometimes billed himself as “one of those Johnson boys”). This will be a concise fly over of solo blues playing strategies in standard tuning.
Robert Johnson’s Solo Acoustic Techniques
Robert Johnson’s recordings reflected and extended commercially viable solo blues guitar styles that juggle bass, rhythm and lead parts – the three guitar ‘jobs’ of a rock or blues band. In this intermediate class celebrating the centennial year of the Delta Blues Legend’s birth, we’ll walk students through Johnson’s signature pieces with an eye to learning to juggle these elements as soloists. The accompaniments Johnson and other solo acoustic blues guitarists laid down provided a solid foundation for much of the guitar music that followed.
If you have wanted to get a handle on blues chord forms, slide guitar, or to begin to move up the neck of the guitar and have figures and chords there to highlight a vocal line, create an instrumental break, or vary the accompaniment to shift the emotions of a verse or bridge, focusing on Johnson’s guitar work will help you down those roads. Familiarity with some fingerpicking, slide guitar, open tunings and dropped-D will be helpful.
Introduction to Basic Slide Techniques
I’ve been teaching slide guitar for more than twenty years. Last spring, I envisioned reversing the order in which I teach the skill sets necessary to control the slide and the magnificent sounds it can make.
We’ll begin in standard tuning, playing one string at a time, and focusing on five basic right and left hand techniques that will open slide guitar to any player, in any tuning. Once we’ve established the basics, we’ll move to open tunings. When we’re done, you’ll have and understand the keys to the kingdom of slide guitar.
Even if you currently play some slide guitar, this review of basics and exploration will be useful. This course is recommended for anyone considering the “Guitar Techniques of Robert Johnson.”
Hand and guitar posture, controlled slide movement, getting a decent tone and developing several types of vibrato will all be covered as we proceed through slide in different tunings and take a look at strategies for solo and ensemble slide playing in standard tuning, too.
The music of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt as well as my arrangements will be featured. Bring a slide that fits snuggly on your little finger. See my notes on choosing a slide.
Demystifying Major Open Tunings
Open-G, D, A, E, and C tunings all have certain chord shapes in common: once you’ve learned one of them, you’re sort of learned them all. We’ll have a look at these tunings and explore the fingerboard and harmony while looking at the blues, among other things.
Blues, Give Me Your Right Hand: From John Hurt to Robert Johnson
Making music is a profoundly physical activity: what your fingers, your thumb, and your arm do impacts the sound you make. In this class, we will focus on developing a strong vocabulary for the right/picking hand. Think of it as calisthenics.
We will spend the week developing muscle patterns, power, and freedom in picking hand skills that will transform your playing. Once established, these muscle patterns will be with you for the rest of your life. If your thumb fails to play that bass note when you fingers get busy, or you feel like your arm is glued to the top of the guitar and unable to move, this class is for you.
While the fretting hand often monopolizes our attention, without a strong and sure grounding in right-hand/fingerpicking techniques, all those fancy runs and chord changes fall short. In this class, we’ll be examining and working through basic fingerpicking techniques that enliven and anchor acoustic blues grooves. Think of this as a boot camp for your right hand and wear your sweats. Your thumb (and your listeners) will thank you.
The Music of Mississippi John Hurt
Even before John Hurt was re-discovered in 1963 at the age of 71, his recordings had influenced a small coterie of guitar aficionados.
His introduction to a wide audience at the height of the folk music revival allowed him to play a pivotal role in establishing fundamental finger picking techniques that have marked the music of everyone from Doc Watson to Beck; Bob Dylan to Bruce Cockburn and Jerry Garcia.
In this class we’ll explore Hurt’s repertoire while focusing on his right and left hand techniques with a special eye to establishing the right/picking hand muscle patterns necessary to maintain a steady alternating bass while developing independence on the high strings to play melodies.
Singing the Blues
The voice is the most personal instrument and learning a new way to use it can transform you.
African-rooted aesthetics – carrying traditional spiritual concerns – gradually brought the art of singing in America to dramatically new territory and changed what we expect of pop, blues, soul, jazz, gospel and even country singers today.
From a white choirboy, folk singer, to stage singer and Blues singer, I’ve spent decades exploring what it means to sing using the tools of an African-influenced tradition. Come prepared to learn something of the differences between European and African traditions and techniques/strategies to use your own voice to greater emotional effect. These techniques are effective in a variety of genres. No instruments required. We can work with a song you know and see how they might be applied.
I am now offering 2-3 hour workshops and individual skype lessons. See Singing the Blues for the Non-Blues Singer.
Playing the Blues
Understanding the African roots of blues, song structures, and the fact that we use the West African minor pentatonic scale for melodies and the Western European major scale for harmonies will give you a few important tools to begin to explore this sturdy and vibrant musical tradition.
Piedmont & Delta Blues
These two great branches of African American traditional blues form the backbones of country, boogie-woogie, rhythm ‘n’ blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. This class will explore some of the repertoire and showcase the differences between the ragtime-based, East Coast Piedmont styles with the more clearly African Delta Blues.
Blues Guitar Strategies in Standard Tuning
We’ll lay the groundwork for understanding blues guitar techniques that are the foundation for rock ‘n’ roll and contemporary country music. We’ll examine the chord forms and techniques (that allow solo guitarists to sound like two guitarists) with an eye to understanding how to find and employ these sorts of forms up the neck and how best to use them as soloists. A few chords, a few licks, a simple strategy, and enough guitar information to hold it all together.
A picking technique and instrument directly out of Africa, claw-hammer banjo has a unique place in American music.
After more than a century of conjecture, we now know that the claw-hammer technique is traditional among Ghanaian and Senegalese players of what in Ghana is called an akonting, a three-string ancestor of the American banjo.
Playing claw-hammer transformed my right hand guitar techniques by mobilizing the entire forearm to address the string.
If I have anything special to offer the world of claw-hammer banjo players, it is directly due to the time I was blessed to have spent with the Hammons Family of Marlinton, WV back in the 1970s. Read more about this.
We’ll have a look at some common tunes in the three most commonly-used tunings for the banjo. And we’ll also spend time on a selection of Lee and Sherman Hammons’s banjo tunes and tunings, which lay somewhat off the beaten path and share a singular beauty because of it.
Use the form below to contact Scott to arrange a private lesson or the booking form to arrange a workshop in your area when Scott is on tour.
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