How To Play Blues Guitar - Blues In E Train Whistle Lick
by Jim Bruce
After studying ways to finger pick blues guitar for the last forty years or two, it strikes me that thumb motion control is important. If asked by newbie guitar players 'exactly what's the most essential strategy to practice constantly', my reply is inevitably - work with that thumb control, repeat it endlessly and you won't regret it later on.
Early Picking Techniques
Thumb control allows the fingers to be more innovative, as you don't need to focus excessively on your thumb. Likewise, frequently in the early guitar styles, where the bass strings were damped with the picking hand, the basses weren't fretted at all, which permitted increased versatility for the fretting hand fingers.
A finger-picking style typical in early blues roots music is referred to as the 'monotonic bass'. This shows that the thumb strikes several bass strings, and does not alternate in between strings.
For this method, players held the palm of their picking hand in contact with the first 2 or 3 bass strings, silencing the noise so that it ended up being more of a 'thunk' or 'thrumming' sound than a clear note. Big Bill Broonzy was a master of this style.
Some other guitar players, such as Lightnin' Hopkins, typically utilized this monotonic bass style, however sometimes he let the basses ring. The monotonic bass style was also used by other blues masters such as Mance Lipscomb, Scrapper Blackwell and obviously Robert Johnson.