Free Flatpicking Lesson
Arranged for FGM by Mickey Abraham
Hello and welcome once again
to Flatpicking Guitar Magazine’s free lesson portion of our monthly
newsletter. I’d like to begin this month by saying thank you
to all the folks who look forward to clicking here each month. If you
enjoy these lessons please make sure that you continue to subscribe to
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This month’s flatpicking tune is an
old-time melody called “Dusty Miller.” My first exposure to this tune
was on David Grisman’s Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza double disc CD.
This tune was played by the great Ronnie McCoury. I later
became familiar with a Tony Rice rendition that has a completely
different feel. My lesson version is not a McCoury
transcription but it is heavily based on his awesome invention of this
One interesting aspect of
“Dusty Miller” is how it blurs the lines between major, minor, and
blues. Take a listen to the lesson mp3. If I were to ask you what
flavor the melody is; major, minor, or blues, you may have a tough time
coming up with a definitive answer. What is going on is a minor
flavored melody being played over a “major-ish” chord. I say
“major-ish” because most bluegrass guitarists choose to play a chord
with no major 3rd in tunes like this. Try experimenting with using an
Am chord for the a section (this will really bring out the minor
quality of the melody). Then, try using an A major (this
should start to bring out the blues quality in the melody.)
Next, try using an Asus2 (just lift off the fretted note on the second
fret of the b string while playing an open A chord to play an
Asus2). The open b string added to the chord will achieve an
A chord that is not major or minor. This cool suspended chord
will fit the melody quite well and make the major/ minor/ blues hybrid
more ambiguous and mysterious.
When picking the melody to
the A section I suggest to keep your hand in first position, but when
picking the B section you will have to play out of second position
(index used on second fret, middle on third, ring finger on fourth
fret, and pinky up on the fifth). Most of the traditional
flatpicking tunes were written on the fiddle which has all these notes
in their first position. When we begin to play these tunes on
the guitar we often find the notes spanning two or three
positions. For example, the high ‘a’ note on the skinny e
string is played with your pinky on the guitar, while this note, on the
fiddle, is still in first position.
I hope you enjoy working on this cool
melody and adding it to your constantly growing list. The
traditional AABB form and hip vibe of “Dusty Miller” make it perfect
for a bluegrass jam tune. To me, “Dusty Miller” almost has a
heavy metal aesthetic to it -- in that old beat-up Martin sort of way!
If you have any questions on this
e-lesson or any great ideas for tunes you’d like to see here just drop
me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.