Acoustic Blues Guitar


Authored by Dan Bowden


Course Code: OGUIT-351

Next semester starts September 23

12 Weeks

Level 3

Level 3

3-Credit Tuition


Non-Credit Tuition


Traditional acoustic blues is the bedrock on which rock, jazz, country, and electric blues music was formed. Without acoustic blues as a foundation, we would have no Elvis, no Led Zeppelin, no Rolling Stones, and no Jimi Hendrix. While crucial to the development of modern music, the study of acoustic blues is, at the same time, the study of the future of American music as well. Acoustic blues remains an important influence on ongoing generations of musicians, including The White Stripes, The Black Keys, G. Love, and many more important current artists.

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Acoustic Blues Guitar is geared towards students with pick-style electric and acoustic guitar backgrounds and offers a structured and comprehensive entrance into the world of fingerstyle and bottleneck acoustic blues guitar. The goal of the course is for students to develop a foundational, working repertoire in the acoustic blues style that includes early and contemporary material from the Mississippi Delta, Texas, Georgia/Carolinas, and more. You will learn to fingerpick melodies and solos over independent bass patterns, and perform in the acoustic bottleneck slide style in standard and open tunings. These techniques will provide a strong platform for pursuing folk, pop/rock, country, and other fingerpicking guitar styles. The course also provides an important perspective on the history of traditional blues, including its artists and the regions in which the music developed. You will gain an appreciation of the role traditional blues artists played in the development of all American music that followed and how the legacy of acoustic blues is manifested today.

The material will be presented with extensive tab/notation, audio, and video, with music broken down into digestible concepts for the acoustic blues novice and intermediate level guitarists to master. The initial focus of the course is to develop independence between the thumb and fingers of the picking hand. As the comfort level is established with single-note bass patterns, the course introduces alternate bass figures upon an ever-expanding repertoire. The course then explores the bottleneck style (slide over bass patterns) and alternate tunings, concluding with a study of current contemporary voices in the acoustic blues style.

Artists covered include Big Bill Broonzy, Tommy Johnson, Elizabeth Cotton, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Tampa Red, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, Corey Harris, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson, and more.

By the end of the course, you will be able to:

  • Recognize the primary regions where blues developed, including the characteristics of music and representative artists in each region
  • Fingerpick melodies and solos over independent bass patterns
  • Perform in the acoustic bottleneck slide style in standard and open tunings
  • Develop a varied repertoire of acoustic blues that includes historic as well as contemporary examples
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Overview Syllabus Requirements Instructors
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Lesson 1: Developing an Automatic Bass

  • Early Architects of the Blues
  • Automatic Bass: Keeping the Beat
  • The 12-Bar Blues Progression
  • Identifying Blues Forms by Ear
  • Big Bill Broonzy's "Hey, Hey Baby"

Lesson 2: B.B King and Eric Clapton's "Key to the Highway"

  • The 8-Bar Blues Form
  • Drop-2 Chord Inversions Applied to Acoustic Blues
  • Playing "Key To the Highway"

Lesson 3: Developing an Alternating Bass

  • The East Coast "Piedmont" Style
  • Alternating Bass
  • Alternating Bass with Mixed Chord Rhythms
  • Holding Down a 12-Bar Blues Form with Alternating Bass
  • Preparing to Play Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train"

Lesson 4: Delta Blues, Part 1

  • Combining Techniques
  • Prison Work Songs
  • Early Delta Blues Icons
  • Learn "Canned Heat Blues" by Tommy Johnson

Lesson 5: Blues Meets Country 

  • Blues Influences in Early Country Music
  • Picking-Hand Options
  • Preparing to Play Doc Watson's "Deep River Blues"

Lesson 6: Acoustic Blues Soloing

  • Pre-War Urban Blues Guitars
  • Characteristics of Acoustic Blues Solos
  • Quarter-Step String Bends
  • Open-String Notes
  • Diagonal Pentatonic Minor/Blues Scale Fingerings
  • Playing Self-Accompanied Blues Leads
  • Perform "Sweet Home Chicago"

Lesson 7: Texas Blues

  • Texas Blues Guitarists
  • Open Position Pentatonic Minor/Blues Scales
  • Open Position Scales with Bass Notes
  • Song Example Lightnin' Hopkins "Going to Dallas to See My Pony Run"

Lesson 8: Delta Blues, Part 2

  • Robert Johnson: The Man, the Myth, and His Influences
  • Applying Drop 2 Chord Inversions to Acoustic Blues
  • Learn to Play Robert Johnson's "Kindhearted Woman"

Lesson 9: Bottleneck Blues, Part 1 (Standard and Open G Tuning)

  • The Development of the Bottleneck Guitar Style
  • Using the Slide In Standard Tuning
  • Playing Slide in the Open G "Spanish" Tuning
  • Classic Open G Riffs: "Red Rooster, Mean Old World," "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "Write Me A Few Lines," and "Death Letter"
  • Learn to Play Muddy Water's "Feel Like Going Home"

Lesson 10: Bottleneck Blues, Part 2 (Open D Tuning)

  • Bottleneck Masters: Sylvester Weaver, Blind Willie Johnson, Tampa Red, Mississippi Fred McDowell
  • Using the Slide in Open D Tuning
  • Self-Accompanied Bottleneck Blues
  • Owning the Bottleneck Melody
  • Solo Arrangement for "Amazing Grace"

Lesson 11: Vintage Acoustic Blues Classics

  • The Genius, the Wizard, and America's Foremost Fingerpicker
  • Tampa Red's "Boogie Woogie Dance"
  • Blind Blake's "Police Dog Blues"
  • Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Horse Blues"

Lesson 12: Modern Acoustic Blues Classics

  • Keepers of the Flame: Contemporary Acoustic Blues Artists
  • Keb' Mo's "You Can Love Yourself" (Standard Tuning Example)
  • Johnny Winter's "Dallas" (Open G Tuning Slide Guitar Example)
  • Corey Harris's "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?"


Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements 

Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar Scales 101 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. 
Students should be able to:

  • Play instrument in tune
  • Read music (traditional notation or TAB)
  • Play open chords, barre chords, triad, and seventh chord inversions

(Blues Guitar and Classic Rock Guitar would complement the course.)


  • No textbooks required


  • Students are required to record video while performing with a backing track for their assignments. Options for recording video include:
    • Smartphone
    • Digital camera
    • Webcam (using either video recording software, or the video recording tool that is built into the learning environment)


  • Acoustic guitar
  • Slide


  • Students are required to capture their performance, as well as monitor audio output. Options include:
    • Input (one required):
      • XLR microphone and audio interface (recommended option)
      • USB microphone
      • Built-in computer/mobile device microphone
    • Output (one required):
      • Headphones (required if multitracking and/or input monitoring)
      • Studio monitors and audio interface
      • Built-in or external speakers
  • Note: Depending on your setup, you may also need an XLR cable, microphone stand, and pop filter.

Student Deals
After enrolling, be sure to check out our Student Deals page for various offers on software, hardware, and more. Please contact with any questions.

General Course Requirements

Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Classes. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course. 

Mac Users

PC Users

All Users

  • Latest version of Google Chrome
  • Zoom meeting software
  • Webcam
  • Speakers or headphones
  • External or internal microphone
  • Broadband Internet connection


Dan Bowden

Author & Instructor

Dan Bowden is an unusually versatile guitarist and teacher, specializing in a wide range of styles including rock, jazz, blues and R'n'B. With over a dozen instructional books for the guitar to his credit, Dan has reached guitar students worldwide. His best-selling titles include: Wes Montgomery: The Early Years, Mel Bays Complete Accompaniment Method For Guitar, and Electric Blues Guitar Workout. Along with doing freelance performing in the Boston area, Dan plays and records with the blues, roots and originals group: Stingy Brimm. He has taught guitar at Berklee since 1989, and is himself a Berklee graduate. Dan's first guitar effect pedal was an original 1960's Maestro Fuzz-Tone. He has continuously used effects since that time.

What's Next?

When taken for credit, Acoustic Blues Guitar can be applied towards the completion of these related programs:


Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at

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