Jim's Complete Blues & Ragtime Fingerpicking Guitar Course
The first method that we'll look at in our quest for the BestGuitarCourse is the one offered by Jim Bruce at play-blues-guitar.eu.
Jim's Complete Blues & Ragtime Fingerpicking Guitar Course presents a series of comprehensive video lessons with full guitar tab, which will teach you to play fingerstyle acoustic blues, ragtime and slide guitar, in the style of legendary bluesmen such as Blind Blake, Big Bill Broonzy, and Robert Johnson.
Each video lesson in the course shows how to play blues guitar by presenting a complete song in a particular style, taking it section by section, then showing how to put those parts together.
Course Author / Instructor
Jim Bruce is the course's author and instructor. He's a well established and respected guitarist in the acoustic blues & ragtime genre, having recorded several albums to date. He also spends a fair amount of time playing this style of guitar music on the streets and cafes of Europe, and so has years of practical experience in performing these blues songs.
He shares this experience in the course - for example, in the video lesson for 'Key To The Highway', he presents the 'regular' and 'street' version of this tune, with the 'street' version being slanted towards a live performance.
Course Contents - What You Get
The course consists of 35 high quality WMV video files delivered as instant downloads ( there's also a physical data-disk option ) along with PDF files with full tablature to go along with the videos. Each of the videos is a complete in-depth lesson on learning one particular blues/ragtime song, for example 'Key To The Highway' (Big Bill Broonzy), or 'Crossroads' (Robert Johnson).
There's a lot of video to download, which is fine if you have a fast internet connection. If not, Jim offers to mail a pack of three data-disks containing the video and tablature files for a very reasonable fee (7 euros - approx. $9.50.) If you use a Mac you would need this option, as the MOV video files are not offered as a download.
The data-disk format is used instead of standard DVDs so that over 11 hours of detailed tuiton can be compressed onto just 3 disks (6 DVDs would be required for this course!) Just pop the disk in your computer, choose a lesson and play it like a normal video.
Course Description - What's in the Lessons?
Each lesson starts with Jim playing the whole song, at full speed. This is good to watch, although it can seem a little daunting, when you realise you'll be learning to play the same tune!
Then the lesson itself begins, as Jim breaks the song right down into small, manageable sections that you can work on in a practise session. He also slows it right down, making it much easier to follow along. Here's part of one lesson, showing the opening section to 'Blue Day Blues' by Scrapper Blackwell.
In the relevant sections of the video, the guitar tab or chord/fingering charts are shown in the lower part of the screen, making it easy to follow.
One thing that can seem difficult when you're learning to play fingerpicking guitar, is coordinating the picking action from your right hand, with changing chords and fretting notes with the left. In each of the lesson videos, Jim shows closeups of both the right hand picking technique and the left hand chord positions, so you can see more easily what's happening.
Each of the different song sections are then put together, so you can soon make progress towards playing more complete parts of the song.
In some of the videos (e.g. Crossroads), Jim also covers learning to play slide or bottleneck guitar, which is the basis of a classic 'blues' sound. The video sections on this are clear, with good closeups, and Jim gives some useful tips on how best to use the slide, for example, on how best to dampen the unwanted sounds with your left hand, which is an essential skill to master if you want to get the best slide guitar sound.
The slide guitar lessons use an alternative guitar tuning, and Jim explains clearly how to change the tuning of each string, before you start the lesson itself. As with the other lessons, the guitar tab is shown in the lower section of the screen, pointing out where to use the slide.
Also in the lessons, there are handy tips on singing the verses while playing. Jim takes individual lines from the verses, and shows where the words fit into the guitar part. This is very useful info, as it's one thing to be able to play the guitar part on its own, and another thing to be able to play and sing at the same time.
Just having the lyrics written out under the tab isn't always enough to figure out exactly where to come in with the vocals, so having this demonstrated clearly like this helps a lot. The video below features Jim singing and demonstrating part of 'When You're Down and Out' by Scrapper Blackwell.
Support for the lessons is by email, and I've always found Jim to be very responsive and quick to get back to me when I've had a question.
Overall - Our Verdict
I found Jim's Complete Blues & Ragtime Fingerpicking Guitar Course to be a very effective and practical way to learn play acoustic blues guitar. I liked the way that each video is completely dedicated to learning a particular song, so that after working through all of the videos, you end up with a whole set of songs for your repertoire, as well as a good range of fingerpicking techniques and licks that you can incorporate into other pieces.
To learn to play songs in this style of music, I think it's very important to get a sense of how the tune should sound as a whole, before learning each section, and that's just what you get with these videos, with Jim giving his rendition at the start, so you can see and hear what you need to aim for.
I thought that the way the tune was divided into small sections, and slowed right down, made it easy to work on parts of the tune in a single practise session, before linking the sections together.
There are plenty of closeups of both the right and left hand positions on the videos, which will help you perfect each section. I found the left hand closeups particularly useful, as just seeing the tab or chord symbols for a section doesn't always give enough info on playing more complicated sections - watching the left hand closeup clip over a few times really helped me here.
I also liked seeing the 'street' version on the 'Key To The Highway' video, where Jim shares his experience of playing this tune in a live setting. It's one thing to learn how to play the 'regular' version, but very useful to see how to tweak this into the 'street' version to give your playing some more 'oomph' when performing for an audience.
If you can play the basic open chords, and you're looking to get into learning some more fingerstyle/fingerpicking or slide acoustic guitar, then I would definitely recommend taking a closer look at this course. You'll get to learn some classic blues & ragtime tunes which will help you develop your abilities as a guitarist, and these can also be very impressive sounding things to be able to play for people when they ask you to play them a tune.
Price and Guarantees
Jim's Complete Blues & Ragtime Fingerpicking Guitar Course is currently priced at 59.95 euros (or $83) for all of the 35 video lessons, with a full, unconditional refund if you're not happy with it for any reason.