Flat Pickin’ Floating Exercise – Part I

 Flat Pickin’ Floating Exercise – Part I – Key of C

Hello fellow guitarists! Here is a flat picked floating exercise in the key of C to help you get around efficiently up and down the fret board.

The term “floating” is often used by flat pickers. Floating is simply a technique of using open strings to move between positions on the fret board without losing the continuity of musical thought.  Floating is not unique only to Bluegrass flat pickers but is used to great effect by finger style players as well as classical players. In fact, I was just reading through a Fernando Sor exercise in B minor which used an open B string to move from the open position to the six position on the fret board. In addition, the great finger style jazz guitarist, Lenny Breau often used floating in his improvisations to great effect!

Since open string notes are necessary, C major and sharp keys work best .  However, as long as open strings can be utilized, floating will work in flat keys as well. Using the open strings in conjunction with fretted notes played in rapid succession produces a cascading chiming effect which is very pleasing to the ear. Since floating is used extensively by flat pickers, this exercise will be centered around Bluegrass flat picking style. The music notation and tab is included in the links below on PDF files.

Exercises A.1. & A.2.


Exercise A.1. is a one octave C major scale utilizing the open D, G, B and E strings. It will move you from the open position to the fifth position on the fret board.  When you first try this,  using the open strings will feel counter intuitive to the normal fretted scale positions,  so practice it very slowly using a metronome until it begins to feel more natural. Listen to the chiming effects produced as you increase the tempo.

Exercise A.2. is the C major scale covering two octaves. Be careful of your fingering and use alternate up and down picking. Once again, make sure to practice this exercise very slowly and correctly and then increase the tempo gradually. It will take some work but you will get it!

Exercises A.3. & A.4.

Exercise A.3. Introduces the C minor pentatonic scale.  Since there are three flats, the only open string we can utilize is the G but this allows us to move effectively  from the third position to fifth position and higher. The C minor pentatonic scale will be utilized over a C major chord in produce a bluesy sound which is very common in Bluegrass soloing. The Eb provides a minor 3rd  against the major chord creating a crying sound. Try mixing this scale with the C major scale.

Exercise A.4. Adds the flat fifth (Gb) to the C minor pentatonic producing the C Blues scale. The flat fifth is another common sound in Bluegrass, Blues and Jazz soloing.

Exercise A.5.

Here are four licks utilizing floating to create lines using both the Major and Blues scale in C. Notice how we can move up and down the fret board. Practice these and then create your own licks!

Fiddle Tune – Wagoner


Here is a version of the traditional fiddle tune “Wagoner” in the Key of C using the floating concept with the E, B, G and D open strings. Work on this tune to help build your coordination with the fretted and open strings as well as moving up and down the fret board.


I hope you have enjoyed these exercises. Look for more floating exercise in the Keys of G, D, A & E in the coming months!

Road Tested Method Book Review- “The New Art of Ragtime Guitar” by Richard S. Saslow

I first noticed Richard S. Saslow’s book entitled “The Art if Ragtime Guitar” in 1975 in an advertisement in the back section of the November issue of Guitar Player Magazine.

The advertisement read:

“ Green Note’s latest.  Complex finger picking moves you beyond traditional two and three chord songs and into the sounds and chord progressions of early jazz. The demonstration record, together with transcriptions, musical analysis, and nearly 100 instructional photos, make clear numerous finger picking techniques, some never before discussed in print. The finest book on finger picking guitar yet produced. Tab included”

Yahoo….and all for the whopping price of $4.95! I was sold. After all, I had been listening carefully to Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller and other rag guitar icons after being introduced to them by Boston ragtime guitarist Pete Kairo and Yazoo Records. I eagerly ordered my copy.  The book came a few weeks later complete with the little flimsy plastic record and I began to dig in.

"The New Art of Ragtime Guitar" by Richard S. Saslow


The book was just as advertised. Richard had composed seven original ragtime pieces and he included extremely detailed instructions for each piece as well as the scores in musical notation and guitar tablature. The book contained three sections. The first section is a general review of finger style technique for the ragtime style. Richard covered both the right and left hand essentials in great detail using pictures, chord grids, musical notation and tablature to great effect.

The second section included a very detailed analysis of segments of measures for each composition. This section is so complete that any student determined to play the ragtime  style can learn how to do so with some concentrated practice.

The last section includes the complete scores of each composition and Richard’s songs are extremely musical, well constructed and fun to learn. The tunes are written in C and few other sharp keys friendly to the guitar. The chords used in the compositions include a combination of open, barred and broken string chords and the songs are graded from the least challenging to the most challenging as the book progresses.  Any student who digests Richard’s book will have a great foundation for ragging the blues in an ad hoc improvisational manner.

Unfortunately some where along the line of the many moves from upstate NY to Atlanta I lost the book. It may still be buried in some unopened box from one of the family moves. Who knows?

Any way, I was ecstatic when I learned the book had been republished by Richard Saslow in 2011 under the title “The New Art of Ragtime Guitar” for $24.95 and was readily available on the net. I quickly ordered my copy again but this time there was no little flimsy plastic record but MP-s files downloaded from the Internet.  The songs and format are identical to the original book except Richard has added one additional composition entitled, the “Absquatulation Rag”

After playing through the compositions in the book, I felt like I had found a long lost friend.  I have already begun to use “The New Art of Ragtime Guitar”  with some of my students. I highly recommend this book to any player who wants a solid introduction to ragtime fingerstyle.

Well done Richard and thank you!

My Favorite Recordings – “Home in Sulphur Springs” by Norman Blake


This is the second in a series of articles highlighting my favorite recordings. This is not a “best of all” list but simply some commentary on recordings that had a deep and lasting influence on me. The articles will cover all genres of music. Enjoy!

“Home in Sulphur Springs” by Norman Blake

I remember the day well. It was Friday afternoon in October, 1975 and I had just returned home from a stressful day at work.  As I got out of my car, I spotted the brown rectangular package sitting upright against the door on my Apartment stoop. My spirits rose immediately! Not only was it Friday, but my long awaited package of treasures from Rounder records had finally arrived.

It was difficult to find small independent label recordings in the small upstate New York town where I lived. In the days before the Internet, ordering through the mail was the only option. I discovered the Massachusetts based Rounder records through a musician friend of mine named, Kevin McElroy. Kevin was from the Boston area and was a traditional Irish and roots musician.  Kevin introduced me to real folk, bluegrass and country music.

I ran upstairs and eagerly ripped open the box. Among the six or seven recordings ordered was Norman Blake’s “Home in Sulphur Springs”.  Norman recorded it in 1971 in NashvilleI had chosen this record after Kevin had played me “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, the landmark recording by the Nitty Gritty Band. Norman was indeed featured on that record primarily playing some very, very tasty Dobro.

"Back Home in Sulpher Springs" Norman Blake



I savored looking at the “Home in Sulphur Springs” album cover. On the front was a large black and white photograph of Norman with what appeared to be a very worn slotted Martin guitar.  Norman had on these round wire rim glasses, long hair and a good deal of facial hair. Of course, this was not too unusual for 1975. But some how he looked different …….his picture reminded me more of the Confederate soldiers taken prisoner and photographed at Gettysburg in 1863 than a 70’s hippie. Norman wasn’t smiling at all and seemed quite serious. On the back cover was a picture of an old steam train pulling cars over a wooden trestle bridge as well as some very interesting liner notes about Norman and the music.

Confederate Prisoners at Gettysburg


I put on the record and some dynamic flat picking started off the magical musical journey with “Bully of the Town”. It only got better after that! Not only were there traditional songs but new songs Norman had written that were terrific. The standouts to me were the original compositions, “Crossing No 9.” and “Ginseng Sullivan”. The musicianship on all the songs was superb.  Norman sang in a somewhat whiny southern drawl . It was obvious he was not trying to be commercial in any respect. The songs he had written sounded like they had sprung from the 19th century and were more akin to Stephen Foster or the Carter Family than the typical 70‘s acoustic music.  The original songs were biographical and Norman spun them like a good story.  Here was a great musician and songwriter!

I could go on and on but I would rather let you discover the fine gems in this recording on your own. Luckily, Norman Blake’s “Home in Sulphur Springs” was re-released on CD format by Rounder and is readily available. With all the hype about “Americana” music these days one can get easily confused on what is the real deal.  If it was up to me, the definition of  Americana music found in Webster’s  dictionary would simply say, Norman Blake. If you are not familiar with Norman Blake and his many recordings, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

My Favorite Recordings – Linc Chamberland – ” A Place Within”


I’ve been collecting records and compact discs since I was nine years old;  so I have quite  a collection of music! This is the first in a series of articles highlighting my favorite recordings. This is not a “best of all” list but simply some commentary on recordings that had a deep and lasting influence on me. The articles will cover all genres of music. Enjoy!

Linc Chamberland – ” A Place Within”

The year was 1977 and as usual I was walking into the teaching studio of Guitar Guru Dick Longale on Goodman street in Rochester, New York on a Saturday afternoon.  Usually when I walked in, Dick was busy teaching a student and I would take a seat on the couch and observe. I always liked to get there early to watch and pick up something new. Anyway, this particular afternoon something was different. There was Dick and three of his students huddled around Dick’s old stereo phonograph player. It was obvious something new, different and exciting was happening. They were listening to Linc Chamberland ‘s ” A Place Within”.

 Dick’s ear was bent towards one of the speakers and he was mumbling something about quartal harmony. Dick kept playing “Stella by Starlight” over and over and was focused on Linc’s guitar comping  supporting Dave Liebman’s tenor . I myself, was startled by what I heard……very modern sounding comping and a flurry of machine gun modal line guitar solos. It was kind of like listening to Coltrane ….but on guitar. After a half a hour of playing and replaying “Stella”, Dick turned his attention to Linc’s trio version of “What’s New”. I picked up the album cover and there was picture of a bearded Linc Chamberlain looking like some kind of “jazz monk” ……… I was intrigued. As soon as I left Dick’s studio I drove all the way to Ithaca to a music store near Cornell University and purchased the record.

“A Place Within” – Linc Chamberland
“A Place Within” was recorded for Muse Records in 1976 and released in 1977. It has never been released on CD as far as I have determined. You can, however, find some ripped selections from the record on YouTube.  It is worth checking out.

Linc Chamberland

Road Tested Method Book Review: “Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar” by Stephane Wrembel


When it comes to exploring new method books, I have to admit that I am a “method book junkie”.  I am always on the look out for new approaches to the guitar to satisfy my curiosity and knowledge quest.  This is the first article in a series of reviews I will do on method books I have successfully “road tested” after months of practice.

 “Getting Into Gypsy Jazz Guitar” by Stephane Wrembel

The Gypsy Jazz Guitar style was almost entirely invented by the great guitarist Django Reinhardt. In recent years Gypsy Jazz has reached widespread popularity with many new and exciting players.


My mentor and guitar teacher, Dick Longale was a great admirer of Django and spent some time with Django as GI in Paris right after the war ended. I have always had a fascination with this music and desire to explore the unique style. I was looking for a methodology to transition from Bop jazz guitar to the Gypsy guitar.  After acquiring a Dell Arte Gypsy Jazz guitar in a great deal, the time was right to get started and Stephane Wrembel’s method book “Getting into Gypsy Jazz Guitar” published by Mel Bay was exactly what was needed!


"Getting Into Gypsy JAzz Guitar"

For the last six months I have been working with Stephane Wrembel’s method book “Getting into Gypsy Jazz Guitar”.  Currently there are several method books and videos on the market covering this style and I did purchase two other books which I will not mention at this time.  Of the three method books, I found Wrembel’s to be the clearest and most helpful to making the transition to Gypsy Jazz Guitar and building the proper basic foundation necessary for the style.  I must warn you that this book is not for guitar beginners but is perfect for intermediate guitarists with a good foundation of theory and improvisation who want to start studying the nuances of this remarkable style. Although I prefer standard musical notation, which the book includes, it also offers tablature as well as useful visual fretboard diagrams for those who do not read musical notation.
Stephane begins the journey by discussing and presenting valuable daily picking exercises for students to build chops for the “la plume”  right hand technique. In fact, I have found these picking exercises extremely valuable for improving any plectrum style (e.g. bluegrass, jazz etc.) requiring a strong, quick and accurate picking approach.
Stephane then covers some typical Gypsy style chord voices. I found that not all of the voicings would work for me due to thumb reach. I was able to find my own suitable voicings using the bottom four set of strings to achieve a similar sound. Stephane clearly discusses the importance of the minor 6th and minor 6/9 chords instead of the minor 7ths in this music.
I found Stephane’s beginning approach to improvisation using major and minor triad shapes very useful and similar to an approach I have studied for the music of Charlie Christian….. I found this to be a very interesting parallel.
Stephane’s coverage and presentation of  the various arpeggios was extremely helpful; especially his presentation of open arpeggios horizantally on the guitar neck.  Both the harmonic minor scale and diminished arpeggios are a very important and integral part of the Gypsy Jazz style and Stephane covers them thoroughly with many tasty lines to practice. I found these sections to be excellent.
The only drawback I have with the book is that there is very little information  regarding finger positions and the student is left to figure these out on his own.  Through trial and error I found that most of the “open” arpeggios are best played with the first and second finger (like Django) and the other exercises sound best when limited to three fingers. I avoided using the fourth finger as much as possible to get the proper sound and feel of the music. Getting the proper fingering made me back track several times.

Ed's Dell Arte Gypsy Jazz Guitar

I am still practicing and digesting the material in this book daily and I estimate it will probably take a year of concentrated daily effort to fully get the basics down properly……but it will be well worth it!
 “Getting into Gypsy Jazz Guitar” is a well thought out and extremely helpful book for those wanting to study the Gypsy style. I highly recommend it!