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Watch the Amazing Grace online guitar lesson by Tim Sparks from Roots, Rags & Blues

The tunes in this collection come from the early part of the 20th Century, some from the late 19th Century. They evoke a time when American Roots music crystallized and was transformed by the effects of recordings and radio. Some of these selections were written for guitar, others are adaptations from piano and jazz band arrangements. These tunes typically have a more complex architecture than the streamlined popular music of the Post WWII era. For example, a tune like Maple Leaf Rag has a form of AABBACCDD as compared to the AABA 32 bar form which became a staple from the 1930s through the late 1950's.

The best way to go through the lessons is to start with Amazing Grace and Victory Rag. I use a lot of partial bars to make chords and play melody passages and these two lessons introduce the basic fingering techniques and chord shapes used in the more difficult selections such as Mississippi Blues and Maple Leaf Rag.

These video lessons were shot in two roughly 6 hour sessions. I tried to explain the most important fingering issues, and repeated most sections several times so you will have ample segments to stop, rewind, or advance slowly to check the fingerings. I apologize if sometimes the melody lines and riffs go by a little fast. I often refer to chord forms as an A shape, D7 shape, etc. Most of the time, this means a first or second position chord form. In reviewing the lessons, I did catch myself referring to a D chord as a G chord instead of G shape but I think you'll find things are made clear between the video and the tabs. I definitely hit more than a few clams but the tabs and notation indicate the correct notes.

A long list of Roots Music fingerstyle guitarists particularly influenced these efforts. Some contemporaries I should single out are Duck Baker, Pat Donohue, Woody Mann, Steve James, Eric Lugosch, Eric Schonberg, Ernie Hawkins, Dakota Dave Hull, Phil Heywood, Guy van Duser, Lasse Johansson, Andy Ellis and Teja Gerken. My experiences teaching at places such as the International Guitar Seminars, the Swannaoa Gathering, the Winnipeg Folk Festival and the University of Minnesota have also been priceless sources of ideas and inspiration.

Amazing Grace 1

Amazing Grace is one of the oldest and best known Gospel Hymns. It was written by John Newton, an 18th century English slave ship captain. Newton had a religious conversion during a violent storm at sea and composed the words. It has been assumed the melody is from an old bag pipe tune although it has recently been speculated that Newton took his inspiration from an African slave song. Newton became a minister and late in his life renounced the slave trade. Ever since, Newton's hymn has resonated in both Black and White American folk traditions through countless versions. Roling Stone writer Steve Turner chronicles the history of Amazing Grace from John Newton till present day in "Amazing Grace:The Story of America's Most Beloved Song". A good review and synopsis of Turner's book can be found here.

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