The Woodshed

Best Learn to play Chet Atkins DVD…..?


Hyas, Well I've been on a learnin' spree lately, and I'm wondering is there a stand-out 'Learn to play Chet Atkins' DVD that specifically goes into 2 or 3 songs but does them completely? I have a few songs like that that I learnt when I was younger but I haven't learnt any new ones for about a decade! Time to refresh! I really want to learn 'Mr Sandman', but need it broken down visually bit by bit. It seems to be the best way I learn... :)


Cheers, if all else fails I might have to read. But when it comes to guitar I ain't no good at book-learnin'!


The only instructional video I have ever bought is The Guitar Of Chet Atkins, taught by Chet himself. There are several Chet tunes on there. He plays them through at normal speed first, then comes back and breaks it down note by note. It does get a little intense, for intermediate and advanced players, but who better to teach than the man himself.

Here is a link that describes it. Maybe you can beat the price if you look around a little. It has been a while since I looked at mine, but I remember some of the titles to include, Petite Waltz, Bye Bye Blackbird, Maybelle, Mr. Bojangles, and there are others, but I don't remember right off hand. It's the best. I highly recommend it.


I don't have it and I have not progessed enough to go to Chet-style but I have heard some nice things about the DVDs by the late Buster B Jones. His Legacy of Country Fingerstyle Guitar Volume One has Mr. Sandman on it. He plays Travis, Atkins and Reed style and plays them very, very well.


No 'The Guitar of Chet Atkins' in a DVD that works in my region (4).... yet....


Downloading this one off the net as we speak... looks long enough to be comprehensive!


I agree with His Honor about my departed friend, Buster B. Jones. Brad (real name) was an excellent teacher and played so very confidently.


The guy demoing "Sandman" looks like he's doing a good job.

The core of the style is grinding practice on getting the thumb to keep the steady 4/4 while you add the melody to it.

'Freight Train', in C, as simple as you can make it, is probably one of the best songs to work from. Once you think you have the 'thumb thing' going, add the melody one measure at a time.

It seems impossible until one day in kicks in and suddenly seems easier. No video or teacher substitutes for practice, practice, practice.

There are no shortcuts


Thanks Norm - the hard part is that you're right. To get the thumb working independantly is the real tricky bit (apart from some of those INSANE chord spacings - wow) and nothing but practice is going to get me there. I'll google 'freight train' to start gettin' it going. In the meantime I feel like a 3rd grade finger painter attempting to replicate the Mona Lisa....


"Go Tell Aunt Rhody" is another simple song you can use to get your thumb trained. Grow it one measure at a time.


Here's an excellent tip for learning to get independent 'muscle memory' into your thumb and help shorten the learning process quite a bit. This method is borrowed from Barbershop Harmony learning music techniques and it applies perfectly for us thumb-pickers. What makes this technique invaluable is that it will allow you to learn much quicker, the main reason being, that you don't use a guitar at all! Because of this feature, you can 'practice' in your car listening to whatever recording you prefer - Mr Sandman is perfect BTW. By not using a guitar, the miscues of your actual picking on a guitar which will sidetrack your brain's imprinting the muscle memory of an independent thumb, are completely avoided. Your brain has no distractions and muscle memory will come very quickly. In the world of a cappella, the most highly recognized method of learning your voice part dead accurately and quickly is to play the song with the balance of your part by itself on one track noticeably louder that the other track with the other 3 parts. First rule is YOU DON'T SING AT ALL, NOT EVEN SILENTLY! You listen to the music while following your part on the chart (for us, you listen to the song and focus on what the thumb is doing). You do this to familiarize yourself with several aspects of the song and how your part relates to it. The next step is to sing silently - mouth the words but no volume at all - strictly silent. When you 'sing'silently, your vocal cords react to your brain's reading your part on the arrangement and assume the same position as when you actually are vocalizing, creating muscle memory. This is where this exercise can be used to teach your thumb to be independent. Once you've listened to the song many times to hear what the thumb is doing, you begin to thumbpick without using a guitar....'air picking' if you will. You'll find your fingers will want to 'play' too so you have to concentrate to stop them for now. Once you get adept at this exercise, now begin adding the fingers. Initially this won't come easily but persevere. You'll know when you're beginning to achieve an independent thumb when your fingers are appropriately stopped for a given passage while your thumb continues playing the bass line.

This method has several key benefits. First, you don't need to know how to play any song! You are totally free to choose a song that demonstrates clearly and easily a rudimentary yet strong thumb beat and easily heard melody/harmony notes played at a reasonable tempo. Mr Sandman is an excellent example.....Dizzy Fingers would be one of the worst examples! Secondly, you don't need a guitar so you can use driving time to practice. Third, your playing skill or lack thereof as can frequently be the case when deciding to learn fingerpicking, doesn't enter into the equation and interfere with your brain and thumb/fingers learning challenges.

Trust me folks, this really works. I know many people always preach that there's no shortcuts, just practice, practice, practice, which is true, however this IS a shortcut in that it maintains the dictum of P, P, P but it better focuses what to practice ON. You remove the variables of the actual physical picking on a guitar to learn a PROCESS. Once you get proficient at establishing an independent thumb, you transfer that learned skill to the guitar. This method merely removes several balls in the air in a juggling act, making the 'juggling' - learning an independent thumb - a more palatable task. Try'll like it!


....and that is why I come here =- great advice like that! I'll give it a try! :)


....and that is why I come here =- great advice like that! I'll give it a try! :)

– Rob Williams

Please let us know how this works for you. I'm willing to bet you'll amaze yourself at how fast you pick this up


Very cool Windsordave, that's exactly the sort of thing I come to this site for. Great sharing of information!

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