Finding the Master

“At first the music almost repelled me, it was so intense, and this man (Robert Johnson) made no attempt to sugarcoat what he was trying to say, or play. It was hard-core, more than anything I had ever heard. After a few listenings I realized that, on some level, I had found the master, and that following this man’s example would be my life’s work.”
― Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is truly my favorite guitarist of all time. From when I was 13 years old, I have been enamored with the movement of his left hand. The fluidity, tone, and vibrato. Having watched dozens of his live performances over the past 23 years, it is amazing that he never seems to play a wrong note.

Over the past 70 years, the guitar has had it’s fair share of experimentalists — from Jimi Hendrix to The Edge. The counterweight has always been Eric Clapton. His style is the way guitar should be played at its most basic level: soulful and in the pocket.

When I started playing guitar (at the age of 14) in 1991, revolutionary music was happening in all directions: Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. Metallica had just released their Black Album (which was huge among guitarists). U2 had reinvented pop music with Achtung Baby.

In the midst of all the new music of 1991, I received the VHS of Eric Clapton’s 24 Nights for Christmas — which I then proceeded to watch 500 times. I still believe that performance at Royal Albert Hall is the pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s guitar playing.

I quickly tuned out of all of the music happening at that time, and committed to learning all of Clapton’s material. Having Eric Clapton as my central focus in my formative years is still affecting the way I play guitar even now.

With regard to my nylon-string playing — my casual right hand, and right knee positioning are non-traditional. It’s very Clapton-esque actually. I think the first “classical” song I learned was Tears in Heaven when I was 14 or 15.

Because I emulated every nuance of his movement, my right hand is typically slung over the bridge area of the guitar. I sometimes favor an upward swiping motion with my middle finger, and a downward strum with my thumb. It’s a finger-style that’s effective for playing blues but was never intended to translate to classical guitar. [You can get a good idea of the technique in my video above — or you can watch Clapton do it here.]

You might also like to play…

Eric Clapton: Wonderful Tonight | fingerstyle guitar + TAB

Gustavo Santaolalla: Dearest + TAB (from the Eric Clapton doc: Life In 12 Bars)

Mark Knopfler: Finding Altamira + TAB

How to play Fingerstyle (Clapton) Blues

For Fingerstyle (Clapton) Blues I wanted to create a personal ode to Eric Clapton’s guitar playing. I compiled a bunch of my favorite Clapton licks into a single, instrumental fingerstyle piece for guitar.

I began with a solid blues lick based in an E position blues scale. The notes of that phrase were accumulated from watching Clapton warm-up right before his performances. Some of my favorite moments are watching a master just “noodle” around on the guitar.

The actual introduction of this piece is pulled from the intro of Before You Accuse Me. From there, it’s a 12 bar blues progression with tight (in the pocket) licks intertwined.

Enjoy, the tab is available below:

The guitar tab is beautifully written across 3 pages. Your order of play will look like this: Intro, Verse, End 1 — Intro, Verse, End 2.

**Fingerstyle (Clapton) Blues

Fingerstyle Blues is played one whole step down: D G C F A D — but you could just as easily play it in standard tuning.