Posted by Live from the Guitar loft
The One-String Diddley Bow is an American Roots instrument with only one string, and is usually played with some form of a guitar slide. It is the simplest form of a guitar, with some examples consisting of little more than a string and a stick. However, the significance of these instruments on Roots and Rock & Roll music cannot be understated. Because the diddley bow is so easy to make, it was often the first musical instrument performed on, by the legends of Blues and Rock music such as B.B. King, Lightning Hopkins, Blind Willie Johnson, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Elmore James, and Bo Diddley (who took his stage name from the diddley bow). Because the diddley bow is so rudimentary, it is the perfect guitar teacher… forcing you to make a lot of music with one single string. This eventually teaches you how to make more with less, and create more distinct and captivating music.
I was recently asked if I could create some tablature for the one-string diddley bow for two classic melodies, “Amazing Grace,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” These two melodies are perfect introductions for both learning to play the diddley bow, and learning to read tablature. The melodies are so recognizable, that most people could easily sing them note-for-note from memory, and the range of each song fits nicely on a diddley bow (which has about a two octave range). Most importantly, though, is the power that these melodies have to move people, cause them to reflect, and bring them together… and that is the true power of a deeply moving melody!
In case you are not familiar with the concept of tablature (tabs), let me give you a quick explanation… Tablature is a type of written musical notation that indicates the position of each note on the instrument, rather than giving a specific pitch for each note in the melody. It is perfect for an instrument like the one-string diddley bow, because it can be hard to tune the open string of a rudimentary diddley bow to a specific, determined pitch, therefore, making it hard to hit a defined set of notes. Instead, the tablature gives you the number of the fret, or fret marker, to indicate the pitches. This enables you to learn the melody once, and it will automatically be transposed into whatever key your diddley bow is tuned to.
In the tablature below, the melody is indicated by the chromatic fret position of each. Above each note are the corresponding lyrics. These tabs are arranged this way in case you are not familiar with reading rhythmic notation. The notes correspond to the specific lyrics associated with them, giving the notes a rhythmic context.
Okay, now that the academic stuff is over with, it’s time to learn some music! Below, I have a simple arrangement of each song, written out in tab form. Then, I have a video of me performing the song based on that original arrangement.
I would like to thank Peter Murphy of Blind Kiwi Blues (www.BlindKiwiBlues.com) who built the one-string diddley bow that I use in these videos, and Rocky Mountain Slide Company (www.RockyMountainSlides.com) who designed and crafted the ceramic tonebar that I use in the “Amazing Grace” video.
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If you are interested in diving deeper into the playing techniques, songs, and Roots music techniques that are associated with the one-string diddley bow, check out my Instructional Video Series on the diddley bow, available on DVD or via Digital Download HERE!
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