Tommy’s roll

One of the licks that Tommy uses very often and in variety of situations is a roll that consists of four groups – three 8ht notes each, followed by one or two notes completing the second bar of the lick. Here is an example from a song The Bug:

bug rollIt occurs in the middle of a bridge. Have a listen:

Each group is executed by thumb, 1st and 2nd finger. The notes are usually played so quickly that they blend into one another. At the end there are two (sometimes one) longer notes completing the bar. In some variations the lick starts over at this point (possibly with the change of left hand shape.

There are couple of things that I’d like to point out in this lick. If this pattern is totally new for you start slow on any three strings (for example first group of above lick) and loop it. Search for position of your hand where all three digits are comfortable. Once you can play it slowly you’ll have to change your thinking a little bit. Instead of thinking of every particular note, think about all three notes as one impulse. This shift in thinking is required if you want to play it at full speed. At some point you just have to forget about individual notes, you have to think about whole groups. That way for example, even if during performing one finger slips you still can finish current group and continue with the next. Last thing about the left hand. If it’s possible try to get whole the shape in one go. Try to avoid switching fingers between two positions one by one.

Now think: what other uses can it have? If you’re familiar with Tommy Emmanuel’s compositions, you have surely heard some of this lick versions a few times. Let me give you couple of examples:

roll fingerlakesStunning harmonic intro of Fingerlakes is based on our lick.

roll son of a gunHalf of the lick of Son of a gun. Try to guess the other half ;). In this case we don’t have two bar loops. Instead the lick repeats itself with some alterations (one or two ending notes) each bar.

These aren’t all the instances that Tommy uses this lick. You can hunt for other cases and share them here. I could give you at least two other examples off the top of my head (one played with a flat pick) so there must be more than that. And that’s what’s amazing about those things. Such a basic vehicle can give you so many different effects depending on harmony, tempo and licks surroundings. Who knows, maybe you’ll use the idea in one of your compositions?

Tommy E’s slide turn

In this post I’m going to write about an ornament that Tommy uses quiet often, especially in his soulful ballads. To be able to learn it you should have prior experience with barre, slides and hammer-ons. Without further ado let’s take a look at our little bugger:

So here it is. Notice the pinky doing it’s dance at around 51 s into the clip. What is actually happening there is a consecutive hammer-on, slide up and then slide down. Let’s take a closer look and try to refine the pinky move. By the way, Tommy’s guitar is tuned down a whole tone so he starts with barre on 7th fret. We’ll start with barre on the 5th to sound like him.

slide-turn-1Here our main note is the B on the 7th fret. It means that we could simplify all those hammer-ons and slides to just this one note. We start with the 5th fret and hammer-on the 7th with our pinky. Now we rapidly slide our pinky to the next fret and return to the 7th. I noted an accent on the final 7th note as it is most important in this lick and it should be well spelled (even if it’s just slided).

The hammer-on is pretty straightforward. The slide on the other hand might be a little tricky. First of all I don’t recommend using your whole hand movement to achieve it even if that is the initial temptation. It should be performed with muscles that distance your pinky from your 3rd finger. To locate those muscles lay your left hand on a table palm down with fingers slightly bent (there should be some air between your hand and the surface). Than try to move your pinky left (away from the rest of the fingers) with as little overall hand movement as possible. If you understand the correct movement you can isolate just the slide part and practice it while holding the 5th fret barre like that:

slide-turn-2 There are two key aspects of successful execution of this double slide. First of all muscles of your metacarpus (the main part of your hand) should be relaxed. It will ensure effortless sideways movement of your pinky. The pressure that you put on the string with your pinky should also be as tiny as possible. The less pressure – the less friction while sliding. Once the sliding part is no more a problem for you, try to add the initial hammer-on (5th to 7th fret).

Here are some modifications of this pattern that I stumbled upon the way (I’ll use our initial example as a base)

slide-turn-3In this example you remain on the first 7th a little longer. It sort of breaks the lick into two two-notes parts.

slide-turn-4Similar to the previous one but here you don’t slide 7-8. Instead you pluck the 8th fret and then slide back to 7th.

So this is a basic concept. Try doing it with different chords (open CAGED chords work very well for this). The other thing you could try is reversing the slides direction (as in making your main note the 8th fret and doing slide to 7th and back to 8th. Do you have any other ideas for this pattern? As for some homework for you, check Tommy’s Stay close to me and Angelina videos and try to spot patterns similar to what we’ve been discussing here.

Have fun!

Chet Atkins’ delusive triplet roll

Why delusive? Because it traps you into thinking that triplets start in a different place. Have a listen at two examples, one by Chet and one by Tommy.

In this video the lick is at 2:31. It contains three triplet groups.


In this video a very similar lick starts at 1:39. It contains four triplet groups.

When I first stumbled upon it seemed obvious that the roll contains triplets played on three strings by repeating thumb, 1st and 2nd finger. Something like this (hold Emaj for this ):


However no matter how long I tried to time above licks in this manner I always finished earlier than the original. It took me some time to find my mistake. And the mistake was the first group. It actually isn’t a group played on three strings. There is a hammer-on there so the first two notes are played on the same string. Here is a rough transcription of those two lick:


Chet’s lick starts on the second quarter note (on two). You play open 6th string with your thumb. Then goes the hammer-on and then the 5th string which is the last sound of the first triplet. It means that you begin second triplet with the fourth string plucked by second finger. The lick is based on C/G chord (C with G as the lowest note). Both 6th and 5th string are covered by third finger but you can use 3rd and 4th.


Tommy’s version is a little longer. It starts on one but the rule is the same. Chord is a bit more complicated. It’s C11 with F in the base and #5. you grab 6th and 5th string with your thumb in this one. Put your capo on 2nd fret if you want to play with the recording.


What fooled me in the beginning was natural grouping imposed by right hand fingering (thumb, 1st, 2nd). If it’d coincided with the triplet groups it would have been easy but at the same time it wouldn’t have finished on the first note of new bar (on the beat). By beginning with two notes per string and only then switching to normal right hand pattern the last note of the right hand group is also the first note of another triplet group or of anything that comes after the lick. Be finishing on the beat it it has more final sound to it.

This pattern is easily applicable to any chord as long as you can put those two notes per string in the beginning. The lick sounds good at the end of a phrase.


As a dessert, for comparison let’s look at very similar lick played by Buster B. Jones (1:56):

This version has normal beginning and so to end on the beat the last note of last triplet is repeated by the thumb.