Raking In The Blues
Raking is playing a few strings in one picking motion, almost a slow strum - you hear the notes (or mutes) one at a time but so close together they are rarely played in a set rhythm. In this lesson, we'll be checking out the most common form where we have 2 or 3 mutes strings that are played before finishing on a note. We'll explore raking both up and down and look at the different techniques you can use to perfect this technique.
Down Rake To Finger 1
The easiest to get to grips with first is a down rake finishing with a note played by Finger 1. Start with Finger 1 on String 1 (the note A) and let Fingers 2 & 3 rest lightly on Strings 2 & 3 and mute them but so as to allow String 1 to ring true. Then strum down from String 3 to String one slowly and you should hear: click, click, note. Don't fuss about the note much yet, just be happy with getting the clicks and ending on a pure note.
Start slowly and build your confidence, gradually working up to quite a fast strum.
You can also start working on playing it quite aggressively - playing the notes hard and fast. If you start making a more aggressive movement with the picking hand then you might find you hit extra strings so try to let Fingers 2 & 3 cover more strings than strictly needed to stop unwanted noise if you play extra strings.
Experiment and see how it feels and what you can get out of it. Once you are familiar with the sound then you'll likely start to notice it on recordings and you can start to steal other ideas or 'feels' that you hear.
Perfect this on String 1 before moving onto thicker strings because when you do, your first finger will also have to mute all the strings underneath it which adds more to deal with.
On String 2 and thicker you might find it comfortable to rest the pick on the string beneath the note you finish on. This is technically called a rest stroke and can help make the ending note very strong while also muting the string under which is very helpful.
Down Rake To Finger 2/3/4
To do the same technique but ending on fingers other than Finger 1 we need to mute strings behind the note. It's easiest to learn this finishing on a note played by Finger 4 and gradually work back to Finger 2 which is the hardest to get a clean solid rake with (very few people even bother with Finger 2 for this!).
So place Finger 4 on 8th fret of String 1 (the note C) and then let fingers 1 & 2 (and maybe 3 too!) rest on the thicker strings and try again as you did in the last exercise. Start slowly with the click, click, note and then work your way up to doing it hard and aggressive.
Up Rake To Finger 3 / 4
So it's possible to up rake to any finger but you'll find there are considerably more technically challenging so we'll start on Finger 3.
Place Finger 3 on 7th fret of String 4 (the note A) and then let Fingers 1 & 2 rest lightly on the strings behind them. This time you'll rake upward - I feel like I'm dragging the pick up when doing this - it's more relaxed and feels quite different to the downward rake.
Once you have this rocking then you might like to explore up raking to Finger 4 - it uses more or less the same technique but feels more awkward (to me!) and it a lot lesson common (I suspect that others find it awkward too!).
Up Rake To Fingers 1 / 2
When raking up to fingers 1 or 2 the muting is almost entirely done with Finger 1 which poses a number of problems. The finger may be on a fret where there are natural harmonics to rather than muted notes you end up with harmonics (cool?). Other times it just won't mute solidly enough and you end up with open string notes ringing out... practice will fix it but it ain't easy.
Logic says that I should be able to use other fingers in front of finger 1 on the thinner strings but it feels very awkward and I can't recall seeing anyone else do it either - but you might find it easy and that it works great for you. Give it a go, might end up being a founding sound of yur own style!
Once you're confident with this then there are a couple of nice 5 minute exercises to add to your routine:
Fun With Rakes
Just improvise over a backing track using as many rakes as you can. Note the focus is on the rakes, don't let yourself get carried away into a big jam where you do just a couple of rakes - really work on them. Find one you dig and repeat it over and over and work it into your vocabulary!
If you want more detailed and closer inspection you can try playing the Minor Pentatonic and putting a rake into every note! You have to decide yourself where you swap from up to down (obvious starting point would be halfway). This approach is better for refining the technique and you'll notice mistakes a lot easier than jamming around over a backing track, but it's just quite as much fun!