Smokestack Lightnin by Hubert Sumlin Lesson

Learn to play Smokestack Lightnin by Hubert Sumlin on JustinGuitar!

View the full lesson at Smokestack Lightnin by Hubert Sumlin | JustinGuitar

@Richard_close2u @LievenDV @JGAdmin

The full lesson link is throwing a 404 error

but the URL looks the same as the one accessed via the Song page

Smokestack Lightning by Hubert Sumlin |

But I now see the link here is missing a G at the end of lightning the url says lightnin

Easy fix for someone.



[mod note: fixed the link, thanks for the heads up Toby]

Cheers :blush:
| Richard_close2u | JustinGuitar Official Guide & Moderator

This rhythm is hard. Going at it slowly, still that last beat is so tricky.

Question about finger independence for this style.

Do we think about the thumb independently from fingers here? How do other players think of this? Is it separated like foot to hand in your mind, or do you think of a hand movement unique to the strings you are playing?

I have this kind of working, using a hand-based mental method, but it feels like it will be a one-time thing, and the next song will require starting from scratch again. When I see the famous folks play this, it seems very much like they have thumb and fingers all independently controlled rather than having a specific hand movement.

Hope that makes sense.

This would be the goal, but it’s not easy! I have played some fingerstyle and learned a few fingerstyle songs, but I don’t yet have thumb-finger independence. So, I have to learn each piece one note at a time (maybe what you call “hand-based method”) and it’s time consuming, obviously. (Although, it does get a bit easier with each new song.)

I think to learn true thumb-finger independence, you really have to practice it – for example, playing the Em pentatonic scale with your fingers, while the thumb plays the bass note. Also, playing different rhythms with the fingers (quarter notes, eighth notes, triplets, swung eighth notes) all while keeping the bass going with the thumb. I have not tried to systematically do such exercises, but it’s something that I would like to start doing.

BTW, there have been a few fingerstyle posts recently, maybe those guys could weigh in, too: @TRJ @EndlessRepetition @Sebastian_Dewulf-Ortega


I like the scales with the thumb drone idea. I hadn’t thought about exercises yet and it sounds like a great mental exercise.

When I was learning finger style I would count Thumb Finger Thumb Finger Thumb Finger Thumb Finger in stead of 1&2&3&4&. The thumb 90% of the time is played on the Beat and the figures usually play the on &. When it come to playing both together I would count Both instead of thumb. It really helped with the rhythm and feel of thumb finger independence.

I like this idea would help get the sound of intervals into you head as well

Thanks for the link that is a cool song I will learn.

I can’t really give any intelligent advice. I got obsessed with learning fingerstyle arrangements from a few months in but didn’t do much in the way of exercises. It’s all been about learning fingerstyle songs. Early on my guitar teacher tried to show me a thumb/finger independence exercise, I tried it and he said it looked like I’d been doing it for months, so I decided to bin it and keep to the songs. I don’t really think about where my thumb or fingers are going and I don’t consciously try to make them independent of each other. Unless the songs hard and then I slow it right down and repeat the same few bars endlessly but its usually the fretting hand that I’m teaching.

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Hi all,

Indeed a cool song to learn.
With fingerstyle guitar you definitely want your thumb to be independent.
The thumb is your metronome and keeps it grooving.

Best thing to do in my opinion is to learn a lot of songs.
It takes time, but you will notice that after a song or 10 it becomes easier to learn a new song.
In the beginning it took me a couple of months to get a song under my fingers, learning 1 bar a day.
Now depending on the difficulty of the song, it takes me between a few days or a couple of weeks.
You’ll notice that a lot of patterns you’ve learned in one song, or used in others songs as well.

It’s a good idea to isolate the thumb movement. And practice this, so you do not have to think about this anymore. I find that the slower you start, the more solid it will become. If you reach a speed where you start to make mistakes, I believe it’s best to take a step back.

Below a link to a tab with 40 thumb exercises of Richard Smith.
These will help you out a lot.
I believe the explanation video’s can be found on YouTube as well.

Depending on your style of music, I might also be able to recommend some songs to begin with.
Let me know and have fun. It’s really worth the effort :slight_smile:

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Thanks for sharing your experiences. I will take a look at the link this weekend, if not tonight. Your comments on the speed is what I found as well. I’ll keep in mind the idea of long-term ability coming faster at the expense of speed up front. A couple months sounds like me right now. I have a hard time memorizing, and for a couple days with the rhythm, but once the rhythm is set in my head, that part goes well and it is remembering where and when to put fingers to strings.

I am just out of grade 2, with plenty of things not really mastered. I haven’t been up to the lessons on bends nor anything on slides, so I have chased those things outside the lesson plan. I haven’t been able to do tremolo fast enough yet to sound good.

My music tastes are in my profile. Related to this question, I favor Delta and Texas style blues, but those are not exclusive. While these can tend toward acoustic, I am playing mostly with HSS electric on the single coils, but have a good HH guitar as well. The HH sounds a little too pristine for blues, so maybe I need to look into my amp settings a bit better.

A couple song recommendations would be appreciated. On my table right now are ‘Hey, Hey’, ‘M&O Blues’, and just recently ‘Smokestack Lightnin’. I am working on the primary licks then will start to fill in the stuff around them.

Hi, it definately is worthwhile to explore fingers rather than a flat pick. The thumb should become your metronome, its that simple. Whatever your fingers are doing. Your thumb is your bass, your percussion kit, against which you play the melodies or chord melodies or picking patterns. Then again, in most courses you are being thought to use three fingers (index, middle and ringfinger) for stings 1, 2 nd 3. It need not be. I usually get by with two, and I use my pinky to rest on the pickguard, to keep my hand stable. Then, if you would like to have a sterile exercise, you try and pick a melody of a song with just those two fingers, counting it out or playing with a metronome. Then you look at the chord sequence and you just play the root on every beat.

Then you put it together.

There is a lot of muscle memory going in this learning, better get it right from the get go (remember, practice makes permanent ;-))

I could advise anybody to have a look at Scott Ainslee’s introduction to Mississippi John Hurt (Alternating bass style)
and to try one of the basic songs. (Hey Honey). There are 6 lessons in this series, and as far as I know, you could get the TAB from his website. This is the fourth lesson, and it discusses the right hand. Be sure to look at the others as well :wink:

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Yes, thanks from me, too, very interesting takes and thanks for the links, as well.

Hi Michael,

As TRJ is saying you indeed have several ways to play fingerstyle. I use my thumb + 3 fingers and mostly play with the palm of my right hand sitting on the lower strings. This gives you the muted bass notes.
I don’t use the pinky for stability, but you see a lot of players doing that, so that’s a personal choice I think.

To start out you could try Mississipi Blues from Willie Brown. There are quite some tutorials of that one.
Not sure if you like the style of Appalachian Blues. Maybe check out Cocaine Blues and Going down that Road from Eric Bibb which have that kind of feel. These are not to difficult. You have to learn 8 bars which you repeat the entire song. Later on, you could try to play some variations.

If you like those 2, let me know. I’ve written a tab for these, which I can send over.

@TRJ and @Sebastian_Dewulf-Ortega ,
Those videos are very interesting! I spent a lot of time this morning looking at those and doing some song research. I can get the smokestack basic riff rolling around a few times with the thumb keeping on the E most of the time. I miss frequently in one place with finger 1, so a spot for more targeted practice. This great fun - more than I thought it would be!

I have a print copy of Mississippi Blues in one of my books. I’ll keep that one in mind. I did research the Appalachian Blues a bit. The groove is not as deep and distinct as I prefer, so I will keep digging around for songs, but I will likely come back to this once learning something is not as much effort.

I have some recordings to listen to and pay closer attention to what is being done. Adding those practice ideas to my daily as well!


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As it should be!


Just starting to learn this… Do you palm mute all strings throughout or only palm mute the 6th string for the bass note?

just the bass note gets muted. Listen and you will hear what to do. The bass note is somewhat muted, not totally deadened.

By the way, there are a few different covers around, some are slower. That really helps when you are still building speed. I like to play the one on Spotify with Billy Gibbons featured. It seems to have more expression to fiddle with and is slower than the Howlin Wolf version.

have fun! :slight_smile:

Thanks, it did sound like I should just mute the bass note… But the mechanics of just muting that one string with the palm will need a bit of work! Can’t quite get the position right for that yet.

Two things you can do for that:

  1. Set the heel of your hand on the guitar about where the bridge and strings meet. move up or down the strings a small bit to get the right sound. I cannot think of how you could play with the full side of the hand on the smallest strings - my fingers just don’t bend up enough for that.
  2. angle your hand or guitar (or both) so the heel is muting, and the area near where your little finger starts is on the other side of the bridge. I find this is possible in some situations and is dependent how I am holding the angle of the guitar and how far forward or back it is relative to my picking hand’s shoulder. This feels pretty fiddly to me, and I only try it to lighten up the duration of the heavier strings ringing out. The wrist is not very ergonomic this way.

I’m playing with electric. I don’t think that will matter much for what we are talking about. The biggest thing for me was getting my head around the independence of the thumb and fingers. It is very natural now for me to play Smokestack Lightning, but new stuff still needs the same struggle with independence of motion.

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