Dan Zanes

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Rock Island Line

Bass Runs and Two Finger Riffs

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Rock Island Line > Bass Runs and Two Finger Riffs

Greetings Guitar Lovers and Other Animals! We're back in the saddle with Lead Belly's classic The Rock Island Line and in this lesson we'll explore some ways to make this song begin to really come alive with bass runs and a 2 finger riff. The key of E has so many wild possibilities and you definitely don't have to wait any longer to start incorporating them into your playing. This song is a beautiful example of a flexible piece that can accommodate many different approaches. The way I'm doing it here is based on my current mood, next Tuesday it could be different!! I'm sure you'll find the same is true for you and right now the name of the game is to gather together as many licks and tricks for each chord shape as possible so that you can express yourself as completely as you want to when you're jamming. Lead Belly certainly seemed to have a thousand and one musical moves up his sleeve and although we may never get to that level of genius it's something to shoot for....And let me know how you're doing with all this, I want to hear from you!!

Dan Zanes




Topics and/or subjects covered in this lesson:

Print Print Chords & Tab

Loop 0:00 Run-Through of Rock Island Line

Loop 0:54 What You Will Learn Today and History of Rock Island Line

Loop 2:16 Spicing Up The Chords

Loop 15:54 Practice Loop Of Chorus With Spiced Up Chords

Loop 17:08 Verse Breakdown and Closing Thoughts

Loop 21:06 Practice Loop of Whole Song


Download the Sheet Music PDF





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Kip Marchetti
Kip Marchetti May 20, 2017

Dan -

I've been lurking in the back since you came onboard at the Sonic Junction trying to figure out if I want to learn the songs you're teaching on the Uke or the guitar. In a way I'd like to learn a new instrument but to be honest I love the feel of an acoustic guitar in my hands. I'm not much of a picker but there is something about the sound coming from wood and steel strings ... IDK. 

I want to hear the full story about how you found and rescued that Guild guitar ... what kind of garbage can ... what condition was it in ... what did you have done to it? How old is it? Very cool man.

The Rock Island Line ... you just gave the fundamentals of Rock n Roll Lesson. Beauty.

Anyway, I take flatpick lessons from Chris .. from scratch ... I've been pretty much a strummer and finger picker my entire life and decided at the age of 59 I wanted to learn a whole new method and genre of music. I feel like I've made a little progress over the past year or so with his help, ... so I want to say to your students that one of the most important things anyone can do is lose the fear of recording themselves and go ahead and submit videos regarless of where you are in your journey. A video of a riff or half a song or whold song. Getting feedback from your teacher really helps. Chris is a great great picker but takes all the time in the world with me and all of his students. We're lucky to have such renowned teachers. I can tell you are the same way. It is social music afterall.

That's all I got ...

Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes May 21, 2017

greetings kip! i really appreciate hearing from you (and everyone else out there) it definitely makes the lessons more meaningful when i have a sense of who's checking them out...

the guitar was in a beat up case on top of a pile of about 20 black plastic trash bags on atlantic avenue. i've seen plenty of cases in the trash before but never with guitars in them...until now! it needed one tuner and a set of strings. i was able to date it as a 1960 guitar. older than me but only by a year. and it's full of songs.

i totally agree with you about overcoming the fear of making videos. electronic media has taken away so much of the music making in our society but it also has the potential to really help so many of us become better musicians! so let's all commit to that concept and see what happens!

i appreciate the good words and look forward to seeing what you're up to.

thanks again for checking in man...and i'm in complete agreement with you about chris's lessons. they're awesome!



Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor May 15, 2017

fantastic lesson - having so much fun with this one - would love to see more tunes where you "go deep"!

Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes May 21, 2017

hey there michael!

thank you for that feedback. i think you might be on to something here. maybe intermediate is more useful to the crew here at the junction than the straight beginner lessons.

this gives me some interesting ideas for how to move forward so please let me know if the like the direction in the next month.

i think it's almost time for walking the dog!


tim james
tim james Apr 21, 2017

cool mate !!!!!!!!

Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes Apr 24, 2017

thank you tim!

it's been a great experience here at the junction. let me know if there's anything in particular that i can serve up!

yr pal,


Jay Apr 21, 2017

great tune Dan! nicely done

Dan Zanes
Dan Zanes Apr 24, 2017

thank you jay!

lead belly is my all time favorite and this song has a lot of meaning for me. i think i'll add some more of his music in the near future...

yr pal,


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