Blues guitar is one of the most intriguing and interesting genres that is out there. It has a rich history, interesting people and a way of expressing emotion unlike any other style of music. Essentially, blues tells a story of one’s life experiences and has various themes ranging from travel to current events.
Blues isn’t as frilly as other genres of music. It is raw and uncensored and as far as the guitar is concerned, one of the best venues to let your creativity soar. You won’t be criticized for your technique here, rather, you’ll be praised for your ingenuity.
Within the realm of blues guitar, there are many different subspecialties. There is delta blues,
Many guitarists fail to realize is that legendary players such as Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn were all blues players. Many of their songs were inspired by blues and created a whole new generation of pumped up guitarists.
Unfortunately, many people fail to make that connection and blues is often underestimated by aspiring guitarists. The reality is that blues is only what you make it.
While I respect those who choose not to play blues, I have little tolerance for ignorance. You have heard it said time and time again throughout this newsletter that blues has been the foundation for many of your favorite styles that you enjoy today.
Blues lead uses a multifaceted approach that is based upon smooth bends, hammer on’s, pull off’s and many other classic techniques. The way they are delivered is what sets blues apart. First off, blues rarely, if ever, follows one set rule.
However, there are numerous patterns that have made blues famous. You can branch off of these patterns into your own unique style. Here are some riffs that are usually played by bass guitar but will give you an idea of the shuffle feel that blues can take on:
Ultimately, you can make anything sound bluesy with some simple scales. Here are some of the most used scale patterns in blues guitar:
…There are various kinds of blues scales. Many are derived from the pentatonic scale. However, a true blues scale has what is known as a blue note. A blues note means a drop in pitch located on the 3rd, 5th, or 7th tone of the scale. If this flatted note isn’t included in the key signature, an accidental will be used to tell you to play that note as a flat.
If you’re not familiar with this terminology, please refer back to our previous lessons on scales located in the archive.
That scratches the tip of blues scales and there are many other variations. I encourage you to buy a scale book to hone your skills and see the other blues scales available.
Other scales are commonly used in blues as well, such as the mixolydian scale. While we won’t be discussing it today, this scale can open up new doors into the world of blues. Here’s an example:
Blues chords and rhythm.
My favorite chords are blues chords. While some of them may be a little more complicated, you can really get a groove going with them. Here are five common blues chords:
O= Play string.
X= Don’t play string.
…You may have noticed that all of them have the same name tag of seven. These are known as dominant seventh chords. They sound great when played together and give you plenty of possibilities.
You can also play a G7 chord by moving your finger from the third fret to the first fret on the high E string. It will require you to change your fingering.
Strumming patterns for blues are usually fast paced. In order to do this, we keep things simple and rhythmic. Here is a great strumming pattern to learn:
Down Down Up Up Down
Switch things up a bit and try switching the up and down strums in the above example. Keep practicing them and you’ll be well on your way. Here’s an example of it in action:
Note: I am using E7, A Major, and A7. I simply hammer onto the 3rd fret on the high E string to make the A7 chord.
You’ll find that I used a lot of rest in-between chords. These little pauses can be done by moving your fingers slightly off the fretboard and discontinue strumming at the same time. You can stop strumming for that brief moment and pick right back up again without breaking the pattern.
This will be challenging at first but you will soon grow into it. In musical language, it can be described as a “shuffle” feel.
Putting It Into Practice
When playing blues, you may encounter a problem where everything you play begins to sound the same. You may find that you continually revert back to what you know. In other words, you’re playing in a box. Here are some helpful hints to help you avoid this problem.
- First, start off with playing short bursts of music that last for roughly 10 seconds. These short “Bursts” should sound like a solo. Vary the tempo and the pause time in between these short rests.
- Secondly, try key changes. Move into a new key and incorporate the techniques that you are already familiar with. Use dynamics. Going from something soft to something hard really has a great effect and will train your mind to think outside of the box.
- I also suggest that you learn how to play 16th notes and 32nd notes in rapid succession so you will be as equally equipped to play the fast notes as you are the slow notes.
- Focus in on your right hand and insure that you give it a good work out everyday by using alternative picking and rapid picking techniques.
I urge you to focus in on that last tip. Stop looking at your left and right hand as two separate entities. Rather, look at them as one. You may notice that when you strum hard with your right hand, your left hand becomes tense even though it’s just holding a simple chord.
A problem like that can lead to serious health problems in the future such as carpal tunnel syndrome. To avoid that, practice playing with your left hand relaxed while your right hand strums. This will also increase speed and help you to add texture to your blues solos.