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How To Play Blues On Guitar: Ultimate Guide

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When I bought my first guitar back in 2008, I always wanted to know how to play blues on guitar. And honestly, it took me years to finally understand how to actually learn it effectively.

Strap in, tune up, and let’s dive into the soul-stirring world of blues guitar! If you’ve ever dreamt of channeling your inner B.B. King or unleashing a storm of Stevie Ray Vaughan-esque licks, you’re in exactly the right place.

Key Takeaways

Before we get deep into the strings and frets of blues guitar, here are some crucial insights you’ll gain from this guide:

  • Mastering the 12-bar blues progression is foundational. It’s the backbone of blues music, and understanding it will enhance your playing dramatically.
  • Pickup Music is in my opinion the best platform to take your blues playing to the next level
  • Getting comfortable with blues scales and licks will not only increase your technical ability but also enrich your musical vocabulary.
  • The importance of feel and expression cannot be overstated in blues. It’s what separates the greats from the good.
  • Exploring different blues styles and guitarists will broaden your horizons and deepen your appreciation for the genre.

Learning How To Play Blues On Guitar With Pickup Music

For those looking to expand their blues guitar skills and explore a vast array of other musical genres, Pickup Music offers an exceptional learning platform.

What sets them apart is not just the quality of instruction, but the supportive community of fellow musicians it fosters, making your learning journey enjoyable and interactive.

If you’re curious to see how Pickup Music can transform your guitar skills, I highly recommend taking advantage of their free trial. It’s a no-risk opportunity to access a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. And who knows? You might just find exactly what you need to take your playing to the next level.

Gear and Tone

learn how to play blues on guitar with pickup music

Choosing the Right Guitar

When it comes to playing blues, the choice of guitar can significantly influence your sound and playability.

Acoustic guitars, with their rich and natural resonance, are perfect for Delta blues, offering a raw and authentic tone.

On the other hand, electric guitars provide versatility and the ability to manipulate your sound with effects, making them ideal for Chicago-style or electric blues.

  • Fender Stratocaster: Known for its bright, piercing tone, the Stratocaster has been the choice of legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy. Its single-coil pickups offer a sharp attack that’s perfect for cutting through a mix.

    Cheap Alternative: Squier CV Strat.
  • Gibson Les Paul: With its warm and full-bodied sound, the Les Paul has been a favorite among blues guitarists like B.B. King and Peter Green. The humbucker pickups provide a thick, rich tone that’s great for singing leads.

    Cheap Alternative: Harley Benton SC-550.

If you want to expand your knowledge about playing other styles of music, find out how to play ambient and learn more about grunge fundamentals.

Amps and Effects

Achieving the classic blues tone is not just about the guitar; it’s also about how you amplify it. Tube amps are renowned for their warm, dynamic response, which is essential for blues.

Brands like Fender and Marshall offer models that have become staples in blues music for their characteristic warmth and bite.

  • Tube Amps: Models like the Fender Bassman and the Marshall JTM45 are celebrated for their rich, valve-driven sound.
  • Effects Pedals: While blues is known for its organic tone, certain effects can enhance your sound. A good overdrive pedal can add grit and sustain to your solos, while a wah pedal can introduce expressive sweeps ideal for blues-rock fusion.

Mastering The Basics

mastering the basics of blues guitar

The 12-Bar Blues Progression

At the heart of many blues songs is the 12-bar blues progression, a sequence of chords that provides a framework for improvisation and storytelling. Familiarity with this progression is crucial for any blues guitarist.

Typical 12-Bar Blues Progression in E:

  • E7 (4 bars)
  • A7 (2 bars)
  • E7 (2 bars)
  • B7 (1 bar)
  • A7 (1 bar)
  • E7 (1 bar)
  • B7 (1 bar)

Practice this progression in different keys and with various strumming patterns to develop a versatile foundation for your playing.

Blues Scales and Licks

The minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale are your bread and butter for soloing in blues. Mastering these scales is key to improvising and creating your licks.

Minor Pentatonic Scale in A:

  • A, C, D, E, G (Repeat)

Blues Scale in A:

  • A, C, D, D# (Eb), E, G (Repeat)

Learn these scales up and down the neck and experiment with bending, sliding, and vibrato to infuse your licks with emotion.

Rhythm and Timing

The shuffle rhythm, a swung pattern that mimics a train’s chug, is fundamental to blues rhythm guitar. Practicing this rhythm will help you lock in with drummers and bassists, creating a cohesive blues sound.

  • Straight vs. Swing Feel: Understand the difference and how to apply each to your playing for the right groove.
  • Practice with a Metronome: This will improve your timing and feel, essential components of playing blues with authenticity.

Advanced Techniques

advanced techniques of blues playing

Slide Guitar and Bending

Slide guitar is a hallmark of blues music, offering a vocal-like quality that can express a wide range of emotions. Bending notes is another expressive tool, allowing you to stretch the pitch for emotional impact.

  • Slide Materials: Glass or metal slides can produce different tones; experiment to find your preference.
  • Bending Technique: Practice bending up to the correct pitch and adding vibrato for more expressive solos.

Fingerpicking and Hybrid Picking

Fingerstyle playing adds a nuanced touch to blues guitar, allowing for intricate rhythms and melodies. Hybrid picking, where you use a pick and fingers simultaneously, can add versatility to your playing style.

  • Fingerpicking Patterns: Start with simple patterns and gradually incorporate more complex rhythms.
  • Hybrid Picking Exercises: Develop agility and precision to seamlessly integrate this technique into your playing.

Feel and Expression

feel and expression of blues

Playing With Emotion

Blues is all about feeling. It’s not enough to simply play the notes; you must pour your emotions into them. This is what connects you to the audience and breathes life into your music.

  • Dynamics and Phrasing: Varying your playing dynamics and how you phrase your notes can dramatically affect their emotional impact. A note played softly can convey tenderness, while the same note struck with force can express frustration or anger.
  • Vibrato and Expressive Techniques: Mastering vibrato and other expressive techniques like bending and sliding can add a vocal quality to your playing, making your guitar “sing” with emotion.

Improvisation and Creativity

Improvisation is at the heart of blues guitar. It’s your opportunity to tell your story, to express your feelings in the moment. To excel in improvisation, you must understand the rules—scales, chords, progressions—but also when to bend or break them to make your statement.

  • Learn the Language, Then Speak: Think of scales and licks as your vocabulary and grammar. Once you’re fluent, you can start to “speak” in your own voice, expressing thoughts and emotions uniquely yours.
  • Listen and Respond: Great improvisation often involves call and response, either with yourself or with other musicians. Listen to what’s being played around you and let it inspire your next move.

Understanding The Blues

understanding the blues genre

The History of Blues Guitar

The journey of blues guitar is as enchanting as the music itself. Originating from the African-American communities in the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century, blues music has been a medium for expressing sorrow, joy, and everything in between.

Legends like Robert Johnson, whose soulful playing laid the groundwork for modern blues, and B.B. King, with his expressive vibrato and singing guitar lines, have been instrumental in shaping what we know as blues guitar today.

From the acoustic Delta blues to the electrifying Chicago blues sound, the evolution of blues music is a testament to its enduring appeal and profound impact on genres far and wide.

The Essence of Blues Music

At its core, blues is more than just a genre; it’s a feeling, a way of expressing life’s deepest emotions. This music is about storytelling, conveying tales of hardship, love, loss, and resilience through powerful lyrics and soul-stirring melodies.

The essence of blues music lies in its expressiveness and the raw, unfiltered emotions it channels.

Whether it’s the sorrowful bend of a string or the hopeful shimmer of a major chord resolving back to the tonic, blues music captures the human experience in a way that resonates universally.

  • Emotional Expression: The ability to convey feelings through music is paramount in blues. It’s not just about playing notes but about breathing life into them, making your guitar sing, cry, or shout as the song demands.
  • Storytelling Through Music: Blues songs often tell a story, reflecting on personal experiences or communal histories. The lyrics and music work together to paint vivid pictures, engaging the listener’s imagination and empathy.

Blues guitar is not just a technical skill; it’s a means of communication, a bridge between the player’s soul and the listener’s heart.

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been playing for years, the journey into blues guitar is endless, offering new depths to explore and expressions to uncover.

Learning From The Masters

learning from the master guitarists

Studying Iconic Blues Guitarists

To develop your own voice in blues, it’s essential to listen to and learn from the masters. Each legendary guitarist, from B.B. King to Stevie Ray Vaughan, has left a unique mark on the genre. By studying their techniques, tones, and approaches to improvisation, you can draw inspiration for your own playing.

  • Analyze Their Playing: Pick a few songs by different blues legends and learn them note for note. Pay attention to their phrasing, tone, and how they express emotion through their instrument.
  • Incorporate, Then Innovate: Use what you’ve learned as a springboard for your creativity. Don’t just mimic; take elements you love from each player and blend them into something that’s uniquely yours.

Incorporating Influences Into Your Style

As you absorb influences from various blues artists, you’ll start to notice elements of their style merging with your own. This process is natural and desirable, leading to the development of a unique voice on the guitar.

  • Balance Imitation and Originality: It’s okay to sound like your heroes as you’re learning. Over time, aim to infuse those influences with your personal touch, creating a style that pays homage yet stands on its own.
  • Experiment and Take Risks: True growth happens outside your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to try new things in your playing, whether it’s a technique, a piece of gear, or a way of phrasing.

Practice and Progression

practice and progression

Building Effective Practice Routines

Progress on the guitar is all about consistent, focused practice. Setting up a routine that balances technical exercises, theory study, and creative exploration can accelerate your growth as a blues guitarist.

  • Set Goals and Track Progress: Whether it’s mastering a new scale, learning a song, or developing your improvisational skills, having clear goals and tracking your progress towards them can keep you motivated.
  • Diverse Exercises: Include a mix of technical drills (scales, chords, finger exercises) and musical practice (learning songs, improvisation) in your routine to keep your practice sessions engaging and balanced.

Joining the Blues Community

Blues is not just a style of music; it’s a community. Engaging with other musicians can provide valuable learning opportunities, inspiration, and support.

  • Find Local Jams and Groups: Participating in blues jams or finding local musicians to play with can offer practical experience and feedback.
  • Online Communities and Resources: There are countless online forums, lesson sites, and social media groups dedicated to blues guitar. These can be great places to ask questions, share your playing, and learn from others.
blues online communities

FAQ: How To Play Blues Guitar – Ultimate Guide

Q: How long does it typically take to become proficient in blues guitar?
A: Proficiency in blues guitar, like any musical skill, varies from person to person. It depends on factors such as prior musical experience, practice frequency, and the depth of blues knowledge you wish to achieve. Generally, with consistent practice, you can start to feel comfortable with basic blues concepts within a few months. Mastery, however, is a lifelong journey.

Q: Can I learn blues guitar on an acoustic guitar, or do I need an electric guitar?
A: Absolutely, you can learn blues on an acoustic guitar. In fact, many blues legends started on acoustic guitars. Each type of guitar offers a unique sound and feel for the blues. Acoustic guitars are great for Delta and country blues, while electric guitars are ideal for exploring electric blues and rock-blues genres.

Q: Are there any specific books or resources you recommend for learning blues guitar?
A: In addition to online resources like Pickup Music and JustinGuitar, there are several classic books worth exploring. “Blues You Can Use” by John Ganapes is a great starter. “The Complete Guide to Playing Blues Guitar” series by Joseph Alexander provides an in-depth look at comping, soloing, and improvisation.

Q: What’s the best way to develop my own blues style?
A: Developing your own blues style comes from a mix of learning the fundamentals, studying various blues artists, and then experimenting with what you’ve learned. It’s important to absorb as much as you can from the masters but also to give yourself the freedom to experiment and express your own emotions and experiences through your playing.

Q: How important is music theory in playing blues guitar?
A: While you can play blues guitar without deep music theory knowledge, understanding the basics such as chord structures, scales, and how they fit together can greatly enhance your playing and improvisation skills. Theory gives you a framework for understanding what you’re playing and why it works, which is invaluable for creativity and expression.

Q: What are some common challenges beginners face when learning blues guitar, and how can they overcome them?
A: Common challenges include mastering the shuffle rhythm, getting comfortable with bending and vibrato, and improvising solos. Overcoming these challenges comes down to focused practice, patience, and starting slow. Use a metronome to develop timing, practice bends and vibrato gradually to build control, and learn licks and solos by breaking them down into manageable pieces.

Q: Is it necessary to learn to read music to play blues guitar?
A: Reading music can be beneficial, but it’s not necessary for playing blues guitar. Many blues guitarists rely on tablature (tabs) and ear training to learn songs and licks. Developing a good ear is especially important in blues, as it’s all about expression and feeling.

Q: Can playing blues guitar help me with other genres of music?
A: Absolutely. The blues is foundational to many other genres, including rock, jazz, and country. Skills learned from playing blues, such as improvisation, phrasing, and emotional expression, are transferable and can enrich your playing across a wide range of musical styles.

Final Thoughts

learning how to play blues on guitar

Embarking on the journey of blues guitar is a deeply rewarding experience that goes beyond just playing an instrument.

It’s about connecting with the rich history of the blues, expressing your innermost feelings through music, and continuously growing as a musician and as a person.

Remember, the ultimate goal is not just technical proficiency but the ability to touch the hearts of those who listen. Keep exploring, keep expressing, and let the blues be your guide to musical and personal history.