How To Get Started Playing Blues Guitar
Blues for me began the moment I heard Peter Greens Black Magic Woman. All I wanted for weeks afterwards was to be able to play the way he did, and the techniques I discovered as a result still inform a lot of my playing today.
Over the years, Blues has become a wide ranging sound. Its broad church takes in players from Ry Cooder and Robert Johnson, through Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, to modern bluesmen like John Mayer and Nick Johnston.
Let’s take a look at some of the ideas these diverse guitarists can give us.
The most important thing a blues guitarist can learn is how to make their guitar ‘sing’. This means the way blues guitarists play lead guitar is to emulate singers. Vocalists don’t just use lyrics to get a message across; they also use tone and inflection to emphasise what they’re singing about. By using techniques like slides, bends and vibrato guitarists can do the same thing.
For reference, here are all the licks used in this lesson in short clips that you can replay to get your bearings:
Let’s compare some licks with and without these techniques.
Now let’s try a classic Stevie Ray Vaughan style lick (often used by Nick Johnson) that combines all of these techniques:
As you can see from the comparisons, expressive techniques go a long way to getting that typical Blues sound, and can help you repurpose some of the licks you already know!
2: Less is More
The main aim of any blues guitarist is to tell a story – usually a sad one. Sometimes that story is best told with only a few notes. A prime example of this is B.B. King. Try this lick inspired by his song The Thrill is Gone.
3: The Blues Scale
Blues has a scale all to itself and chances are it’s probably going to look very familiar to you.
All we have to do is add 2 notes to the minor pentatonic scale and we can end up with instant blues!
Here’s the scale we all use:
And here’s the Blues variation:
These added flat 5th notes or blue notes add in a little bit of that extra flavour that gives the Blues its sound.
So now you’re ready to take these new licks out into the world and get started on your path to the blues, you could start by checking out Steven Haywards lesson about 12 bar blues right here.
I recorded all the audio here with an Epiphone les Paul Standard in standard tuning. I used the neck pickup through an MTS Salvation Humble (Dumble clone) profile provided by mattfig.com on my Kemper profiling amp. This clean sound with a slight compression boost and some reverb is a perfect place to start when looking for Blues tones.