Last Updated on May 15, 2019 by Klaus Crow
photo from Flickr
Blues is one of the most important things to learn when you want to become a rock – jazz – metal – country – all round guitar player All these genres are related to or arisen from the blues. There is also a lot of blues in the songs you hear on the radio without even realizing it.
It’s hard to be a great rock n’ roll guitar player without learning the blues first. Okay maybe you can, but you will probably sound like crap. :-) Blues is what makes your guitar cry, shiver and scream. It’s got anything you need to express your feelings. Besides that there are so many cool blues songs, progressions, licks and tricks out there that will ensure you have a great time practicing and will really improve your playing a lot. So sit down, read through these essentials, get your guitar amp all cranked up, plug in your favorite blues guitar and let’s get down to serious business.
Here are the 6 essentials to master the blues. Check it out:
Listen to old and new blues guitar legends like Robert Johnson, Albert King, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robben Ford, Eric Clapton, John Mayer, etc, etc. Listen to how they phrase. (see below). Be inspired. The more you listen to it, the more you’ll get into the blues vibe. You will hear how many different approaches there are to playing the blues, how every blues player has a unique style and way of phrasing. Listen and learn from the masters. A great way is to get a subscription to last.fm and easily find yourself a dozen brilliant blues guitar players to listen to. I can really recommend it.
2. Blues rhythm
Learn nice sounding blues chords and progressions to spice up your guitar skills.For example a 12 bar blues progression is a must to learn for every blues player. Get familiar with different blues rhythms and apply these to your progressions. A lot of guitar players nowadays underestimate the importance of playing rhythm guitar. They wanna play lead guitar right away. Don’t forget that rhythm guitar is the foundation of your playing. Don’t take it personal but without good rhythm you s@#k. There are a lot of different variations to learn so get your hands dirty and have fun with it.
3. The pentatonic scale
The pentatonic scale is the scale for playing lead blues and rock guitar. The scale only has five notes and is fairly easy to learn. A lot of players tend to learn only one shape and stick with that for the rest of their guitar career. While it’s good to learn the pentatonic scale in one position properly till you get the hang of it, it’s also great if you can move up the scale a little bit to create more freedom in your playing and have fun with all the different variations. So when you feel comfortable playing the blues in one position, try more shapes to challenge yourself. ( see below )
4. Licks and tricks.
Improvising is a combination of fifty percent playing things you already know (licks, triads, etc,) and fifty percent creating something on the spot (phrasing through your pentatonic scale.) So you need to learn a lot of cool blues licks to expand your guitar vocabulary. The licks you learn from books or transcribing are there to rip apart, turn around and make your own so you can use these for your improvisation. You can also use triads, arpeggios and other neat tricks to spice things up a little more. Learn to apply these licks to your improvisation.
If you really wanna get down to it you need to transcribe blues songs. Nowadays the kids learn their stuff by reading tabs from the internet and that’s okay, but there is a lot more to gain from transcribing. When you transcribe songs you learn how guitar players use phrasing and this will definitely improve your playing. Transcribing is also a good ear training practice and this is one of the keys elements to becoming a better musician. So start transcribing songs today, copy the masters note by note to learn from their skills.
Improvising is all about phrasing. When you improvise using the pentatonic scale you want your solo to sound exciting, emotional, cool and breathtaking. This is why we use phrasing. Phrasing is often being compared with speaking a language. In a language you use words to create a sentence and the sentences will tell a story. How you use those words determine how exciting the story will be. When we speak we use pauses to breath and dynamics to emphasize words and sentences. With improvising it’s the same thing. You need to pause after every couple a notes to let the music breath or it will soon get boring. You also need to use dynamics to create tension and release. And then there is rhythm, vibrato, pull-offs, hammer-ons, bending, etc. All of these tools will express the story you’re trying to tell. This is something a lot of players miss out on and it’s the most crucial thing for improvising, so dig into it. Again learn from the masters how they use phrasing.
“I’ve said that playing the blues is like having to be black twice. Stevie Ray Vaughan missed on both counts, but I never noticed.” – B.B. King