If you’re an adult guitar player who has always wanted to learn the blues, or examining adult guitar lessons that focus on playing blues guitar – there are some things you can do to prepare for your journey. Remember, the blues is not an introductory form of playing the guitar, it is more of an intermediate level class.
By laying out the groundwork for a course of study in advance – rather than bouncing around grabbing bits and pieces of information here and there – you will find that your progress toward becoming a blues guitar player proceeds much more quickly.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to get you going. Some of these are specific to guitar techniques – while others relate more to conceptual approaches.
1. Treat the blues as a unique and the original genre of music – The blues is considered to be the granddaddy of rock and roll. The origins of rock music can be traced back to the early blues of the Mississippi Delta, and although many similarities in blues music have evolved into today’s rock, it’s important to approach blues guitar lessons as a separate and unique entity.
2. Learn the basic blues chord progression – The meat and bones of the blues is the I, IV, V chord progression. The “one”, “four”, “five” chord progression is based simply on the first, fourth and fifth steps of the major scale, and is the basis for a majority of blues song structures.
3. Learn the basic blues scale – Many blues solos are based loosely on the notes in the minor pentatonic scale. Although there are several variations and additional notes that can be added to the scale when playing blues leads – getting familiar with the minor pentatonic scale is a great place to start with your blues guitar lessons.
4. Learn the various blues time signatures – There are several common tempos relating to the blues including shuffles, straight 4/4 beats, and slow 12/8 or 6/8 beats. These various tempos play a large part in giving a song that distinct blues feel.
5. Learn to “hear” the blues – Once the I, IV, V chord progression is learned and understood, you will develop an ear for hearing that progression and be able to instantly recognize it, even in more modern blues related songs like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Pride and Joy”.
6. Learn blues licks and riffs – Many of the licks you hear in today’s rock solos can be traced back to the blues. Chuck Berry was famous for taking old blues riffs and applying them to early rock and roll. Subsequently, guitarists of later generations took Chuck Berry licks and incorporated them into more modern rock. So it stands to reason that learning the nuances and subtleties of blues licks and riffs, as they were originally played, will take you a long way in your soloing abilities across a number of genres.
7. Learn slide guitar – The old bottle neck slide guitar technique is another cornerstone of blues music that has evolved over the years into modern compositions. The early slide riffs of Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, Albert King, inspired a whole new generation of slide guitarists such as Duane Allman, Rory Gallagher, Bonnie Raitt and Derek Trucks. Any aspiring blues guitarist would be well served to include slide guitar in their blues guitar lessons program.
8. Listen to the blues greats – Immerse yourself, and your senses, in the early blues recordings, as well as those from the more modern artists. Pay close attention to the pioneers like T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Elmore James – as well as the later generations including B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Eric Clapton and John Mayer.
9. “Steal” licks – As you’re listening to the greats, pick up your guitar and steal a lick or two. This can be a challenge to begin with, but you will find that as you learn blues scales and patterns, the process will become much easier. You will be amazed at how many of the licks you “steal” from the blues greats will slowly become incorporated into your own style of playing.
10. “Feel” the blues – Blues music is all about the “feel” and being in an emotional state of mind. From the early African-American songs lamenting the trials and tribulations of slave life in the south – to the more modern blues renditions of lost love and fortune – playing blues guitar is only complete when it is played with feeling.
This is arguably the most important tip of all and, unfortunately, no amount of blues guitar lessons can teach a guitarist to play with emotion.
Once the techniques are learned, and the mechanics of playing blues guitar are mastered until they become second nature, the aspiring blues guitarist can then tap into the emotional side of the blues by “letting go” of the thought process, and playing guitar from the heart.
It’s the one essential element necessary to playing the blues authentically and to be taken seriously as a blues guitar player. And although it’s something that can be learned, it’s not something that can be taught.
As you begin your blues guitar lessons program, keep in mind these tips to keep you on the right path. By focusing time, practice and effort on the technical side – as well as the “feel” and emotional side – you will be rewarded with the joys of playing the blues for years to come!