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Learn To Play Blues Guitar

Ronnie EarlWhether you’re a new guitarist or have been playing a long time, everyone gets around to learning to play blues guitar sooner or later. It’s great music to play on guitar especially if you like lead improvisation.

And learning blues guitar is relatively easy. There’s lots of room for experimenting and because blues is pretty much improvisational, there’s not really one way to play. It’s mostly about the feeling you put into it.

And we have lots of blues guitar lessons to help you get started.

But exactly what makes a great blues guitarist. That’s something I’ve been pondering since I started playing guitar in 1969. I’m sure you have an opinion too and feel free to comment at the bottom if you’d like to add to the discussion. But for me, I’ve narrowed it down to three things… tone, taste, and technique.

  • That great guitar tone that seems to come from someplace other than just the guitar and the amp.
  • The taste it takes to know what to play… and what not to play.
  • The technique required to play the blues authentically and with the right feel for the song. Technique comes last for a reason.

Once you get these three factors you’re on your way to being a great blues guitar player and moving people emotionally.

And the beauty of the blues style is it’s something you can take to almost any style of music and it will work. OK maybe not classical. But those same blues runs will work in rock, funk, and even metal if you know how.

And if you’re a beginner guitarist then the blues is a natural. It’s relatively easy to play and because it’s basically improvisational there is lots of room to explore and find new ideas. It’s hard to make the blues sound bad. And you can sound pretty good pretty quickly.

But it’s also hard to make it sound great. That’s why we blues guitarists spend a lifetime learning how to play… and working on our tone, taste, and technique. There’s always something new to learn. And there’s always a new guitarist who’s licks you’ll want to pick up… even if you never play them in a show. It’s really just about increasing your overall musical blues vocabulary. The more licks you know the more you’ll have to say when it comes time to take that solo.

Blues Is Total Creativity

And my favorite part about the blues and blues guitar is you never have to play the same thing twice. Sure if you’ve got a head section that forms the basis of the song you’ll need to play that. But when it comes time to take that solo you are starting from scratch and can create something totally new and different. Every new lead becomes an adventure in creativity.

I’m sorry, but I never want to be in a band that plays a song note for note every time. I would be bored to tears if I had to do that. I love the blues because I never have to play the same thing twice. It’s pure creation-time every time I take a lead.

But that doesn’t mean it has no structure. Great blues songs follow a very specific structure and chord progression. Yes it’s very simple, but it’s that very simplicity that forces you to have to come up with something new.

And once you learn some specific songs and styles, you begin to realize there’s a right way and a wrong way to play that style. A Chicago shuffle, and a West Coast flat-tire shuffle are very different and playing them correctly means understanding the correct phrasing to make it work. It’s about respecting the style yet adding something new.

Of course, if you’ve been a blues musician for awhile or have been playing any music for a while you already understand this. If not, this is the place to begin to learn. A great blues song is about the groove, people playing together, and working within a certain framework that fits that particular blues song or style. There is a right way and a wrong way but it takes a long time to realize what that is.

Not that you can’t stretch out and push the limits of that framework. You definitely can. That’s part of what makes playing blues so much fun. You can take it in many different directions as long as you still respect the style you are playing in and your band mates can follow you where ever you go.

And learning to play together is a key aspect of the blues. It is very simple music sometimes. And you may be required to play very simple parts. But when you put everyone’s simple parts together you’ve got something not so simple… and very special. That’s what all the great blues bands did whether you’re talking about Muddy Water’s great bands of the 50’s or a great West Coast Jump band of today like Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers.

So It’s More Than The Notes

Yes learning to play blues guitar is more than just learning licks and how to play the notes and scales. It’s learning how to use those notes in the context of the song. And to be able to move that song higher and higher (or lower and lower) as a band and as one unit. It all starts with learning scales and certain licks but it only ends when the song is great and everyone is playing their asses off together. That’s one great feeling and the goal of learning blues guitar. We hope you’ll take that journey together with us.

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