Learning some blues lead guitar

Discussion in 'The ChitChat Lounge' started by guitardoctor, Jul 11, 2010.

  1. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    Hi guys!

    I was thinking of learning some blues lead guitar, but unfortunately I'm not very knowledgeable about which artists are the best to listen to from a beginner point of view...

    If someone could suggest blues guitarists who have/had a relatively simple uncomplicated style of playing (good for a beginner to learn from) that'd be great.

    Thanks. Once again, simple stuff please... People who play blues - which artists helped you learn the most in the beginning?
  2. flood

    flood New Member

    blues is very improvisational playing and technique is secondary. if you aren't authentic about your playing the blues, it WILL sound like crap.

    listen to a lot of blues and explore the life and times of blues musicians to get a feel of what they're talking about. no, you don't have to be a whisky drinkin', tobacco smokin', cotton pickin' black man down in lousiana who wife gone an left 'im at the breaka dawn. even a rough english boy wearing armani suits can still hammer out those blues licks when he isn't writing silly acoustic radio birdseed like "change the world".

    it's all about putting 100% of yourself into whatever you're playing. pure expression. back when i used to play regularly, my tone-deaf music-ignorant flatmate once came to my room while i was improvising some shit and said, "dude, why are you so depressed? that's some seriously emotional shit you're playing."

    i'm a lousy guitar player, quite honestly. that moment, however was a bit of a revelation - it's not about how many notes, sweep picking, arps, all that "frickel-frackel".

    it's just about getting the inside on the outside. if you look at some of the great shredders around, you'll notice one thing they have in common - even in their fastest moments, they don't waste notes. guthrie govan, frank gambale, shawn lane and some bits of vai and satch - every super-fast lick is a phrase, and none of the notes in those phrases are wasted.

    anyway, recommended blues listening to perhaps play along to - here are my picks:

    traditional (delta/bayou/chicago):
    john lee hooker
    b.b. king
    howlin' wolf
    albert king
    elmore james
    robert johnson
    muddy waters
    hubert sumblin

    eric clapton
    jeff beck
    gary moore
    rory gallagher
    allman bros. band
    derek trucks

    other mentions: if you're still a beginner, you might not "get" a lot of jazz, particularly bebop, cool jazz etc. you still may want to explore swing, big band and vocal jazz. trust me, trying to nail the vocal part to a song like ray charles' "sorry seems to be the hardest word" WILL make you a better player. i started listening to thelonious monk and chet baker at the same time that i got into the blues though... monk is a bit crazy but baker is easy on the ears and the short song structure isn't too intimidating. i still can't play any of the jazz chords and don't "get" the theory, but it's just interesting because it adds further dimension to the blues.
  3. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    Thanks for the reply, man... That'll help a lot...
  4. gamebore

    gamebore New Member

    Blues. . . now we're taking man!! :)

    Blues is not that difficult to learn. It involves a whole lotta improvisation. That is where the creativity aspect of the player comes into picture. Even if you listen to the great blues players of all times, performing the same song at different times, you'll see it's not always exactly the same. They improvise further.

    For you to start learning the blues, you should first start listening to a lotta blues just to get a feel of it. . . this is very important. . . if you feel it. . . you should then move on to the next step of learning how to play em blues. I personally started off by listening to the great BB King, then onto muddy waters, albert king, eric clapton, jimi hendrix, srv, allman brothers, and lately i've been listening to this amazing blues-rock player anthony gomes.

    Once you feel it, you can start of by learning some basic theory for blues music. . . starting of with the minor pentatonic scales. They are the most commonly used scale for playing the blues and rock solos. They're not very difficult to learn tbh.

    Let me cite an example just for you to start things off. . . The A minor pentatonic scale. All the scales are divided into 5 positions across the fretboard. After that, the cycle repeats. Check this diagram out - http://www.musicdownloadinstrumentalsongs.com/A-Minor-Pentatonic-Scale-5-Positions-For-Guitar.gif

    Here, the 1st position of A minor pentatonic scale starts off at 5th fret (for another scale, the starting position can vary, remember that the A minor pentatonic starts off at 5th fret because the 5th fret on the 6th string is A).

    In the diagram, 1st position, start of by playing notes on 6th string(55 & 8), go down to 5th string(5 & 7), 4th string(5 & 7), 3rd string(5 & 7), 2nd string(5 & 8) and 1st string(5 & 8).

    Carry on doing the same thing for the remaining of the 4 positions. You will see that the notes from previous position are coinciding with the notes of next position.

    Once you're done with the 5th position, you will realize that you can start off the cycle again, beginning from 1st position, only now it starts from 17th fret. and so on.

    Players usually play around the notes within the scale, creating wonderful and soulful licks and solos. Obviously they also incorporate stuff like bends, hammer-ons, pull offs, etc to give the note more soul. It is upto the player on how creative he can get.

    No matter what people may say, blues is one of the oldest and most amazingly beautiful way of expressing yourself. Hell, even players like james hetfield of metallica fame incorporate blues style into their music (more like blues-metal, lol). Like jimi hendrix once said, "blues is easy to play, but hard to feel". So if you feel it, you can play it. :)

  5. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    Thanks gb, very informative.

    I've just started off learning this a couple of weeks ago... I love the blues, somehow every one of my favorite artists shows the blues influence. Finally felt I had to take the plunge and learn this great style from the very basics...
  6. flood

    flood New Member


    dude, without the blues, most modern music would not exist. there would be no rock for sure, definitely no metal, no rap, no r+b, no soul...

    the granddaddies of metal, black sabbath, is essentially heavily distorted blues. tony iommi was selected for black sabbath cause he could play eric clapton licks! slow down pretty much any rock/metal/alt from inception to the late 90s, take away the distortion, and there's a blues riff or progression in there somewhere.
  7. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    I know that... What I meant is that most of my beloved artists tend to stick close to those blues roots. And this is the next natural thing for me to try out... Maybe this is the music I was born to play, who knows? I won't know until I give it a shot...

    Thanks for the advice... Much appreciated.
  8. thehundredthone

    thehundredthone New Member

    The feel vs. technique debate could go on forever. Technique is important. No two ways about it. You can put it all the feeling you want, but if all you know is ascending and descending the minor/major blues scale you will still sound like crap.

    For blues rhythm: Get your head around the idea of triplets and swung notes. You cannot play the blues if your rhythm is strict like a classical guitarist's. If it doesn't come naturally to you, work on it with a metronome till it does. Read about and listen to the basic blues progressions (I IV V, 12 bar blues, etc.) at least. Get an idea of how a blues song is structured. Try and learn at least 2 chord voicings for every chord type, so that you can play anywhere on the neck. Learn to use turnarounds. Try and work with key changes as early as possible so that you're constantly challenging your ears.

    For blues lead/improvisation: Learn the blues intervals. Listen to the licks that give the major and minor blues their signature. Use those licks and get a feel for them. Double stops, bending, double stop bending, unison bending, pre-bending and turnarounds are technical terms for some of the things blues guitarists do a lot. It always helps to know what you're doing. Work through all the scale positions, try and play both horizontally and vertically so that you move between the positions. Don't think that blues has to be slow. Music is all about building and relieving tension. Tempo is a very good tension builder. Throw in a few quick licks here and there.

    The enigma that is "feel". Feeling is not playing slow. Feeling is not bending a note 2 tones higher. Feeling is, well, feeling the music. Work to build and relieve tension. For a bend to be heart wrenching you have to believe that it's heart wrenching. You can't sit in the 1st position of the A minor blues scale playing 2 notes every measure and call it "feel". But you can't call a fast descending run "emotionless" either. Everything has it's place, and knowing what to use and when to use it is the elusive "feel" that all blues guitarists covet.

    You've got plenty of artist suggestions. Don't get stuck with just a few, listen to as many as possible, so that you can get an idea of how much you can do with just 3 chords sometimes.
  9. ultrabot90

    ultrabot90 Like fishes need bicycles

    This man has a valid point.

    I'm in your place, guitardoctor...I was gonna ask similarly for jazz...but I'm rather confused what genre is actually *mine*. lol x-P
  10. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    @100th: Thanks for the tips, man... Not much evolved in the technique department here. Working on getting bends perfectly in tune... Meanwhile, the show must go on...
  11. flood

    flood New Member

    i think of it this way: technique is a tool that allows you to get the music from inside your head onto the guitar. if you can't get it out, you need to work on your technique.

    always think of what you play. actually, go a step further and sing or hum the lines you want to play. try and do it in unison. it's probably the most important practice tool you'll have while playing the blues.
  12. flood

    flood New Member

    jazz goes way over my head. i've been advised to stay away from jazz until my fundamental music theory is sound. that could take a while.
  13. ultrabot90

    ultrabot90 Like fishes need bicycles

    I can get theory with a little work.

    I like SOME jazz songs, SOME blues songs, SOME classical pieces, SOME rock, SOME metal...meh.

    Wish I could pick a genre straight out, like guitardoctor (and millions of people around the world, through the centuries.)

    I guess I'll just stay in classical...home territory.
  14. flood

    flood New Member

    how does it matter? as long as you can connect with it, you could listen to justin bieber AND opeth for all i care.

    i don't believe in genres. screw that shit. that's metchulhead* territory.

    * metchulheads - are the airheads who go "METAL RULZ EVERY1 ELSE N I WILL SELL MY SOUL TO SATAN 4 BLAST BITS TOMORROW". you know the type.
  15. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

  16. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    Hi... Some questions I had at this level...

    1. Could anyone recommend a good backing track while practicing improvisation? I've been using a very basic backing track (Sounds like this http://tinyurl.com/3a4kzzt )... But I was thinking of changing it to something else... What track did you guys use when you were starting out learning?

    2. Scales: I'm using the A minor pentatonic. I've stuck to position 1 for now... Learnt it pretty well, can improvise a half-decent solo on it, learnt licks on it etc... I was wondering if I should move on to position 2 yet... Should I? When do you know you need to learn the next position?

    3. What's a good way to practice a scale? I can play it up and down pretty fast. After that I started practicing melodic patterns, then I realized there are n number of melodic patterns out there... So how do you know which melodic patterns are good to practice? Anyone can help me out with this? Like which are the melodic patterns it makes sense to practice on the Minor Pentatonic scale when you want to play blues?
  17. rickkkyrich

    rickkkyrich Guest

    i donno much but you can make your own backing tracks on jamstudio.com... you need a membership to save them but if you wanna play along just for practice its good enuf.. you can select various instruments as well.. like drums piano guitar.. its really really good.. try it out..
  18. gamebore

    gamebore New Member

    Hope this helps-


    Definitely Yes. It's the whole scale you're after, not one particular position. Once you've comfortable with all the positions, try to mix and match notes from different positions and create a different melody.

    From what i know, it is all about creativity again. It can only be learnt by trying out new and different things. Thats why improvisation is such a rush. You hear a song being played in a particular key, you can either follow the melodic pattern of that song note by note, or you can use the same key and improvise. To be a better player, you need to bring out that aspect of improvisation into play.

    It's tough, for sure, but once you get the hang of things, it'll just be a matter of what mood you're in, and then once you pick up your guitar and start playing the blues, thats what the real deal will be.

    Like the great B.B. King once said -

    "The Blues are a simple music and I'm a simple man. But the Blues aren't a science, the Blues can't be broken down like mathematics. The Blues are a mystery, and mysteries are never as simple as they look!"

    Hope that helped.
  19. guitardoctor

    guitardoctor Will Rx for food

    Thanks man... You're awesome for helping out like this...

    Also, does the backing track have to be in the same key as the scale I'm playing on? Like If I play the A minor pentatonic, do I need to use a backing track "in A"?
  20. flood

    flood New Member

    here's one more hint: A minor pentatonic is the relative minor to the C major scale. record a I-IV-V progression in C and improvise over it combining the two scales.

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