Lots of people want to learn how to play blues guitar, but they don't know where to start. Playing blues is a lot easier than you think. It's an easy style to play, but like most musical styles, it is difficult to master. Here's how you can get started playing blues guitar and what you need to know.
12-Bar Progression - The Foundation
The foundation of blues guitar playing is the 12-bar progression. There are variations on this progression, such as 8 bars, 16 bars, and so on, but the main progression is 12 bars. Here is how that would look in the key of E using 7th chords.
X = bars
In blues, we usually use 7th chords because they have a bluesy feel to them. You can use whatever chords you want, but seventh chords sound pretty good. There are plenty of songs written with major chords as well as minor chords. These chords come from the major scale. They come from the first degree, fourth-degree, and the 5th degree. Progression is also referred to as the one, four, five progression. There are thousands of blues-based songs that use this type of progression.
The last four chords of a blues progression or what we call the turnaround. This does what it says. It turns the progression around to the top again. The turnaround is usually quite pronounced in the music. It has a distinct flavor to it, and it gives blues music it's bluesy feeling. The turnaround can be quite simple or complex. Try playing to the chord progression above and then the turnaround. Which is:
B7, A7, E7, B7
A lot of times the turn around is a guitar lick at the end of the progression, which turns the progression around to the beginning. Your guitar teacher can teach you many blues turnarounds.
Blues music makes liberal use of the pentatonic scale. It uses both the major pentatonic scale and the minor pentatonic scale. A lot of music is written in minor pentatonic just because it sounds so good next to blues-based chords.
The Pentatonic scale also allows for a lot of string bending, hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibrato, and other guitar techniques, which are common in blues-based music. To become a proficient blues guitar player, you need to master the Pentatonic scale.
Some blues music will also make use of the major scale and the modes of the major scale, but this isn't as common. You should concentrate on learning the Pentatonic scale first before any other scales if you wish to play blues music.
Feeling the Music
Blues guitar focuses a lot on feeling the music, not how many notes you play. Blues guitar is usually not played at a lightning-fast speed. Although there are some songs that are played quite quickly, it's a style that is slower than others.
To get the feeling of blues music, have a listen to lots of blues records. I would recommend listening to all of the old artists. This would include Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Howling Wolf, Albert Collins, Robert Johnson, and similar artists. This is where true blues music comes from. To play the style in a proficient manner, listen to these artists to hear how they play, and get ideas from them.
Guitar soloing is a large part of blues music. Many blues songs have several solos throughout the piece. To get used to playing blues music, have someone play a blues chord progression. You can then practice playing the pentatonic scale over the progression. For example, if the progression is in the key of E, play the E Pentatonic minor scale over that progression.
Try to listen to the chord changes and feel the beat of the progression. It will take quite a while until your soloing sounds the way you want. You should practice playing over progressions as much as possible because this will help train your fingers to play the right notes at the right time. Try to incorporate bends, slides, vibrato, hammer-ons, pull off, and so on in your playing.
Don't focus a lot on speed. Focus on playing clean and articulate notes over top of the progression. A lot of blues players don't play a lot of notes. You can get a ton of mileage out of the Pentatonic scale.
This has been a very basic look at the first steps to blues guitar playing. If you want to play blues, talk to your guitar teacher, and they will teach you the progressions and scales that you need to know. Playing blues guitar is a lot of fun, so try a few songs today and enjoy the power of this classic style of music. We would not have rock and roll if it wasn't for the blues.