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The vast majority of contemporary blues music is based on what is termed a 12-bar format. That is, the main body of a song follows a set pattern of chords over 12 bars of music that are repeated over and over. Some songs may have several different patterns to give them a bit of variety, but the guts of the song will normally be based on a set chord pattern for every 12 bars of music. So, if someone says to you, “play a 12 bar”, this is what they are referring to. Your very first step as a budding blues guitarist is to learn about the 12 bar blues format and its variations.
If you look deep at the anatomy of a turnaround occurs in the last two measures of a blues progression that takes us back (turns around) to the start of the next 12 bars. It consists of the V chord, the I chord and a shifting melody. I call the most commonly used turnaround just the basic turnaround. There are many turnaround variations, though. Other types of turnarounds include
- The ascending turnaround
- The descending turnaround
- The expanding turnaround
- The contracting turnaround
- The contrary motion turnaround
You can use shifting melodies elsewhere. For example: using turnarounds in intros and endings. You can also create more complicated progression turnarounds.
Playing notes from the major pentatonic scale over a major key and playing notes from the minor pentatonic scale over a minor key will always be pleasing to the ear. In many cases, you can use the minor pentatonic scale in a major key, too. Many times, though, a song in a major key can have soloing from both the pentatonic major and minor scales.
If you are playing a song in a minor key (Examples: Em, Am, Bm) then you’ll want to stick with the minor pentatonic that matches the name of the key. For example, if the song is in Em, you’ll want to play from the E pentatonic minor.
Whereas a song in a major key, you can use either the pentatonic major or the pentatonic minor, or both to solo with. Whatever scale you choose to solo with will be your own decision. So how do you decide which scale to use? Well first, you’ve got to know what each scale sounds like over a song in a major key.
Much of blues music is improvised, so it is a critical skill to acquire. To start, I’d suggest beginning with three simple box patterns:
- The first box is what I like to call the beginner box. It’s just four notes, but you can do a lot with it. Playing outside the box is how you can add some of the really “blue” notes. Another great technique to utilize is sliding out of the box.
- The second box pattern is called the intermediate box. At this point, you should be able to create some of your very own licks.
- The last box is the Albert King box, so called after the blues great because of his love for the box. You can get some great sound bends with it. Now, all you have to do is learn techniques to combine blues boxes and soon you’ll be flying all over the fretboard.
- “Mary Had A Little Lamb” by Buddy Guy/Stevie Ray Vaugahn
- “Pride And Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughan
- Close To You by Muddy Waters