Blues Guitar Lesson Topics

Blues music is beautiful, in part, because of the infinite possibilities contained within the style's simple form--that is to say, the blues can basically be whatever you want it to be. A blues can be a slow ballad, a pulse-pumping dancefloor burner, a hushed confessional or a deafening roar. All musicians can deepen their understanding of music through a study of the blues, and guitarists in particular will find that their ability to "speak" with their instrument--their ability to play with emotion and dynamic range--is enhanced after playing the blues for a while.

As far as technique goes, the blues is equally suited to novices and advanced musicians alike. With a love of the music and frequent practice, one can learn the basics of this art form very quickly. However, enthusiastic students will never find an end to the road that is blues music, as the style offers plenty of opportunity for advanced techniques like counterpoint, chord substitutions, voice leading, and of course, totally shredding it up!

Below you'll find a list of topics you're likely to learn about as an aspiring blues player. Remember that fundamentals are everything, no matter how good you get! Make sure you spend as much time as you need to with each topic in order to feel comfortable.

Beginner

  • 12 bar blues form
  • Blues scale
  • Turnarounds
  • Standard blues riffs/rhythm guitar playing
  • Standard blues lead guitar licks
  • Use of metronome in practice
  • Importance/development of internal sense of time and form
  • Pickstyle blues playing
  • Study of intervals (singing and playing)
  • Major and minor triads
  • Theory and voicings
  • I, IV, V dominant 7th chords and chord function
  • Importance of blues as original American musical form

Intermediate

  • Major Scale harmony and chord function (triads and 7th chords)
  • Construction of Dom7th chords
  • Dom7th as tonic function chord
  • Mixolydian mode and Dom7 chords
  • Rhythmic styles (shuffle, straight, 12/8, etc.)
  • Blues as a musical language (syntax)
  • Lyrical construction of 12 bar blues (A,A,B)
  • Importance of learning language by emulating (learning) great recorded solos/songs
  • Historical origins of blues song structure
  • Historical lineage of blues musicians (chronologically: Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, BB King, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimi Page, Stevie Ray Vaughn, etc.)
  • Historical lineage of blues styles (Delta/acoustic, Chicago, 60s British, contemporary)
  • Influence of blues on other guitar styles (Rock [Chuck Berry], Heavy Metal)
  • Use of effects in electric blues (earliest uses of distortion, etc.)

Advanced

  • Slide blues playing and open tunings associated with slide playing (Delta blues musicians, Duane Allman, Bonnie Raitt)
  • Acoustic (Delta) blues and fingerstyle playing
  • Influence of blues singers on instrumentalists
  • "Vocal" guitar techniques: string bending, vibrato, trills, slides
  • Blues phrasing and melodic statements
  • Use/importance of space in blues phrasing
  • Narrative quality of great blues guitar solos
  • Tonic diminished sound in blues
  • "Major against minor" contributing to blues sound/feeling
  • Ability to hear/sing along with what is played on the instrument
  • Fingerings for triads, 7th chords, 7 note scales, diminished scales
  • Chord voicings and inversions (especially Dominant 7th/9th/13th)

More Blues Guitar Goodness

The Blues is about expression, and it's also a language. In fact few styles of music exploit the guitar's ability to sound like a voice the way blues does. Check out these legendary players to get a feeling for the sound of this uniquely American 'dialect':

  • Robert Johnson
  • The Reverend Gary Davis
  • Otis Rush
  • Muddy Waters
  • BB King
  • Buddy Guy
  • Eric Clapton
  • Jimi Hendrix

Hungry for more? Check out these interesting blues related websites:

  • www.earlyblues.com - An interesting UK-based site offering an extensive history of the blues as well as interviews with contemporary blues guitarists, and schedules for blues festivals all around the world.
  • blues.about.com - The about.com page for the blues. Find all kinds of information about blues guitarists past and present here.
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slide_guitar - The wiki page for slide guitar, an historically important style of blues guitar sometimes overlooked.