Learning To Play Blues Guitar
Learning how to play blues is really not that much different from learning how to play any other type of guitar. The main thing about playing blues is in the feel, and the choice of notes and chords that are used. Once you have those 3 things down, it all boils down to of practice and patience.
In most rock and popular music, eighth notes divide each beat into two equal pieces. This division create the common “one & two & three & four &” feel that we’re used to in rock music. Blues on the other hand uses a swing feel, where each beat is broken into three pieces. Instead of “one & two &,” we get “one & a two & a three & a four & a.” Breaking the beats into three pieces creates what are called eighth note triplets. Because there are almost always four beats per measure in the blues, you are almost always playing four groups of three.
When you are learning how to play blues guitar, you want to practice strumming a chord like an E7, which is a shorthand way to write E dominant 7, with a swing feel. You should practice strumming down on the strong beats, those that fall on the one, two, three, or four, skip the ‘&,’ and strum up again on the ‘a.’ This gives the familiar do DAH do DAH do DAH do DAH sound made famous by artists such as Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and Albert King.
One of the essential elements of learning how to play blues is learning how to play a dominant seventh type of chord. All chords have 2 pieces, and blues chords are no exception. If you have an A7 chord, there are two things that name tells you, you know that the chord is built on an A note, and you know it has a dominant seventh chord quality, or sound. Dominant seventh chords use the root, third, fifth, and flatted seventh of the major scale. It is that blending together of the major third and minor seventh tones that give dominant seventh chords their unique appeal. In most forms of music, only the chord built from the fifth tone is permitted to be a dominant seventh chord. Not so in blues, every chord is a dominant seventh chord often.
The last thing about blues is the use of the blues scale. From a major scale, take the root, flatted third, fourth, flatted fifth, fifth, and flatted seventh degree and you have a minor blues scale. For a major blues scale, you take the root, second, flatted third, third, fifth, and sixth notes from a major scale. What really makes these scales sound ‘bluesy’ is the way they contain a flatted third, but are played against dominant seventh chords which have a major third. This usage is one of the more prevalent characteristics of blues music. It is also a major component of a lot of blues-based rock and popular music.
When learning how to play blues guitar, never forget the words of the great BB King, “The blues is the easiest music to learn, and the hardest to master.” As in many facets of life, the blues is taking small ideas and constructing them together in such a way that they make something great.
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About the Author:
Griff Hamlin is a professional musician with 25 years of experience. His new book on How To Play Blues Guitar is now available on his website, playingthroughtheblues.com.