How I Shred the Blues

This isn’t a step-by-step on how to be a blues master, but today I’m gonna talk about my approach to playing blues music on the guitar.

I got really into blues guitar about four years ago when I first heard “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. The tones coming from my computer speakers were something I didn’t think existed before hearing them. The very next week I went to my friend Andy’s and he showed me how to play “Hey Joe,” another blues classic.

My style of playing is very loose and I think that’s key when you’re trying to play blues guitar, or any instrument for that matter. The technical aspect is always important, but to me the blues are more about feeling the music and expressing yourself through the guitar.

I can’t read music and I learn everything by ear. Lacking the technical skills that a classical guitarist would have, I made up for it by learning what chords go together in this style. What notes can I play? Will these work together? Am I physically able to play that chord? All these are things to keep in mind.

My first tip is to have fun. Cheesy I know, but I also know a lot of people who have quit their instruments saying it wasn’t fun. Play songs that YOU like, not ones you think other people will enjoy hearing you play. You bought the guitar for yourself, so learn the songs that make you feel good. 

A typical blues chord progression is E-A-Bb or B. These chords are used in Elvis’ “Hound Dog,” Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song,” and countless others. These are NOT the only chords available to blues musicians, but they happen to be easy to learn and very fun to jam with.

Don’t get stuck in the same rhythm! Challenge yourself and try new chords that feel weird. They might not sound perfect off the start, but once you build your strength in your fingers you’ll notice how easy it is to navigate along the neck of the guitar and quickly switch between chords.

Play with other musicians! Even if you never want to hit the stage, it’s important to play with other guitarists and musicians. Playing along to a recording and playing with other musicians are two totally different things. Jamming with your buddies will teach you how to time your guitar with the other instruments. You’ll learn to feel the room and if you keep playing with people you like, you’ll develop very important improvisation skills that you can’t learn on your own. If you do plan on performing one day, you can’t expect to put on a good show if you’ve never played with anyone except a CD.

My last tip is the most important: Dedicate the time, don’t be selfish. No one became an amazing guitarist by whining and quitting when they couldn’t perfect a solo on the first try. You’re gonna mess up, a lot! So embrace it and learn from the wrong sounds that come from your amp. I play my guitar for a minimum of two hours a day because I know that even if it’s two hours of playing the same song, it’s making me better. The more time you put into learning the guitar and how it works, the more enjoyment you’ll have.

So there you have it, my rant on how I approach the blues. Google some blues music from the ’30’s to the ’70’s and you’ll know exactly how I felt listening to “Little Wing.”

Enjoy the long weekend, cheers.


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