Blues Guitar Instruction

These blues guitar instructional videos will hopefully take your blues guitar to the next level. This page will replace the page entitled 'blues guitar lessons' which will be deleted in due course. These videos start at the very basic level for beginners by offering step-by-step instruction to help beginners understand how to go about playing blues guitar. The videos will slowly progress to more advanced techniques, rhythms and tempos to continue the progress of beginners and to cater for more accomplished players.

Just click any of the links below to view the videos or please read on for more information about the content in the videos and blues guitar in general...

Video 1 - Playing in Time in the key of 'E' - beginners

These videos will cover rhythm blues guitar, lead blues guitar and how to play a combination of both. To get the most from these videos you'll need to have some knowledge of the minor pentatonic scale, the blues guitar scale and the basic blues guitar chords that incorporate the I-IV-V (1, 4, 5) blues guitar chord progression theory which is the standard chord progression for rhythm blues guitar. This is fully explained on the blues guitar chords page at the link above and in some detail further down this page.

Keep it Simple

By Ronzoni [CC BY-SA 3.0  www.gnu.org via Wikipedia

BB-King-in-New-York

BB King, seen here on the right, often played only a few simple notes, but each note was injected with his passion and feeling for the music! Very often, it's true to say I think, that less is sometimes more. BB King was a master at this concept.

The first blues guitar instructional video is in the key of E. This is nice and easy as it contains mainly 'open chords' which are easier to play for beginners than the more difficult barre chords as used in many or most of the other videos to come.

The first position of the minor pentatonic scale when played in the key of E also contains 'open strings' which makes this scale easier to play too.

That's not to say that great blues can't be played in E because it most definitely can, and often is, as heard in many recordings. It's just a good place to start for ease of play.

Don't forget, everything that's played on the fret board can be moved either up or down the neck. This means you only have to learn these things once and they can be played in any key just by changing the fret position. 

These blues guitar instructional videos contain a combination of chord progressions, scales and licks. The long-term goal is to make your own ideas up as I have in these videos by using the musical principles shown here or anywhere else. More videos will be added over time so do come back if what you're looking for isn't here now.

The first beginner's videos may seem boring to some of you, but the importance of playing in time can't be emphasized enough.

Start slow, use few notes and aim for perfection before increasing the number of notes, the tempo (speed) and complexity of the single note solos to come in future videos.

The first blues guitar instructional videos will teach you where to put your fingers and to keep in time with the beat and rhythm. If you're a beginner this should be done slowly in a simple way.

It's crucial that you develop a solid foundation before progressing further! 

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Blues Guitar Instruction - Video #1
Playing in Time (Rhythm Guitar) in 'E'
For Beginners with Backing Track

The first blues guitar instructional video below uses the chords from the third chart at blues guitar chords. This standard I-IV-V blues chord progression starts on the chord of E which is an open chord in this case. This open chord is slightly easier for beginners to play than the barre chords in the second video. The first position of the minor pentatonic scale played here also contains open strings which are also easier for beginners to play.

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Tempo, Rhythm and Timing

Having the ability to be able to play a piece of music all the way through without slowing down or speeding up all comes down to timing, whether you're playing rhythm, lead, or a combination of both. Developing the skill of keeping in time is not that easy for beginners whose primary focus is mainly just to be able to play the notes or chords cleanly and precisely.

But as I've said many times, practice makes perfect, and the more you play, the more you'll develop the art of playing in time and the more your confidence will grow. The first and second blues guitar instructional videos aim to help you to do this in an enjoyable way with a slow and simple backing track. 

If you're not playing in time, what you play will just sound awful. Ironically, you may not even notice it yourself, but those listening to you most definitely will! The way to really hear what you sound like and whether or not you're actually playing in time is to record yourself playing and listen to the recording. If you are a beginner get ready for a shock, seriously. But don't let this put you off. Instead, see it as a way to motivate you and remain positive. Timing is a skilled discipline that will grow with experience, and the more you play the more experience you'll gain.

If we listen to and watch the first blues guitar instructional video we can see that timing contains two components. They are tempo and rhythm. 

Tempo

Tempo is the speed that a piece of music is played at. Any piece of music can be speeded up or slowed down by the player. All written music however, is written in a specific tempo which is measured in so many 'beats per minute'. In classical music, Italian phrases are used to describe various tempos as illustrated in the table below.

Note: The backing tracks of the first and second blues guitar instructional videos have a very slow (largo) tempo. 

Italian Phrase

Presto

Allegro

Moderato

Andante

Adagio

Largo

English Equivalent

Very Fast

Fast

Moderate

Walking Speed

Slow

Very Slow

Beats Per Minute

168-208

120-168

108-120

76-108

66-76

40-66

Rhythm

Rhythm gives us the 'feel' of the music. It is how the tempo (speed) is played. Again, if we look at the first blues guitar instruction video, we can see that the chords are played with a certain rhythm. They are played, or highlighted on a specific beat with a possible upward stroke or not depending on what type of rhythm is required. Either way, whatever type of rhythm is played, the tempo remains constant and in time with the beat throughout.

Developing Timing for Rhythm and Lead Guitar

The best way for beginners to develop a sense of timing for rhythm guitar is to play slowly with easy chord changes or even no chord changes at all. This will allow you to focus solely on the tempo, rhythm and timing without being interrupted by awkward or difficult chord changes. Watch the first blues guitar instructional video and try do the same as I do and play along to the backing track at the end which starts at around 16:20 on the time scale. Just stay on one chord if you can't manage to change chords smoothly.

For lead guitar, watch the second blues guitar instructional video below and try to play some very simple lead guitar with just one, two or three notes if you can't manage more notes without falling out of time. Again, play slowly and focus on hitting any notes on the beat of the music. The goal here is learning to keep in time and not to play lots of notes or anything complicated. The backing track in the second video starts at around 12:20.

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Blues Guitar Instruction - Video #2
Playing in Time (Lead Guitar) in 'A'
For Beginners with Backing Track

This blues guitar instructional video also incorporates the standard I-IV-V Blues chord progression but this time in the key of A starting on the 5th fret. This blues chord progression is slightly harder to play for beginners than the previous video as they're all barre chords. The minor pentatonic scale used here is also a little harder as it doesn't contain any open strings so each note of the scale needs to be fretted with the fingers. 

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Developing Timing for Rhythm and Lead Guitar Continued...

Another excellent way to develop your ability to be able to play in time is to put on some music and try to play along. I did this for years with blues music for both rhythm and lead guitar and it most definitely got me playing in time for sure. It also helped me to develop an ear for where to go with the single note solos I was trying to hone. I listened to BB King, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Albert Lee and any other blues guitarist whose style I liked. For me, listening and playing along to the great players of the music you like and want to play is probably the single most enjoyable and best way to learn how to keep in time without the need for other musicians.

Playing with other musicians is another obvious and fun way to develop your ability to keep in time with the tempo and beat throughout a song. There is often an interplay between the drummer, bassist and rhythm guitarist where either one of these may take the lead so to speak. Between them, various rhythms are often created where one or all of them may play a slightly different rhythm within the beat of the music. Each of them might take turns at playing slightly softer, louder or on the off-beat for example. This is not for beginners though as you'll need to be able to keep in simple, basic time before thinking about playing with live musicians. Having said that, there's certainly nothing at all wrong with playing along with a friend in a relaxed environment as this will all help you to gain experience and help to build your confidence. Alternatively, just listen to the first and second blues guitar instructional videos for now and try to play along with them.

The Metronome

Picture by Vincent Quach CC BY-SA 3.0 - via wikipedia

The metronome

The metronome, as seen here on the right, is another way of learning how to play in time. This simple, mechanical device emits a regular clicking sound that can be set to however many beats per minute by the user that he or she requires. This regular clicking sound supplies a beat to play in time to. The one pictured here on the right is a mechanical, wind up metronome which is great as it requires no power in the form of batteries or electricity. There are also digital metronomes available now but they require some form of a power supply.  

Whatever method you use to help you to learn how to keep in time with the music, you'll eventually be able to play in time while playing alone. Listen to the intros that I play at the beginning of the second and third blues guitar instructional videos. I'm keeping the beat in my head and body without a backbeat or any other accompaniment playing. Although it's not perfect, I think you can almost hear the beat without one actually being played in the background. With continued practice you'll eventually be able to do the same.

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Blues Guitar Instruction - Video #3
'Blues Guitar Techniques'
(Lead Guitar)
String Bending, Pull-offs, Hammer-ons
and Slides.
Beginners/intermediate

The third blues guitar instructional video below discusses and teaches the important blues guitar techniques of string bending, pull-offs, hammer-ons and sliding up and down the strings. Blues guitar uses all of these techniques consistently so get to grips with these basic guitar techniques if you truly want to play 'the blues'.

Note: For a more in-depth discussion on these basic techniques see the additional text below the video. 

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String Bending

String bending is one of the most basic guitar techniques of all and is employed to a greater or lesser degree by most lead guitarists at some point or another in their solos. String bending was originally used to imitate the sound of pedal-steel and bottleneck slide guitarists and therefore originated from country and blues style guitar. The use of lighter gauge strings has been accredited to the art of string bending where a need for thinner, lighter strings is inevitable.

It's the top three strings (G, B, E,) that are mainly used for string bending but that's not to say any of the remaining three strings can't be bent to create certain effects too, with country guitar possibly being the main style that might bring the other strings into play for this simple but effective technique.

As you can see from the third blues guitar instructional video above, a string is bent to raise a note by one, two or three semi-tones depending on what style of music is being played and therefore what scale is being used for the solo. A string can be bent to raise a note by four semi-tones (four frets) but this requires very light gauge strings and strong fingers. 

The only real problems with string bending, if practiced a lot, is that it tends to put the guitar out of tune quite quickly so you might find yourself tuning your guitar more than you usually do. Another potential problem is if the strings are getting a bit old they might break. This is especially so when using very light strings such as 9s. I personally only use 10s which have never snapped yet and I like to bend the strings a lot. 

The easiest finger to use for beginners to learn string bending is the third finger (ring finger). This is because the other two fingers, namely the second (middle finger) and first (index finger) help to support it as they sit behind it during the bend so in effect all three are playing a part in the bending of the string. The second finger can also be used to bend strings relatively easily but should only be practiced once you can bend up to at least one tone (two semi-tones) with the third finger. The first finger is not generally used to bend strings as it does not have the strength and leverage of the other two fingers. Watch and follow what I do in the third blues guitar instructional video on this.

The two most important aspects of string bending are; a/ achieving the correct pitch, and b/ executing a clean technique. Achieving the correct pitch is vital or it will just sound out of key. Bending the string to the right pitch and therefore the right note comes with practice and a well-trained ear. Your ear will develop over time with constant practice and determination.

Just like achieving the correct pitch, executing a clean technique will also come with practice. If you aren't able to bend the note cleanly the chances are you'll probably hit other strings and create a lot of unwanted noise. Practice slowly with small bends while focusing on a clean technique. Be patient and determined and in time the art of bending strings will become easy.

Descending string bends 

These are basically the opposite of the above method. This method allows the note played to ring after the string was bent and then the pitch (note) is made to descend. There are two ways that this can be done. Firstly you can just adopt the method above where you pick a single note, then bend the string up to the higher note you want to take it to, let the note ring and then allow the bent string to go back to its original sitting place or normal pitch. The second approach is to bend the string first to the desired point, then pick the string and then allow the string to relax back to its original place. Either way has the effect of the pitch or note falling rather than raising. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits often uses these techniques. Play around with his stuff to get the desired effects that you want. The previous blues guitar instructional video (#3) shows this at around 4:57.

Double String Bends

It's also possible to bend two strings at the same time to create a slightly discordant sound. The most common double string bends would take place on the 2nd (B) and 3rd (G) strings where they would both be bent from the same fret. The 1st (Top E) and 2nd (B) strings can also be bent together with the 2nd string being bent one fret higher than the first string. Another common and very effective technique is to bend one of the strings and not the other but play them both.

Pull-offs

The pull-off is another commonly used technique in blues guitar which is also covered in the third blues guitar instructional video at around 6:37. Pull-offs, like descending string bends, also have the effect of making the note that is played to fall in pitch. A pull-off is basically the opposite of a hammer-on which is discussed further down.

Pull-offs are best explained by taking two notes from a scale such as the pentatonic scale as demonstrated in the previous video mentioned above. The two notes need to be on the same string. The highest note is picked and the finger holding down that picked note is taken off sharply and at about 45 degrees and in such a way as if that finger were pulling the string. The other note which is lower in pitch and therefore further down the neck towards the nut is also being held down at the same time by another finger and is then left to ring. This is made clearer in the blues guitar instructional video #3 further up.

Pull-offs can also and more easily be played over an open string. The minor pentatonic scale in the key of E for example contains open strings. Therefore, when performing pull-offs over this particular scale, open strings are the second notes played after the initial pull-off. This can be seen in the first blues guitar lick in the video on the blues guitar licks page.

Hammer-ons

As previously mentioned above, a hammer-on is the opposite to a pull-off and vice-versa of course. The easiest type of hammer-on would be to play an open string such as any of the top strings (G, B, or E) and to immediately fret any note on the first, second or third fret on the same string so as to play that note but without actually picking it. The note will automatically ring as your fingertip hits the fret. This 'open string hammer-on' is also demonstrated on the blues guitar licks video.

Hammer-ons are also played after a fretted note is played, so no open notes are played. This means adopting the same finger positions as for a pull-off where two notes are selected from a scale such as the minor pentatonic for example, but here it is the lowest note that is plucked first and the highest note is then quickly fretted with another finger to create the hammer-on. This is also demonstrated in the third blues guitar instructional video.

When playing blues guitar, which would be around the pentatonic scale, the best fingers to use on the fret board hand are the third (ring) finger and the fourth (pinkie) finger as seen in the video mentioned above.

When combined, hammer-ons and pull-offs create fast and flowing blues guitar licks.

Slides

The slide is also a very commonly used technique when playing the guitar and especially when playing blues guitar. Slides are relatively easy and simple to play but make a very effective addition to your arsenal of blues guitar techniques. This can be clearly seen in the third blues guitar instructional video further up.

The best fingers to use from your fret board hand to play slides are probably the second (middle) finger, and the third (ring) finger. Using these fingers leaves the first (index), and fourth (pinkie) fingers free to play in either direction after the slide has been played. 

The slide itself can be played in either direction. It can be played as an descending (down in pitch) slide, or an ascending (up in pitch) slide. It's generally easier to play an ascending slide than it is a descending slide however, because sliding up the neck tends to increase the volume, whereas sliding down the neck tends to decrease the volume. This happens because when sliding up the neck the tension of the string is increased. When sliding down the neck though, the tension of the string decreases because it slackens.

Therefore, more accuracy and attention to finger pressure on the fret board is required when performing descending slides as slightly more pressure is needed at the end of the slide to ensure that the last note is indeed heard. 

To play a slide, simply pluck a note from the pentatonic scale to keep in with playing the blues. Let's use the key of A on the fifth fret as demonstrated in the blues guitar instructional video #3. Select a note at the back-end (nearest the nut) of the scale using either the second or third fingertips. Press hard and slide up to the next note of the same scale which of course will be on the same string. Arriving at the second note cleanly is the desired effect and comes with practice.

Note: The height and smoothness of the actual frets themselves will have an effect on your ability to be able to play slides effectively and accurately. New frets on a new but cheap guitar will undoubtedly make playing slides rather more difficult for you, especially if you're a beginner. Having the frets on your guitar 'dressed' by an experienced Luthier (guitar maker) or a guitar technician can completely change the way you play. This is not only true regarding slides, but other guitar playing techniques too.

Fret Dressing is a process where the frets are levelled, rounded/shaped and polished.

The blues guitar instructional video #3 demonstrates slides at about 10:33 on the time scale.

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Generally speaking, playing the blues on the guitar is probably the simplest form of guitar playing there is. All popular forms of music come from the blues and if you practice the blues guitar instructions in these videos you'll be able to play along to many popular songs including country and rock tunes too. 

The great thing about playing blues guitar is once you have an idea of what to do, it not only sounds great, but it also allows a lot of room for error. By that, I mean it is quite difficult to sound bad, providing you are playing in time of course. Playing the blues doesn't require a tremendous knowledge of scales, chords or musical theory, and once you know how to play the pentatonic guitar scalesblues guitar scale and various blues guitar chords or only some of them as shown in these blues guitar instructional videos, you can almost hit anything and everything and it sounds good or at the very worst OK.

Basic Theory for Blues Guitar Instruction

The 'blues' is characterized by specific chord changes based on a I-IV-V, (1, 4, 5) chord progression, or 'order'. Written music is divided into segments called 'bars'. How many bars in a piece of music all depends upon the musical piece being played. Blues music typically has twelve bars but also ten, eight and even sixteen before it goes back to the beginning and repeats itself over again. This is where 'the blues' gets its well-known name - 'twelve bar blues', 'ten bar blues' or 'eight bar blues' respectively. The word 'progression' comes from 'progress' meaning a forward movement and any sequence of chords played on the guitar whether for blues, rock or jazz is called a chord progression. 

The I-IV-V, aspect of the blues guitar chord progression means that the chords that are played are built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes (musically called 'degrees') of the major scale. It does not mean that this is the order they are played in. Therefore, the 1 chord (I), the 4 chord (IV), and the 5 chord (V) are played in a specific order (progression) and repeated over however many bars or 'chunks' of music that has been decided for the tune being played.

This chord progression is strummed in a basic 4/4 time (beat) also known as Common Time. Basically speaking, without getting too deep here, this means there are four beats to each bar or 'chunk' of music. Most Western music, including pop, rock and blues is played in 4/4 time and is therefore a very common time signature hence its other name of 'common time'. Different time values give a different feel to the music and different styles of music therefore have different time values.

If you watch the first and/or second blues guitar instruction videos and count, 1... 2... 3... 4...etc. in time with the backing track and the chords being played, you will learn to understand and feel the beat and rhythm of double four time (4/4 or common time).

I-IV-V blues chord theory is also discussed on the blues guitar chords page under the sub-heading 'Blues Guitar Chord Theory'.

Blues Guitar and the History of Blues Music

It is generally recognised that the blues originated in African-American communities primarily in the "deep south" of the United States around the end of the 19th century from work songs, chanting and simple rhymed ballads.

The true origin of the term 'blues' is possibly derived from the blue Indigo plant, which was grown in many southern US slave plantations, and was used by many West African cultures in death and mourning ceremonies where the mourner's clothes were dyed blue to indicate suffering. I am guessing that this was because it was the only dark dye available at the time.

This associated sadness towards the blue indigo plant in combination with the West African slave's sad existence and who sang as an expression of their suffering and also as a way of keeping up their spirits, as they worked on the cotton that the blue indigo dyed, possibly and likely resulted in these songs being known as "The Blues."

I don't know this but have read about it and thought that it made sense.

There is nothing quite like one man and a guitar and nothing else. The great blues guitar players of old have actually quite literally changed and directed the course of music through their innovative, insightful and meaningful blues guitar playing and singing. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Dire Straits, Eric Clapton, and every other famous rock and pop star and jazz musician ultimately all came from the blues, not only from an historical evolutionary view point, but also from the fact that most of these famous musicians actually listened to and learned many of the blues riffs and guitar techniques from the old blues players when they first started playing their instruments.   

Playing the blues on the guitar is a very relaxing and often fulfilling experience, and like all music requires a 'feel' for the beat and chord changes taking place. You may have this naturally, but if not, with persistent determination and practice it will develop over-time for sure, but only if you are determined and stick with it!

Whether you're a beginner or a more advanced player, these blues guitar instructional videos and additional information on this site will hopefully help you to improve as a blues guitarist or whatever style of music you prefer playing on this fantastic instrument. Happy practicing!

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Blues Guitar Chords | Blues Guitar Scales | Guitar Bar Chords

Blues Guitar Licks | Guitar Scales Chart | Guitar Chords Chart

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