Blues Guitar – 7 Guidelines



1. Learn the standard 1,4,5 blues progression over 12 bars.  This is the foundation!

  • So many blues tunes are derived from this or variations thereof
  • You will use it over and over in blues and rock tunes
  • A nice way to study/support lead playing
  • Fine ice-breaker for jam sessions

You’ll want to be able to play this comfortably in different keys, not just E or A. E and A is certainly a nice start though.




2. Listen to blues music closely.  The lead phrasing has a distinct character that includes:

  • short melodic lines
  • bends
  • vibrato

You’ll notice (and feel) the emotion that comes out in the playing. If you can combine emotion with technique, even one (1) note can be superb. Think Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, etc.

3. Bends really are magical.  Spend some time focusing on the mechanics of bends. This includes half, full and pre-bends. Bends can really enhance your lead playing or do the opposite if not practiced/honed.  Like most techniques, the concept of bends is something that you don’t want to abandon to quickly (because your eager to learn the next cool thing).

4. Eventually you will reach a stage (and you will) when you can put a melodic solo together.  It’s tempting to try to grab every lick or scale you ever played and cram it into a few bars.  Try to recall those tunes that sparked your blues interest.  You could:

  • Pick a short motif
  • Play it in a different octave
  • Mimic the main vocal or melody

5. Play what feels right in the moment.  If you have to think to hard in a musical situation, it will start to sound that way.  Ideally, notes should be played with confidence.  Better to play three fitting notes that compliment the other players or progression than many mediocre notes (notes that are not clean, fitting, etc)  Fewer notes is the theme here.

6. Speaking of clean, controlled notes, learn palm muting and use it like there’s no tommorrow!   It will help you with clean rests, make your playing more dynamic and control string noise. Very nice indeed.




7. Learn and understand the concept of turn arounds. A blues turn around is really a short line or melody that occurs in the last couple of bars of a blues progression. It brings you back to the top so to speak (ie. start of the 12 bar blues).  In other words, it sort of pulls you back to the top. The same passage can be used to start a progression or direct you to a closing chord (at the end of the 12 bars).

Sample – ‘Intro’ or ‘Turn Around’


Sample – ‘Ending’


If you have any questions about these ideas or need assistance with any of the mentioned techniques, please contact me here.

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