Introduction to Blues Guitar

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THE BLUES PROGRESSIONThe first thing you should do is familiarize yourself with the Basic Blues Song. It is a standard progression of chord changes 12 measures long. Let me emphasize that you can "study" the progression as much as you want and it won't really "sink in" until you've listened to its unique sound several times. Once you are familiar with the sound and repetitive pattern of the "Basic Blues Song", this lesson will be much easier to grasp. The good news is that you'll hear it several times in this lesson so jump right in there and get started. Below is the pattern of chord changes used in the standard blues song.

GETTING THE FEEL OF THINGSMost of the Blues you'll hear in the Rock Blues styles will be based on 2 basic rhythm patterns known as the SHUFFLE and the STRAIGHT rhythm. These are many times referred to by blues players as the shuffle or the straight "feel." The reason for this is that there is a definite underlying pulse or "feel" unique to both. Let's analyze the SHUFFLE feel first.

THE SHUFFLE FEEL
When you break down the specific rhythm in the Shuffle you'll discover that for every single beat there is an underlying pulse of three beats. Take a look at the graphic below.

If you count slowly and steadily- One, Two, Three, Four and then replace each one of those steady counts with three equally divided notes, you are counting triplets. There are several ways to verbally count triplets, such as Trip-o-let, Trip-o-let, etc., or simply 1-2-3 1-2-3, etc., or Am-ster-dam Am-ster-dam, etc.. Any three-syllable word will do. Take a look at the interactive example below to see exactly how this works. Notice the quarter-notes on the top staff and the 8th-note triplets below. If you click the clock, you'll see and hear how this notation is counted and played.

With each tick of the clock the cursor advances 3 times. Each tick of the clock is one full beat. There are 3 equally divided triplet counts for every quarter note or beat.

THE STRAIGHT FEEL
Let's contrast the shuffle "feel" with the straight feel followed by an example of a typical blues song played both ways. First look at the straight rhythm example below. Notice that rather than being divided in three's, the beat is divided in two's. This is represented by the quarter and eighth notes below.

Ok, so you're sick of hearing the E note over and over. Here are 2 audio samples of the one chord progression played with the SHUFFLE or triplet feel and then played with the STRAIGHT feel. Click the "STRAIGHT" button to hear a sample of the straight feel. Click it again to stop. Click the "SHUFFLE" button to hear a short sample of the shuffle feel. Click it again to stop.

THE BLUES PROGRESSION EXPLAINED FURTHERThe 12-bar blues progression at the top of the page is shown in the key of E. So you may be asking, "What if I'm playing with a harmonica player who wants to play in the key of A?" Ok, you may not have been asking that but just in case that happens you need to learn what to do in the case of a key crisis. :-) First of all, you should check out the theory lessons that cover major scales and what the chords are in each key. Assuming you've looked at it, I'm going to give you the simple formula for the 12-bar blues progression in any key.

4 bars of the 1 chord
2 bars of the 4 chord
2 bars of the 1 chord
1 bar of the 5 chord
2 bars of the 1 chord

You'll notice that adds up to 12 bars or measures. Generally blues is played in 4/4 time and you'll find it played at many different tempos. Thousands of songs have been written using this simple chord progression and there have been many songs written with the blues progression as the obvious foundation for the song but with some variation. You should try writing a few songs yourself with this progression as the basis for your song. Generally each chord will be a 7th chord. In other words, E7 - A7 - B7 are the 1, 4 and 5 chords used in a blues progression in the key of E.

Click here to see a list of all the chord roots in every key. From that list you'll use the 1, 4 and 5 chords to build your blues progression. LAST BUT NOT LEAST, LISTEN!Always, always spend some time listening to the style of music you're trying to emulate. There's no better way to get the "feel" for blues than listening to many various examples of great blues guitarists. On to the lesson. You can close this window to view the main tutorial at any time.

GET THE BOOK!
For more great content on this topic you should get the book by Bill Bay from Mel Bay Publishing titled, "Basic Rock Blues Guitar Method."* The tutorial in this lesson uses the first few examples from Bill's book. Once you understand the concepts of this lesson you can get more great content from that book. It comes with a CD-Rom of each example. You can order it from Mel Bay Publishing by clicking here.

* used by permission

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