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Techniques for Playing Authentic Blues Guitar

3 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Developing Blues Guitar Techniques

One of the best things about the blues is that it isn’t all that hard to play, technically speaking. However, learning how to use expression when you play blues guitar is the best way to bring your guitar playing to a whole new level.

Playing lead or rhythm in most blues songs requires only intermediate technique. What is harder to do — in fact, you never stop figuring out how to do it better — is to play expressively. Expression in the blues is what turns craft into art. Check out these ways to make your music more bluesy:

  • Use bent notes. Bent notes are notes where the pitch is raised slowly by stretching the guitar string, and this element is closely identified with the blues.

  • Make your music shake. Vibrato is a technique that makes the notes of the music quiver by using left-hand finger wiggling, which gives blues a signature sound. Because much of the blues is set to medium tempos, players hold notes for long periods of time. Vibrato is a great way to bring notes to life, so they don’t just sit there.

  • Give it some slide. If you don’t hit notes straight on and rather slide into notes from above and below, you give music a bluesy feel and breathe some life into your notes. Guitarists often draw their inspiration from vocalists and horn players (saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and so on), who exercise the slide technique on a regular basis.

  • Slur your notes. Connecting notes through slurs — where you don’t restrike the second note with the right hand — is a good way to loosen up your playing in the typical way a blues player does.

  • Allow the rhythm to flow. Blues also allows a certain rhythmic liberty to be taken with melodies and especially letting the melody notes deliberately fall after, or behind, the beat. Backphrasing is actually more of a rhythmic alteration, or rubato, but it’s generally thought of as a phrasing technique. It’s been described as lazy, devil-may-care, or cavalier, but it sure makes the notes sound more bluesy.

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