How To Play Guitar – Blues Style

Hi All,

This lesson is how to play guitar ‘Blues Style’. Before we start the video lesson of how to play ‘Blues Style’ here is a bit of history of how ‘The Blues’ evovled.

Blues: the Birth and Evolution of a new Era

Blues is a musical genre that began as an African American cathartic form of self-expression in response to generations of adversity in the south of the United States. In reference to the blue devils or ‘down’ spirits like melancholy and grief, the blues style incorporates in its vocals, themes that concentrate on life’s troubles and hindrances.

The origin of  folk blues traces back to the African American working class of the Mississippi Delta in the beginning of the 20th century. Its birth was foretold by the slave and field work songs of the time. Songs about oppression and the need for freedom, these ‘hollers’ prefigured the explosion of a genre that would forever impact the music world.

The Delta Blues

After the Emancipation of the African-American people, blues’ expansion began inevitably as folk singers migrated, thus introducing the Delta blues to the rest of the country. Each region then adopted their own localized style, giving rise to various forms and distinctions of the genre. Country blues was the first, earthier, variation to appear as the movement traveled out of the work camps and into the rural zones. The genre continued to evolve as the musicians presented it in bigger cities, giving place to the more polished, refined style of urban blues.

Among leading performers, early recordings of Mammie Smith, Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey popularized classic blues, while Son House was one of the early performers of country blues as well as the developer of the bottleneck slide technique.

Despite the genre becoming popular and well established around the late 1920’s, the 1929 depression left many performers out of work, slowing down and forcing its evolution to take place passively. Nonetheless, after World War II, musicians such as Muddy Waters from Chicago and B.B. King from Memphis surfaced to intensify guitar sounds and accentuate on percussion, thus creating a new form called electric blues. Big cities also inspired award winning John Lee Hooker, who revolutionized the Delta blues with a freer, lively, rhythmical form that combined his Mississippi style with the boogie-woogie piano style of New Orleans (‘Boogie Chillen’ 1948). It was in the late 1950’s and early 60’s that, by the hand of folk singer Jimmie Rogers, white listeners became more interested in the trend. Revivalists sought recordings of its performers to search them out, and induced the resurgence of the genre in post-war U.S. A.

The Great Depression

After the appearance of Riley B. King and the electric blues, the movement became a big hit in Britain. In this way, the trend made its way across the world to find new distinctions to the genre. The British ‘beat’ began subsequently and the blues and its derivatives influenced renowned bands such as The Yardbirds or Eric Clapton, also paving the way for the 1964 British Invasion. Blues rock, R&B, Jazz and Bluegrass are just a few of the genres that were impacted by the evolution of this musical style.

Harmonically, blues consists of a dominant 4/4 rhythm; flattened thirds, fifths and sevenths of the related major scale, and a 12-bar structure. The blues scale is roughly a minor pentatonic scale with an added ‘blue’ note.  Before settling on the 12 bar progression, blues wasn’t defined in terms of chord structure as there were many blues in 6-bar and 8-bar, even in 16-bar form. The work of Ray Charles on ‘Sweet 16-bars’ or Herbie Hancock on ‘Watermelon Man’ are examples of the latter. By 1930, however, 12-bar form became the standard blues, as well as the use of flatted 3rds and 7ths, crushing and sliding.
Within its text, the genre comprises 3 line stanzas in which the first two lines repeat each other; the third one acting as an affirmation or conclusion of what had previously been sung.

In essence a vocal music form, blues incorporates the African call-and-response tradition where one musical phrase responds to another; primitively a form of democratic participation.
The development of blues has forecasted the beginning of a musical revolution that branched into vast selection of different sounds and new genres. While also becoming the roots and base of many acclaimed guitarists that have emerged since its birth- such as Jimmi Hendrix and Jimmy Page– the blues caused a shift in the music equilibrium that will forever mark the path of its history.

Did you take that all in? Good! Then, on with the lesson

[Here is the backing track for you  (to download backing track right click ‘save target as’ )


Keep practicing and eventually you will come up with something like this or better!

5 thoughts on “How To Play Guitar – Blues Style

  1. You flash bugger lighting a cig mid solo!LOL
    I have tracked you down as always fantastic playing…
    I’ll have a go at your Backing track
    See you over there (Boss BR)……..

  2. Great stuff
    Well Done Tony and Helen
    I have just enjoyed a great Blues Lesson
    keep em coming!

  3. wow -loved the lesson –you make it look so easy and straight forward –

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