Learn how to fingerpick your way through a 12 bar blues while playing both the lead and rhythm parts at the same time on your guitar. This technique is advanced sounding but very easy to do!
How would you like to easily fingerpick blues tunes on your guitar, playing both the melody and accompaniment parts at the same time so there is no need for anyone else to play along with you?
Sound too good to be true?
Today, I am going to show you an approach that is as cool as it is easy to do. It will have you playing through chorus after chorus of a blues, fingerpicking both the lead and rhythm parts at the same time!
This is not a technique that will take you forever to master before it sounds any good. If you have at least some basic guitar playing skills down, with just a little work you will be up and sounding like a pro, and impressing all who hear you play, in no time!
So what is it?
Put simply, your thumb will be constantly plucking the lower strings of your guitar, while at the same time, you play riffs on the higher strings with the index, middle, and ring fingers of your picking hand.
If you are a little confused, read on, because I am going to lay out for you a step by step method of how to get this technique into your playing right now, so you can go ahead and create awesome fingerpicking blues arrangements on your guitar.
Fingerpicking Blues Drills
For the purpose of developing this technique, we will be using both pentatonic patterns 1 and 2 in the key of Em. More specifically the top 4 strings offers each of these patterns, as follows:
First up, we are going to play the low open E string of our guitar, along with each note of the scale in a quarter note rhythm (ie. on the beat) like so:
Once you have the above exercise down, we are going to separate the fingers from the thumb by having them play different rhythms.
Your thumb will pluck the low open E string in a swinging eighth note rhythm, while your fingers continue to play the pentatonic scale pattern in a quarter note rhythm, like this:
This of course is a little more challenging to do, but is a great exercise in getting your fingers to work independently from your thumb. Be patient, you will get it soon enough, as long as you take it slowly.
Don’t forget to watch the video that accompanies this article for more details, and to see this technique in action. In the video you will hear that I am palm muting the low open E string to create more contrast between the bass and the riffs, or if you like, the accompaniment and melody parts.
Once you have these basic drills down, and have developed the ability to have your thumb work independently of your fingers, you will find what follows next, easy to do!
Creating Fingerpicking Blues Riffs
Fingerpicking Blues Riff 1:
The next step is to create a riff of some sort utilising our hybrid pentatonic pattern from the previous drills.
Here is one such riff:
This is known as a call and response riff, typically found in blues soloing as well as other styles too. While playing this riff, you are going to get your thumb to pluck a swinging eighth note rhythm, as you did when playing the scale earlier:
What you hear now are both the riff itself as well as the drone of the open E string that provides the accompaniment to the riff. This is very simple but sounds great without needing anything else.
The open E string is implying an E7 chord (the I chord of a blues in E).
Even better, to cover the IV chord of a blues in E, the A7, all you need to do is play the exact same riff, and have your thumb pluck the open 5th/A string instead of the 6th/E:
As you can hear, there is a lot of milage we can get from the one riff and this simple technique. With both the E7 and A7 chords of a blues in E sorted, you can now cover the first 8 bars of a 12 bar blues:
I am using the one riff throughout in the example above.
Fingerpicking Blues Riff 2:
Let’s go through this process again, only with another blues riff to really reinforce this approach. Here is the riff we will use:
As was the case before, we simply play the riff while plucking a swinging eighth note rhythm on the low E string:
Next, do the same only plucking the 5th/A string to imply the A7 chord:
Finally, arrange the riff across the first 8 bars of a 12 bar blues in E, remembering to imply the chords by constantly plucking the appropriate lower open string in an eighth note rhythm:
The V Chord (B7)
To complete our 12 bar blues in E, we need to deal with the B7 chord. Unlike the E7 and A7 chords, we don’t have an open B string to pluck in the bass for our B7 chord. Ok, so we do have an open B string, but it is in the wrong octave to be of any use to us.
This is fine though, as the lower note you pluck does not necessarily have to be an open string. For the B7 chord we will form the standard open shape, plucking the root note at the 2nd fret on the 5th string, while playing a riff of some sort on top, like this:
We now have all we need to fingerpick our way through an entire chorus of a 12 bar blues in E. I will do exactly that now to show you how it all sounds together:
In the example above, I am using a combination of the riffs we used earlier.
Listen to how cool and complete everything sounds by simply plucking a single note in the bass to accompany the riffs and melodies you play on the higher strings.
To add some interest, I also included a few bass note connections between the chord changes.
Take this simple approach I have shown you here today and create your own blues riffs to arrange and play through a 12 bar blues in E.
The key is to always apply the things you learn. The rewards will be great as you develop the ability to play through chorus after chorus of a blues playing both the melody and accompaniment parts.
About the author:
Living in Melbourne, Australia and in regular high demand, Simon Candy has helped countless amounts of everyday people reach their guitar playing dreams. Simon particularly specialises in the acoustic guitar through styles such as blues, rock, jazz, and fingerpicking, and offers online lessons for acoustic guitar