How To Play Blues Guitar Like Stevie Ray Vaughan

In this article we will look at some of the techniques that make up the blues guitar playing of Stevie Ray Vaughan. We will also look into signature SRV licks along the way.

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I recall the time when I started playing guitar and what I remember is that I began by playing songs from the bands I admired most like Metallica, Nirvana and Blink-182. After a while I withdrew from playing songs from these bands because I wanted to be able to improvise with no restrictions on my guitar. Around this time blues guitar really started to call my attention.

I remember one night going through a Stevie Ray Vaughan video on YouTube and I thought to myself "Wow, I have to be able to play like this guy." Luckily, some time after that night, I met a great blues guitar instructor that got me into Stevie Ray Vaughan's style. In this article I will pass on some of the knowledge I have attained along the way.

First I want to show you some of the things involved in Stevie Ray Vaughn's signature style.

The Techniques


One of the guys Stevie Ray Vaughan looked up to was Albert King. It will be good for us to learn some Albert King licks before we dig into Stevie Ray Vaughn's style. Here is an example: Notice the use of the bending technique.

Bent Vibrato

A lot of what makes up Stevie Ray Vaughan's unique style is the juice he gets out of every note. He is very good at infusing as much feeling as possible into every note. We are going to talk about how you can develop this technique into your own playing in a second, but first lets look at a vibrato technique that will allow you to be highly expressive.

Bend the string up using all three fingers: your ring, middle and index fingers so that you have more authority over the string you are bending.

When the bend has reached it's target note (in this case the E-note), add a medium-width vibrato to it. While you are doing the vibrato, hit the string over and over making sure to keep the string bent. With some practice you should be able to do this pretty quickly.

Left Hand Muting Technique

Stevie Ray Vaughn's style oozes lots of power and that's what we're going to talk about next. To be able to play like him, your left hand muting technique should be very good. If you were to play only one note as loud as you can, it will still sound thin in comparison to when Stevie Ray Vaughn plays the same note as loudly as he can. If you want to be able to strike your strings very hard, you have to practice muting them with your left hand. Here is an example of how to do this:

Take for instance this D-note from above, if you hit the G-string by itself you will miss out on the power that comes from hitting all the strings at once. In the measure on the right hand side you will see the same note with all other strings muted.

Hit all the strings and notice that only the G-string will produce a tone and ring out while all the other strings will sound dead. Use your thumb to mute the three low strings (E, A and D) and the front part of the fingers that press down on the strings to mute the first two strings (the B and the high E). It will take a bit of practice to get all the strings to sound clean, but here are some exercises to get you started:

In the next video you see me playing a lick in the style of Stevie Ray Vaughan with this technique where you hit all the strings at once.

The Licks

The above lick from the Am pentatonic scale is a great place to start exploring some signature SRV-licks. I left out the rhythm on purpose because there are lots of different ways to play this. Stevie would use a lot of "rubato" or "floating rhythm" in his playing so the best way to get his sense of rhythm is by listening to his songs. The Bb-note he uses on the first string (6th fret) is used as an out-of-key passing tone, adding some cool ornamentation to this lick. The blue-note is also used on the third string (8th fret).

Stevie Ray Vaughn is known for playing long lines with lots of notes. He does this by expanding licks diagonally across the neck. In this second lick you'll notice that we connected lick 1 to an expanded pattern on the lower strings.

The Tone

Stevie Ray Vaughn's tone has a lot to do with maintaining a hard grip. Get aggressive with your fingers and hold the strings down rigidly. The same goes for your right hand, there are times that you need to pick very softly, but I've found that many intermediate players play with a weak attack, so practice gripping the guitar and attacking those strings (make sure that you maintain the proper left-hand muting technique to prevent unwanted string noise).

As far as equipment goes, you can use any Fender tube-amplifier. For overdriven tones, just use a tube screamer pedal, like the Boss Bluesdriver. When you talk about Stevie Ray Vaughan, the saying tone is in your fingers' holds a lot of weight.

The Feeling

Blues came from people that were not so fortunate with not a lot to lose so there's a lot of aggression and sexuality in the blues. If your are playing blues guitar, but you lack that "feel," try listening to the dynamics Stevie Ray Vaughn uses in his playing. See if you can attack the strings with as much energy as he does. In blues guitar playing, dynamics are crucial. If you always play every note with the same amount of attack, you might fall into the trap of not sounding as good as you might like.

Nobody says that you should have to be able to copy the raw feeling that Stevie Ray Vaughn exudes in his playing. In my opinion, the world doesn't need another SRV-copycat, but his style has so many dynamics to it that you're going to discover a lot of good things to spice up your own guitar playing.

About the author:
Antony Reynaert is a blues guitarist and teacher based in Belguim. On his website you will find more usefull blues guitar resources to learn from, such as his free blues guitar ebook.

123 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    I use heavy strings, tune low, play hard, and floor it. Floor it, that's technical talk. - SRV
    He used such heavy strings and played so hard the skin on his fingers was constantly falling off. Dude didn't mess around!
    I think this is a nicely constructed lesson, ideal for blues players starting out. It would be nice to see an example lick that contains all of the techniques you mentioned though.
    My Last Words
    What about the rake technique ?
    If there's anything signature about SRV it's this.
    i hate articles that have a headline "how to play like (insert guitar player's name here)"
    Stevie is my biggest inspiration. But I agree with those who have stated the importance of listening to his heroes as well, as he lifted quite a bit of his licks and stylings from guys like Albert King, Lonnie Mack, and Hendrix as well.
    How do you bend a string?? Anyone?? Ballbag?? Help? And what's a "mute?" I've been playing for 5 years but I still have never heard of these... Please guide me in the right direction Ballba-- I mean, Tim.
    "bending" is when you take a knife and heat it up on the stove. Make sure its nice and hot. Now insert it into your urethra. thats bending.
    You really are an extraordinarily irritating steaming pile of excrement you know that?
    Seriously.. Isn't there some mod somewhere who can ban this girl? It's taking pretty much time to downvote everything she writes.. Bring it on ballbag!
    Bending a string is when you pull the string either upwards or downwards to sharpen the pitch of the notes you play. Muting is a technique that can give your notes a percussive feel. Since this is an SRV article, check out Pride and Joy and listen to the "chk" "chk" sounds of his inbetween notes. That is muting. It is used heavily in funk guitar
    pretty sure people on a guitar website understand the definition of a bend..... and try using a song that wasnt used on guitar hero for an example next time?
    If those are SRV licks, then I've been practicing SRV licks without even knowing it.
    I think the string muting is key... not just for SRV but a lot of guys who play blues-rooted stuff. When you get it down, the tone is unmistakable (and awesome). That percussive sound has become a big part of my own playing, and SRV and Hendrix were two that inspired it. Great lesson, cheers
    I'd rather play guitar like Son House, but still a pretty good lesson.
    Son House??? Youre either the worst troll in history, or your ears were repeatedly penetrated with rusty nails as a child.
    Not a troll at all, Son was an originator of the Delta blues, versus a Stevie "Johnny Come Lately" Vaughan fifty years later.
    Nice man. Good SRV licks. I'm like you starting out playing Nirvana and Metallica, then discovered the world of blues.
    Yer me too. I find it a lot harder to master the feel of it. I'm getting there slowly.
    I actually enjoyed this lesson. Don't misunderstand the authour. he doesn't meran for you o copy these licks and play them verbatum. use the technique to improve your own playing.and this isn't static to blues either. You can use these techniques to improve soloing and playing for any genre because blues licks translate pretty well.
    Wouldn't bother with this article, go to StevieSnacks if you want some good SRV style lessons
    Ballbag, it's an inside joke for those of us who served in the Marines. I wouldn't expect you to get it. Back to the original topic. Clearly you payed zero attention to the article. There is a reason you have so many negs in all your posts. That one "thumbs up" you just recieve is me throwing you a bone. Enjoy.
    Thank you for serving. I'd salute you but you can't see it... Fuck it, I'm saluting anyway. Semper Fi!
    Thanks mate. It was an honor to serve. Glad to be out and be a civilian once again though.
    How about listening to blues? You won't ever learn to play a different style of music well until you know that style. Immerse yourself into the world of blues, even jazz, the boogie, then try playing this. The feeling will be natural, and your ears will start to tell you what notes to play.
    I hope you are being a smart a**. I suspect you are just that. To disrespect such an amazing musician as 'SRV' would not be cool.
    Tim Larkin, congratats on earning your place into the Hall of Stupid. Or should I refer to you as ballbag from henceforth? Ballbag, take your stupidity elsewhere...preferably around children your own age. Mature people are trying to learn here.
    good luck learning from such a shitty article! If you had to read this to learn how to do complex feats such as "bends" and "vibrato" then you need more help than this article can give you. Also your username is terrible; wtf is a Yut?