Why a Lot of Blues Guitar Players Do Not Achieve the Level of the Greats and What to Do About It

How to become a better blues guitarist.

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Let's take a deeper look at the reason current blues guitar players only know a part of the information you need to really comprehend blues guitar music thoroughly. A large amount even base their playing on incorrect knowledge. This can be explained by several factors:
  • The majority of teachers passing their blues knowledge on to their disciples do not know the blues thoroughly, the way they approach improvising is mostly not strong if you compare it with those who teach other styles. This is because most people perceive the blues as a music style that is not difficult to play. This perception is so common in contemporary music teaching that a quest to find information about blues playing ends up with vague information about the minor pentatonic scale or the blues scale.
  • Blues might not be difficult to start to learn. Nevertheless it is a difficult style to dominate.

The Reason Teaching Blues Is Based on a Segmented Perspective of the Guitar

The advice you will often hear is: "continue to work on improvising," and no further details are given. As I have mentioned, the perception of blues music is that it is not difficult to learn. You should realize that the guitar is a recently invented instrument if we compare it to the piano or the violin. That is why there do not exist a lot of great approaches towards studying the guitar.

It is definitely the case with blues guitar playing because of the incorrect perception of blues as a type of music that is not difficult to learn. It is true that the standard concepts of blues guitar are not that difficult when you start learning it. Nevertheless, blues music is just as complicated as other types of music. It might even become more complex once you proceed to the higher levels of blues guitar.

See Beyond the Limits of Your Current Level

As a reader of this, you might come across the thought that you are at a certain stage of blues guitar, but you don't know how to keep moving forward. You are aware of what you want to be able to do and your question is "how do I reach that level?".

The information is nowhere to be found online simply because the information out there is very limited. Why? Again, because people perceive blues music as easy to play. The standard concepts are not difficult, but it is difficult to dominate blues guitar.

How to Take Action

My motivation to begin teaching blues guitar online is to reveal the steps involved in dominating your blues guitar playing. Have you got an idea of the best way to practice so you can proceed to the next stage? Are you able to look beyond your current level? In simple words: do you know how to become a better blues guitarist?

From the moment I began teaching guitar back in 2006, I have seen a whole lot of guitar players who found themselves in the same stage as you. As far as I know, I can tell that 95% of whoever is reading this feels they have stopped improving and they are driving only around in circles. You're stuck in playing similar things time and time again, but you have no idea how to improve.

How to Leave Your Rut And Become a Better Blues Guitarist Now

The first step on how to become a better blues guitarist might sound too theoretical to you, but it is learning all about the relationship between chords and scales. This way you will learn what you can do over every single chord in a twelve bar progression. You will no longer be limited to playing only the minor pentatonic scale the whole time through. From the moment you have that knowledge, you will sound more like your favorite blues players.

So one key concept you need to learn is to play melodic over the different chords found in a twelve bar progression. This will offer you the knowledge to the level you are finding yourself at right now and start moving forward. Let me give you a practice routine that will make you improve right away.

Most Teaching Information Is Insufficient - The Reason Mentored Practice Routines Are So Good

We all have been searching online to find tabs so we could learn more. However, tablature and even most instructors don't teach the what (to play), why (it sounds good) and how (to practice). In the case of blues improvising, the majority of instructors advise you to switch between the minor and major pentatonic scale to raise your level of blues improvisation. However, that is not enough, you need to learn how to approach improvisation in an efficient way.

If you want to notice improvement each time you play guitar, you should have practice routines that give you sufficient details on how to practice.

Here is one of those practice routines

Practice Routine One

Put on a blues backing track in A and take a good look at the steps you find underneath:

1) Play the A major pentatonic scale over the A7, which is the I-chord

2) Play the A minor pentatonic over the D7, which is the IV-chord

3) Play the A major pentatonic over the E7, which is the V-chord

The diagrams below show the scales. There is a good chance that you only know the A minor pentatonic, so I have given you 3 notes of the major pentatonic. You can do a lot with these 3 notes, and they sound really great too!

A minor pentatonic scale

A major pentatonic scale (3 notes derived from it)

In this video you can see me play and explain this approach:

YouTube preview picture

Let me give you some tips for developing licks. The note on the B-string of the 12th fret can be bent up a whole step. Below you can hear how the entire twelve bar blues solo according the steps I have given you above.

Listen to a twelve bar blues solo switching between major and minor pentatonic scales

If you would like to hear the difference between this approach and the way beginner level guitar players would play a blues solo, check out the extract below.

Listen to a twelve bar blues solo solely using the minor pentatonic scale

It is quite different, isn't it? The first one indicated how a beginner level solo typically sounds while the second has much more melody. Have you heard how it kind of sounded like B.B. King?

Once you start to realize which scale you play best over which chord will make your solo sound a lot better. Nevertheless, you should develop a consciousness of which scale to play and when. In addition, you should train that in an effective way. In case you have not done that yet, I recommend to take a look at my Free Manuals on my website about how to play blues solos over chord changes.

About the Author:
Antony Reynaert is a blues guitar instructor teaching students in his country of residence Belgium as well as online through his blues guitar lessons website.

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    This article was just what I have been looking for. The auther did a magnificent job explaining things. I will find this article very useful indeed.
    When I started playing 15 years ago I walked into the room and told my instructor that I wanted to play metal and "shred". His reply was "okay that's cool, first you're gonna learn the blues cause that's where metal came from. This is Albert King".It definitely helped (esp playing thrash, pentatonics all over the place). Been a blues fan ever since and it's one of my fave styles to play. IMO as simple as it seems, a big part of playing blues is in your technique. You can't just "play" the blues, you gotta feel that shit!
    The blues is sad music, its drinking till you pass out music. Its howling at the moon over a lost woman or crooked man kind of music. If you ain't got that in your soul, you can forget about channeling that through your instrument.
    Amaj Pent: A - B - C# - E - F# 3 notes were: A - B (bend to C#) - F# A7 chord: A - C# - E - G Amin Pent: A - B - C - E - G Dmin chord: D - F - A Amaj Pent: A - B - C# - E - F# 3 notes were: A - B (bend to C#) - F# E7 chord: E - G# - B - D I didn't work out exactly what notes you were using where during the solo, but my stab at it just from the relationships above would be... The notes over the A7 chord include the root (A) and the 3rd (C#), so they'll fit, and the 2nd (B) generally sounds fine over the I chord (being from the simple pentatonic and sounding good as a passing tone between root & 3rd as used here with the bend from 2nd-->3rd). The 6th (F#) is also generally a safe note to hit over the I chord (especially if passing) and possibly lets you use a semi-tone bend to the b7 (G), which is part of the parent chord? Over the Dmin chord the scale you're using has the 5th (A) and a bunch of non-chord tones. Possibly the basic idea is the sound of the scale itself is bluesy given it's an Amin pent in a major/7-chord 12-bar blues progression? Apart from the 5th you've got the b7 (C), which is a good bluesy tone for minor chords, and it'd allow you to bend to the root (D), and that b7-->root bend is a pretty bluesy sound. The other two notes - 6th (B), 2nd/9 (E)...a 6 is again a fairly safe passing note for getting between the 5 and b7? And I guess a 2nd a is a good passing tone for the root and the higher-octave 9 is a natural extension on a minor/m7 chord? Over the E7 chord you've got two chord tones - the root (E) and the 5th (B). The C#/F# (6th and 2nd/9th) would possibly function like the B/E notes from the previous chord (and over a major chord the 6 generally seems a safer note to me than over a min chord when I'm improvising) and if you're using the A I guess it would function like suspended 4th...this one makes the least sense to me (especially as the Amaj pent doesn't have the b7 note - D - that creates a lot of the tension in the E7 chord)...as I said at the start, I haven't tried to analyse the specific licks, and how they're constructed is obviously a huge factor, but that's what the note relationships look like to me. Blues isn't one of my main genres, so I'm one of these beginners who's been using the min pent/min blues scales to improvise over all the chords in a x-bar progression - maybe switching between phrases that use the maj3rd and min3rd is itself a way to stress the bluesy sound of mixed 3rds, rather than just playing the min3rd against the major chord?
    Or just STFU and play the damn guitar. Stop listening to other people telling you what and how to play. Simple!