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By Rhys Lett

Playing The Blues

In this series exploring how to play styles of music we first look at playing the blues. These tips are designed to help you play this style of music.

Guitar – Playing the Blues

Guitar is a featured instrument in this style of music. Many rock guitar techniques are based in blues playing.

Simple rhythm guitar parts use a power chord based skill. Players rock back and forth between the power chord shape and one other note.

Lead guitar lines use minor and major pentatonic scales and the blues scale. ESSM guitar teacher Jason Fados suggests that learning the minor pentatonic box pattern. This pattern is commonly referred to as the ‘swiss army knife’ of blues improvisation. See it explained in the video below.

Lead guitar techniques that are featured in blues solos are string bends and slides. The sound of these techniques simulate the vocal calls heard from West African chants and American slave workers

Bass – Playing the Blues

Bass players will often use walking bass lines in playing blues songs. ESSM bass teacher Daniel Lijnders suggests that players start with just using the notes played in the chord. Rhythm wise begin with playing one note per beat of the bar. From this you have a grounding to develop the line further.

A warm tone is recommended. Using an electric bass that has a hum bucker pickup in it such as a Fender Precision bass.

Drums – Playing the Blues

ESSM drum teacher Luke Shore recommends that drummers understand the shuffle beat. This is a commonly used beat pattern in the blues. Understand the difference between playing straight and playing shuffle. Drummers should understand the commonly used song structure of the 12 bar blues. Hear when chord changes occur within those 12 bars of music. Make note of any chord patterns that vary away from standard chord placements. Chord changes at the end of the 12 bars can often be altered. This is known as a turnaround. The drummer will often accent these chord changes.

ESSM drum teacher Dan Slater also adds it is important to feel when the 12 bar pattern resets. This is a place where a drummer would perform a fill. Also a drummer can change groove by moving to the ride cymbal. Another variation at this point of the song might be to bring dynamic down. With this the drummer creates interest for the listener by introducing changes. This variation is important due to the chords being repeated many times within the 12 bar blues pattern.

Vocals – Playing the Blues

As mentioned in the guitar section, the vocal calls heard in West African chants influenced blues melody greatly. Blues vocals often scoop up into the note. Start slightly flat and then glide gracefully into the correct pitch. Rhythm skills play a big part in the vocal phrasing. Phrases will start off beat.

Getting an ear for “blue” notes is very important. These notes are often outside of the conventional major and minor scales. Tricks like singing the minor third over a major chord will create blues style phrases.

Piano – Playing the Blues

Piano combines skills discussed in the guitar and bass sections. Left hand blues playing can use walking bass lines. Right hand should gain an understanding of how to play dominant 7 chords.