by James Stelling
The following are mostly examples of common licks which act as the backbone for almost every great blues guitarist’s vocabulary.
I have provided below a video demonstration of a solo which uses most of these licks to illustrate how they can be worked into an authentic blues guitar solo.
Each lick has a corresponding video in addition to the TAB for that lick.
The following are 10 common blues licks.
Once you’ve practised these licks to the extent that they fall under your fingers comfortably and so you can play them evenly and confidently, you can then mix them up in any order. This is a good place to start when beginning to build a blues vocabulary.
All of these ideas use the C minor blues scale (1,b3,4,b5,5,b7). Be careful in how you resolve these ideas though (more on that in future lessons).
Most of these ideas are also phrases which can be repeated to create repetitious fast blues/rock playing. For more melodic blues phrases check back for my next lesson on major blues licks.
The above is a commonly heard phrase played by almost all blues guitarists that also translates into rock vocabulary (as do most blues ideas).
The 1st bar is the phrase played normally using swung 8th notes, but in the 2nd bar the phrase is being displaced across 8th note triplets, meaning that if you accent each beat of the bar the note which receives the accent alternates. This rhythmic device makes the idea sound a lot more interesting and is very commonly used.
You can hear this exact idea (starting with swung 8ths and then moving into 8th note triplets) in bars 9 & 10 of John Mayer’s solo in ‘Bold as Love’ from his ‘Continuum’ album.
The above idea is exactly the same as our first except it has moved up to the 1st and 2nd string in the C minor blues scale.
The above idea is something you hear Eric Clapton play a lot. Experiment with the speed of the bend and the rigidity of the rhythm for some interesting phrasing ideas.
The above three ideas are again using the rhythmic displacement concept from our first idea only now we are dealing with more notes and the use of pull offs.
I would recommend first practising the ideas using swung 8ths and ensuring that your bends and pull offs are clean and even in both duration and volume. Also notice how none of these bends descend, they only ascend. This means that you should stop the bent note at its peak and not hear it come back down to the note that it was bent from.
These ideas can be played very quickly with relative ease and as such should be mastered if you wish to achieve fast blues passages a la Stevie Ray Vaughan or John Mayer.
The above idea is a favourite of mine when playing at speed. The lick is organised in such a way that the 2 pull offs in the 6 note cycle allow your picking hand a breather resulting in your never having to pick more than 2 notes in a row.
The above lick is a favourite of Jimmy Page & John Frusciante. You can hear it at the end of John Frusciante’s solo in ‘Dani California’ from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Stadium Arcadium’ album. You can also hear it at the end of Frusciante’s solo in ‘I Like Dirt’ from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ‘Californication’ album.
Again, you can experiment with the rigidity of the rhythm in this lick, and as it is a cycle of 5 notes it has a lot of interesting rhythmic possibilities.
This a nice lick using fast sliding and pull offs to create a flurry of notes which sounds very bluesy. Stevie Ray Vaughan used this idea a lot.
Be careful when practising it to make sure every note is as loud as every other note. Most players who aren’t as diligent/patient when it comes to practising will make a mess of these slides and pull offs and the result is that the lick sounds like a mess. If in doubt play it very slowly to ensure that you can hear every note evenly. Once you can, start moving up the tempos.
The above lick is the only lick so far that actually uses (and resolves to) the major 3rd of the C7(I) chord. This lick should only be played over the I chord in a blues. It is the first lick so far to deviate from the minor blues scale, but it acts a great bookend for any of the previous licks providing you are playing them over the I chord in a blues (in this instance C7).
Please check back for more advanced blues licks and concepts in the coming weeks and if you have time please 'like' our Facebook page.
All the best, James.