Introduction to the genre
Before we get into the technical stuff and techniques to learn how to play blues on guitar, let us first make a brief introduction to this old school genre.
The blues is a music genre, originated in north america (the united states) by the African-american community, near the end of the 19th century. It is the first music genre invented among the most popular genres that we
know today: Jazz, Rock, Country music and more.
Not only it was the first, but also the Blues has played an important role in creating and developing these major genres.
Imagine that the Blues never got invented, what kind of music we would be playing and listening to today? What would it sound like? Would Rock n Roll ever get invented? Would the world still see Jimi Hendrix and B.B King in the music arena? Interesting thoughts.
So how did it come to be?
At that time, the United States was torn by racism and bigotry toward the African-american people, and sadly slavery was still active. And basically, the African-american people had no chance for a good fair living. So, when they went to the fields to labor, they used to sing as a measure of relief from the work load of the day, and from the oppression and mischief that they have endured every day. The songs that they sang, was called at that time as “work songs”, and these same songs and the music that sprung out of it, is what we call the Blues today.
So basically, as we see, the first blues music was never done on real instruments, rather, it was done only vocally actually, so the nature of the blues genre itself, and the way it goes and play, is based and oriented for singing in the format of “call and response” sort of way. And we will see below how playing blues on instruments – in this case, guitar – pretty much does that instrumentally. Truly an astonishing style of music.
A great example of this “call and response” technique used exclusively in the blues, is a song by B.B King called “They Call It Stormy Monday”, and the video below:
Listen closely as B.B King sings, and the “improvisation” and “licks” he incorporates in between his singing lines, which involves a lot of bending and sliding to imitate the voice of a real person, acts like the guitar is responding to him. This is a classic example of the good old blues in action by one of the pioneers of the blues, and considered by many as the greatest blues guitar player.
The construction of the Blues genre – The 12 bar blues
Perhaps the most common form of the Blues genre, is called the 12 bar blues. By form, I mean, a specific pattern of playing, of a certain melody or set of chords, that is repetitive throughout the entire duration of the song, and is played in a “call and response” kind of way. To best understand this concept and get a better grasp of the nature of the genre, what is a better way than to show an example, that also can be your first Blues drill to play and have fun!
An example of a 12 bar blues can be found here: 12 bar blues with the E scale tonic
Goes like this:
For the sake of this topic, I want you to ignore “Guitar 1” tabs for now, and focus only on “Guitar 2”, the “chords”. If you look closely, this blues lick consists of 12 bars, 1 bar consists of 8 notes, you can look at it as a music sheet consisting of 12 “boxes” of “notes”, I will play it for you so you can understand what I mean with a video below.
There are three chords in this blues exercise, and they are the E, A, and B, in which you only play the first two notes of each chord, the “root” or “bass” note, and the one after it.
If you're interested to learn more about the science behind this, the “hows' and “whys”, then check these programs HERE that teaches this stuff professionally. They all teach Blues for the guitar starting from basic theory, to chord progression, genre-specific techniques and more.
The reviews that you'll find there will help you decide in choosing the right program for you. So take a look at them and choose wisely.
Anyways, back to our blues drill. As we see, the “E” is the most common chord in this blues drill, and it is played consistently in the beginning and throughout the entire duration of the drill, while getting back to it after every change of chords. And because of this, the “E” chord here is called the “tonic” chord.
So the “E” chord is played for 4 bars in the beginning, similar to singing in a monotonic voice consistently, then comes the “A” chord which is played for a couple of bars before getting back to the “E” chord for another couple of bars, the “A” chord here is called the “Subdominant” chord, and there is a form of “call and response” between both the “E” and “A” chords.
After that comes the “B” chord which is considered and referred to here as the “Dominant” chord, and is played for 1 bar, followed by “A” for 1 bar, and finally getting back to the tonic chord “E” to finish and repeat from the start in a similar manner.
This is the basic form of the “12 bar blues” Blues piece, and upon this form of the Blues, so many songs was created, become famous, and we still listen to them in full joy and awe to this very day.
To wrap things up …
This is it, this is how the blues style of music got invented, how it got its call and response “vocal” natural form that is an integrated and important part of the genre, and something that is very evident and basically makes the blues what it is, and how it is naturally played, with the example I gave above: the “12 bars blues”.
It is a genre that is rich with history and music, and a great one to be played on the Piano and the Guitar. If this post has sparked an interest in you and inspired you to learn more about the blues and make it your main genre to play on the guitar, I'd be really glad to hear that and you've made a fantastic decision. Secondly, you can go here to find some great sources online that specialize in teaching guitar professionally, and I'm sure you will learn and benefit a lot from them, and they'll guide you through the entire process from beginner blues guitarist, to expert and beyond. Check the recommended programs and the reviews I personally wrote on each one of them after I done my researches, and pick a program that fits you.
Other than that, I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I did writing it, and hope you'll find it helpful. For feedback or if you want to contact me, please leave a comment below, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Good luck and have fun!