Over the last week or so, I’ve mentioned a couple of times how fun the blues can be to play on guitar…
While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, here are 16 reasons why I think everyone should learn at least one blues piece in their guitar-playing lifetime…
1 – Two guitars at once – I love to play fingerstyle blues where we play the very simple bass along with a catchy melody at the same time. It’s great fun and can make people even think there are two guitars being played at once.
2 – Emotion – Obviously, the blues are about raw emotion, passion, pain, hope, and many other feelings. If you ever need it, playing some blues on guitar can be a helpful tonic to any situation. It might not change the situation, but it certainly can help the way you feel about it.
3 – Audiences love it – If you ever play a bit of blues for someone else (even just your spouse or kids), it’s likely they’ll instantly know the sound. This gives them something fun to listen to (which can be much more exciting than a few strummed chords) and will probably bring a smile to their face, and that in turn will give you a nice confidence boost.
4 – It can transport us to another place – Obviously, I, like the rest of us, was not around 100 years ago in the deep south but when I play the blues, I’m pretty much instantly taken somewhere else. It feels like a time machine and a teleportation device in one. Mark Knopfler said it best when he said: “My idea of heaven is a place where the Tyne meets the Delta, where folk music meets the blues.” I love that quote, and as someone who loves folk music and the blues too, it makes a lot of sense.
5 – Tidy technique – There’s some subtlety in blues technique – especially solo blues pieces where you play the bass and melody. To get it sounding good, you have to have accurate picking, tight rhythm, and clean and accurate playing with both hands. Blues is good for your all-around technique.
6 – Teaches you a little useful theory – The blues helps with simple theory – there are 3 main chords in the blues. These are the I-IV-V chords (which in the key of E are the chords of E, A, B). Learning a simple blues song will help you get a solid understanding of basic theory like this.
7 – Groove – One of the big things about blues is the groove. You can feel it in your bones when you have it and it makes you want to tap your foot and nod your head, such is the power of its groove.
8 – Connection with our instrument – Some people play guitar superficially, where they don’t really know how to play with emotion. The blues naturally encourage us to play with the necessary emotion to make it shine. I’ve found when teaching, things like phrasing, dynamics, vibrato, and other subtle things that make for a huge whole, all tend to get drawn out of a guitarist when playing the blues.
9 – A repeatable structure – To learn a 12-bar blues, you need to learn the structure. The good news is, this structure is a standard structure meaning when you next go to learn a new blues song, you’ll have a solid understanding of how it all fits together because you’ve already learnt a blues tune and know this structure. This can save you lots of time.
10 – History – I spoke about this before, but learning the blues is like a history lesson that can take us through the ages of music over the last 100 years or so. If you’re a music geek like me, this is fun.
11 – Co-ordination between both hands – No matter what style of blues you play, your two-hand coordination needs to be solid. That’s because we don’t tend to strum chords much in the blues, but we pick strings on their own or in pairs a lot while moving around a bit with the fretting hand (in both rhythm and lead). Playing blues music will really tighten up this coordination.
12 – Turnarounds – These occur at the end of a 12-bar blues, and they are like super cool little signature riffs that can be kept simple, or this can be where you really let rip and show off for a short period. Turnarounds are one of the coolest elements of blues music for sure.
13 – Transfers nicely to other styles – A lot (if not all) of the techniques you learn in the blues will get used elsewhere too. Things like hammer-ons, slides, palm muting, Travis picking, licks, and more, will get used in different ways in pretty much whatever other styles you like to play, e.g., folk, rock, even classical.
14 – Fun to play – If you asked me my top 10 things to play on guitar, improvising electric lead blues guitar solos and playing an acoustic fingerstyle blues would both be on that list. I can’t get bored of either. The reason is because of…
15 – Endless improvisation – As stated before, a lot of blues is about structure, but as long as the underlying blues feel is there, you can change up the melodies, scale notes and chords tones, pretty much at will. This means you’ll never run out of ideas and can always add more fun little tricks to add to a blues piece (I still do this after donkey’s years playing it).
16 – Variety – I like variety so after playing fingerstyle arrangements of songs, or classical, pop, or folk guitar, I love the variety the blues gives me. So do many of my students who tell me they love how it just sounds distinctive immediately and is a nice break from practising chords and other “heavy” stuff.
Anyway, there you have it.
I hope you share my love for the blues, even if like me you are mainly a folk, pop, rock, fingerpicking, or a general, “all-around” type guitarist who loves it all.
The blues are a special genre that I probably won’t harp on about again for a bit.
I’ll leave you with this quote though which is a very special one…
“Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you. I could play the blues and then not be blue anymore.” – B.B. King
I love that.
If you want to learn the blues in a way that is specifically made for those who are brand new to the style or want to learn it properly in a step-by-step way, then check out the Dan Thorpe Acoustic Academy.
If you join before tonight, you can learn two very cool blues pieces.
One for the beginner, the other for early intermediates. Both sound great.
Neither requires chords to be able to play them and the intermediate one builds on top of the simpler, beginner one.
To take a listen, check this out below:
Just so you know, the deadline to join and get the blues lesson is tonight.
Have a great day!
P.S. This post was originally taken from Dan Thorpe’s private email list. To get blog posts like this sent to you which are full of great tips to make fingerpicking, strumming, and learning guitar more enjoyable (especially if you are over 40) join Dan’s list. It’s 100% free, HERE.