The blues is a foundational part of musical genres ranging from country to rock, with everything in between laying claim to the form as well. In fact, the terms blues rock and country blues are often used as labels to describe rock and country performers whose musical output really put a focus on the form. Some artists are so deeply rooted in the blues that they can’t be separated. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck are some of the more contemporary players that come immediately to mind. More classic blues players to think about include B.B. King, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, and Albert King. These names, of course, are just the candles on the cake. Countless more blues guitarists can be added to the list, along with the almost limitless artists that incorporate the blues influence into their work just by the default of listening to others.
Blues licks guitar playing can be found in musical examples throughout history. Blues licks are an essential element or building block of many of the guitar solos you’ve heard throughout history.
What exactly is blues licks guitar playing?
The answer pretty simple, as are many of the blues guitar licks you hear. The blues scale, shown below in the key of A, is a choice, whether conscious or unconscious, of a lot of guitar players. The “blue” notes of this scale (the notes altered from the major scale) are the notes that create the bluesy sound we all love and recognize. Compare this A blues scale to the notes in the A major scale an take note of the differences. Those are the notes that create the sound of the blues. Sound, however, is really only part of the equation.
Blues licks guitar playing doesn’t have to be complex. In fact, most blues licks are extremely simple to play, yet sound rich, vibrant, and full of emotion. All you have to do is examine the lick below. This is an example of something you might hear B.B. King play. In the key of G, played over a sixth chord, this lick showcases a blues lick B.B. might open with. Not the slow bends and the use of a heavy trill on the final note of the lick. B.B. was one of those players that could make one or two notes sound like an orchestra.
Whether you are just starting out as a guitarist or you simply want to understand the history behind much of the guitar playing since the beginning of the nineteenth century, learning to play blues licks guitar style is something that can only benefit your playing and your appreciation of music.