This is a long and involved lesson meant to give you a solid introduction to and understanding of the art of blues guitar playing. It would be impossible to over emphasize the importance that blues music has to a modern professional guitarist. Simply put, without blues there is no jazz, no rock 'n roll, no funk music and certainly no hot guitar playing. I have quoted the great Muddy Waters many times before who famously sang, “The blues had a baby they call the baby rock 'n roll.”

In this super lesson you will find important licks, clichés ideas training exercises and full-length solos. Hopefully you will also find an understanding of the blues and develop an interest in studying and becoming an expert in the blues style of music. It is impossible to be a professional working, or even competent guitarist without being a student of the style, without significant experience in playing and listening to the blues. Below is a recommended listening list of blues icons:

The Big Kahuna

In Hawaii, a Kahuna was some type of priest, wiseman, healer, magician, sorcerer or simply someone who was respected and accomplished in his important endeavors. There were many different types of kahuna but the most respected, the most powerful, the most magical of the kahuna are sometimes referred to in pop culture as the big kahuna -someone who could do magical and amazing things. The large and in charge boss man. Today the best surfer on a local beach or among a group of surfers is called the big kahuna because of his ability to take amazing, almost superhuman rides across the waves. In the art of blues guitar playing I think of the minor pentatonic scale, and it's closely related cousin, the blues scale, as the big kahuna.

To be a competent lead guitarist you need to be very good at playing all kinds of music and hot licks right off the top of your head using the minor pentatonic scale. When you practice you should practice learning solos of the freats and making your own licks up, learning how to play the minor pentatonic scale their way and your way. Like a kahuna with magical powers, the minor pentatonic scale can do amazing, almost unbelievable things for your lead guitar playing and for your music in general if you just give it the chance. Just like a surfing legend who can do something fantastic with a plain old surfboard, a skilled guitarist can make the minor pentatonic scale sound like an absolute knockout.

Cliche Bends

As introduced in lessons 11 and 12 the minor pentatonic box pattern and its cliché bends are central to and essential in all modern guitar styles. The small bits of melodic and interesting material, the clichés, are easy to weave into interesting and full length solos; they’re the perfect construction materials. The 5 clichés and bending licks below are the gifts we have inherited from our blues forefathers.

1st Cliche

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In blues and rock veins, clichés are the backbone of great guitar solos in the. The bend of the flat 7 G note is a favorite note among lead guitar players. As you bend, keep a firm but gentle downward pressure as you perform a smooth upward, scooping motion -listening for the wailing sound of the G smoothly longing for and then joining the A root note. I prefer to execute this bend with fingers 2 & 3 used together because of the speed and power these fingers bring. Some players prefer to do this move with their pinkie, it's up to you.Remember, the note in parentheses is the note you are bending to and is not actually picked.


2nd Cliche

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These universally known, common knowledge bits of lead guitar technique consist of a few repetitive notes and strong but simple rhythms. Our next example is a classic and tasty variation of the b7 to root note bend which adds the C note -the very next scale member above the A root.


3rd Cliche

For cliché 3 you are moving your fingers over to the next thickest string set. This lick creates a strong, gutsy wail by bending the 4th note of the key up to the 5th note, in this case D to E. This is traditionally one of the lead guitar players bread and butter moves and can be used for making strong dramatic entrances or cookin' little fills. When playing these cliché moves you're first finger should have a feeling of being anchored to or pivoting on its fret. Downward pressure should be kept firm but light and constant. As you maintain pressure, use two fingers to pick and push the entire string up to a new location as is seen in the animation.


4th Cliche

These ideas here could be ca0lled permutations of the minor pentatonic notes used to create short and repetitive yet ear catching licks. In the blues and rock style, these licks are combined and woven into larger, melodic solos and ideas. Below is one of these short, repetitive, catchy licks that, like the last lick, relies on the wailing sound and crisp bending effect derived from string 3. Using the G as the last note of the three note repeat has an alarming, interesting flavor as the G note is once again the funky flat 7 in the key of A.

5th Cliche

Our final bending and wailing cliché for this lesson is once again a variation of previous examples. This altering of patterns and looking for new ways to play pentatonic combinations and bent notes is very much the type of thinking guitarists bring to the craft of lead playing. This example, when played din perfect time, is a real stunner and can be played over and over for an impressive cascading chord sound.

Combining The Flat 3rd And Natural 3rd

Arguably, the defining sounds of rock, blues and most contemporary styles are achieved by combining and contrasting the flat 3rd and natural 3rd. The perfect blues or rock licks inolve using both of the notes in the same idea in inventive and intyeresting ways. My guitar teacher used to call it ‘playing with the third’ and the late, great bluesman Bob Brozman simply refered to the flat 3rd blues note as ‘your buddy’ because you can always count on it.

Playing with the major 3rd of a chord, C sharp in this case, is only for use in A or A7 soloing situations, major or dominant type songs. Never use the major 3rd with A minor as this natural 3rd severely clashes with the A minor sound!

6th Cliche: Big Bluesy Bend Of The 3rd

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This little gem of a lick is something I once saw the great Buddy Guy do to create a wonderful musical moment. As your finger never actually touches the 6th fret, its really like a big slow wide vibrato on steroids! You're bending the C natural up to the C sharp and then smoothly release bending (returning withg sound) back to the C natural so this lick really requires some careful listening on your part. This type of bending/ ear training practice will give your playing an emotional, life like quality and enable you to personalize your sound just like your favorite blues artists. The track below ends with cliche no. 1.


7th Cliche: Double Stop Hammer Ons

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Based on the world's great fill in and background riffs, example 7 gets right down to the bone, showing you what makes hot sounding guitar tick. The track highlights and summarizes the use of this all important sound as is illustrated by combining and contrasting the A major chord tone C sharp) and the minor 3rd (C nautral) found in the minor pentatonic scale. For all the musical ideas presented in this lesson we're learning the licks assuming that the they're in the 5th position, key Of A because it is a favorite key of blues and rock bands. This type of referencing will make it easy to transpose these licks to any key. Play these ideas with rhythm, clarity and confidence and they will perfectly suit a variety of styles, tempos and grooves. It's a great way to add a tasty little chord shot to a solo or part.

8th Cliche: Playing With The Third

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Funk music, classic rock and rhythm and blues songs are often blues songs played with a straight rhythmic feeling. The track below reinforces the point that blues guitar playing ability is essential to functioning in the world of modern music as the sound of this bluesy device works like a charm in a funk or rhythm and blues settings. The hammer ons are a little slower, with the first note of the hammer on being given the full value of a 16th note making it more pronounced and increasing the rhythmic groove of the solo. The second phrase in the track below adds the C natural to C sharp hammer on to a blues scale.

9th Cliche: Minor 3rd Blue Note In A Major Setting

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For a skilled musician, music that has that familiar, tuneful and bright major tonality will readily accept ideas which use that flat 3rd blues note. This can be found in the jazz and swing influenced music played by blues, pop and rock musicians. In the track just below, the major tonality is being approached by adding a tasteful, bluesy highlight caused by rolling right over the flat 3rd and natural 3rd in smooth, fast runs.

Here is a good rule of thumb lead guitar players: “If a chord has a nice sound or an interesting one, that chord ccan very easily be turned into a musical idea or nice guitar lick”. When you listen to the sweet sound of the A6 chord with its inherent melodic quality, it’s easy to imagine this chord as the basis for a sweet sounding melody or guitar lick. In the example below, I am using that good old reliable flat 3rd blues note to add melodic interest and a cool factor.

Full Length Blues Solo No. 1

This follows old school blues protocol by repeating the first 4 bars and then following those 8 bars with a strong ending, this is called 'story - story - end of story'. Strictly in the 5th position, this example requires no out of position shifts or slides.

Full Length Blues Solo No. 2

Another favorite trick of accomplished bluesmen is repeating a nice little 4 bar hook 3 times in a row. This type of pattern oriented or sequential thinking is a great way to make a plain old minor pentatonic scale sound like real music. the phrase closes with a 'one note per string' approach which is another way to give new life to a tired old box pattern.

Full Length Solo No. 3

Staying in the key of A we are popping up to the 12th fret, because it adds a freshness and sense of excitement to an extended solo. This solo is very difficult and contains some real strong classic ideas. I would consider this solo difficult so make sure you heed the fingering indications shown in red numbers just above the traditional staff.

When you practice improvising, try to use as much of the neck as is possible, don't stay locked in one position or in one pattern, its boring and always starts to sound amateurish at some point. the diagram at left shows the A minor pentatonic scale as it is played in position XII -not the 5th position.

A Minor Pentatonic Pos. XII