We hope you enjoy the seventh lesson in 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar. We’ll be releasing a new lesson in this series each month. Support Acoustic Guitar on Patreon and you’ll get access to all twelve video lessons right now!

Welcome to 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar, a lesson series designed to give you a solid foundation in this essential style. In the last lesson, I showed you how to derive interesting harmonies from the A melodic minor scale (A B C D E F# G#). This time, we’re going to look at creating call-and-response statements using Western swing chords. You’ll learn to play single-note licks on the I chord in the key of A major, answered by different combinations of sixth and ninth chords. It’s a great sound.

Let’s start with the chords. Example 1 shows different inversions of an A major triad (A C# E), played above the open fifth string. Now, one of the defining chords of Western swing chords is the major sixth, which you can get to by raising the A chord’s fifth (E) by a whole step, to F#.

Example 2 transforms Ex. 1’s A chords to A6. By the way, if you think these A6 voicings sound minor on their own, you’re right—the A6 chord (A C# F#) shares the same notes as F#m (F# A C#).


As shown in Example 3, if you take any A6 shape and move it down two frets, you get another really cool and really useful chord, which is A9 (A C# E G B), minus the third (C#). For a jazzy sound, try moving down in half steps to the ninth from the sixth chords (Example 4).

Example 5 combines the chords with jump-blues licks that involve both the minor (C) and major third (C#). The figure starts off with a basic lick (the call) that is answered in the first full bar by a chordal move, this time approaching an A6 from a half step below, resolving to a lower A6 voicing. An extended lick in bar 2 is followed by chords starting on beat 2 of bar 3, and then the call-and-response pattern continues.


So that’s a way to start using these Western swing chords to develop new ideas when you improvise. Next time I’ll show you how you can add motion and color to your blues playing by using compact chord voicings inspired by the great jazz guitarist Freddie Green.

David Hamburger is a composer, guitarist, and instructor based in Austin, Texas. www.fretboardconfidential.com