The blues is many things—a collection of styles, an approach to the guitar, a certain musical feeling, a common 12-bar structure, and more. The work of blues guitarists, from pioneers like Robert Johnson and Etta Baker to contemporary performers like Jontavious Willis, inspires music fans and acoustic guitarists alike. Here you’ll learn key concepts, songs, and techniques for playing the blues.
Play Like Mississippi John Hurt: Steve James, Happy Traum, and John Sebastian Show You How
Although John Hurt’s style and repertoire are often imitated, his guitar sound is hard to duplicate. In this lesson, Steve James teaches you how to play like Mississippi John Hurt.
Guitar Lesson: Simple Acoustic-Blues Tips That Can Improve Your Bottleneck-Slide Technique
There are several things you can do to get a good slide sound: Set up your guitar with heavier strings, use an open tuning, try different kinds of slides, dampen the strings, and learn to properly intonate. Getting a good sound is often as much a function of proper setup as it is technique.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 12: Improvising on the 12-bar Form
Learn how to use the form of the 12-bar blues as a roadmap for your improvising and give your blues solo a sense of logic and musical development.
Arranging W.C. Handy, the “Father of the Blues,” for Fingerstyle Guitar
Guitarist and W.C. Handy scholar Jon Shain shares strategies for adapting ragtime pieces for fingerstyle guitar using the 1917 Handy song "Beale Street Blues" as an example.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 11: Developing Satisfying Solos
Learn to create a solo that has a certain kind of connectedness and unity, because it’s based around some related ideas instead of just whatever lick you happen to come up with at the moment.
Guitar Lesson: Add Some Swing to Your Fingerstyle Blues with Walking Bass Lines
In this guitar lesson you will learn to play a 12-bar walking-bass blues in the key of E major, adding some swing to your blues playing.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 10: Creating Contrast
Space can be good, but if you want to create a bigger sense of dimension, adding in chords as responses to single-note licks can give you a new depth and texture, while creating an additional level of call-and-response.
Guitar Lesson: Fingerpicking on the Blues in C Major
Here are three ways to play a 12-bar blues in C major on guitar, seen through the lens of the old blues masters.
Exploring the Open Tunings of Robert Johnson and Other Blues Guitarists
This trio of lessons explores some of the open tunings most frequently heard in the blues: Vastopol, Spanish, open-C and open-G
Video Lesson: An Intro to Bottleneck Slide Blues Guitar
Learn the basics of acoustic slide guitar and start to find the notes between the notes where the range of human emotion runs.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 9: Playing Into the Downbeat
Look at how to play into the downbeat to create momentum in your fingerstyle blues soloing and explore different kinds of resolutions—short, long, and delayed.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 8: Adding Motion and Color With Jazz Chords
Explore how you can add motion and color to your blues playing by using compact chord voicings inspired by the great jazz guitarist Freddie Green.
Which Alternate Tunings are Most Commonly Used in Blues?
The two principal open tunings used in blues guitar playing have old, vernacular American names: Vastopol and Spanish.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 7: Building Call-and-Response Patterns with Western Swing Chords
Create 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.
How To Play Lead Belly’s Version of the Blues Ballad “John Hardy”
This guitar transcription of Lead Belly's blues murder ballad "John Hardy" uses the tuning of low-B from the 1940 Library of Congress recording.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 6: Harmonizing a Scale
Learn how to create interesting harmonies derived from a scale—specifically, the ascending form of A melodic minor (A B C D E F# G#).
Make Your Own Blues Using Classic Guitar Licks and Phrases
If you look to the masters for inspiration—without copying them note for note—you can produce blues verses and solos that sound fresh and exciting on guitar.
An Easy Introduction to Playing Thumb-Driven Monotonic Bass Lines on Guitar
In this guitar lesson, learn to play a monotonic bass line, then apply it separately to three chords in the basic 12-bar blues progression.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 5: Playing Chords up the Neck
Explore a bunch of different ways of playing E7 and A7 chords up the neck and ways of combining these ideas with single-note licks for a cohesive statement.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 4: Accenting the Backbeats
Learn how to improve your blues playing by accenting the offbeats and keeping rock-steady bass notes, all on a one-chord groove.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 3: Accenting the Offbeats
Work on some country-blues patterns and see how emphasizing the backbeat—or beats 2 and 4—improves your blues playing.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 2: Creating Rhythmic Contrast
Learn how to use rhythmic contrast in playing blues—mixing up quarter notes, eighth notes, and eighth-note triplets.
Out of the Shadows: Undersung Women of Blues Guitar
Here we highlight female blues guitarists who helped shaped the blues; masterly musicians who don’t always receive the recognition they deserve.
12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar – Lesson 1: Syncopation
Explore syncopation—playing around with a melody’s rhythmic placement over the bass notes to make the music sound cooler.
Video Lesson: Exploring Blues Turnarounds
In this acoustic guitar lesson you'll learn a bunch of blues-based turnarounds in different keys—great moves to have at your fingertips when playing the blues.