Preview the New ‘Play the Blues Like…’

Illustration (by Olivia Wise) of Charley Patton from the book cover of Play the Blues Like. Features Patton playing his acoustic guitar on a porch, with young people looking at fireflies in the background.

Blues, like folk music, is all about making it your own. The ultimate goal is to study the greats and piece together what you have learned in a unique way. The more sources you borrow from, the less you sound like, say, a Robert Johnson clone, and the more you sound like a player who is steeped in the blues. On the surface blues is fairly simplistic: three chords, 12 bars—and some attitude. But, as the saying goes, “It’s not what you play, but how you play it.”

So learn to play it like the greats with our latest guide, Play the Blues Like… . As you study the players represented, you will find that they mainly stick to the same sonic palette, but that the phrases have an individual personality that registers as each player’s trademark sound. Each lesson in this guide demonstrates key licks and phrases, features detailed video instruction, and ends with a short new piece that places everything in a typical blues context.

Try this excerpt below from our lesson on Charley Patton.



Example 8 is a tribute to Patton I call “Low Down Sheriff Blues.” It starts off with the basic strumming groove from Ex. 1, then progresses through a series of slide runs, mostly on string 1. One of the keys to Patton’s slide playing is to leave open spaces where the slide notes are not accompanied by the bass. For example, in bars 4, 8, and 11, the bass notes drop out. Also, most of the slide notes are played quickly, represented by grace notes (small ones).


Patton would sometimes make big leaps very quickly on the fretboard with the slide and stop suddenly—e.g., the slide from fret 2 to fret 8 on string 1 in bar 7. If these angular slides give you trouble, just isolate them and slow things down, gradually increasing the speed until you can play them fluidly—and with that certain panache.

This text, along with the music notation for “Low Down Sheriff Blues,” is excerpted from Play the Blues Like…

Pete Madsen
Pete Madsen

Pete Madsen is an acoustic blues, ragtime and slide guitarist from the San Francisco Bay Area. He's the author of Play the Blues Like..., an essential guide for playing fingerstyle blues in open tunings.

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