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Tips on playing the Blues

FatStrat

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ok so there are tonnes of seasoned bluesmen here. For us new guys, can you share your tips for playing the blues. Things like scales over chords in 12 bar progressions that might not be so obvious, neat little licks, favorite tunes to garner licks from and such. I really love the blues but I haven't really studied it much and I'd like to pick up some concepts from so of you all.

I'm currently working on Stormy Monday, T-Bone Shuffle and Mary Had a Little Lamb for a jam this friday. Any applications to those songs is a bonus. Lets get a good conversation going about the mother of all guitar rock, the blues.
 

daddyo

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It is not a matter of what scale over what chord change. It is about emotion. You can learn the blues pentatonic scale in 5 minutes but some guys can play a lifetime and not know how to get those 5 notes right. I remember buying a record that was a tribute to Eric Clapton by Eddie Van halen and Brian May. They were burning over a bunch of Eric's Bluesbreakers and Cream blues songs and they absolutely stunk. The notes were their in the correct order and showing incredible dexterity and speed but it sounded like chain saws or worse. They had no feel. The music had no groove or soul. Even Eric, after listening to it, openly admitted that he was appalled by how bad it was.:dead:
 

SPARK

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Learn the basics inside out and then learn how not to make your runs and licks sound like scales, but to sound like the music you hear in your head. Sounds weird but learning the theory and not conciously applying it makes your playing open right up....you'll know the notes to play, it's all about how you're playing them.
 

gmann

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You wanna get a better feel than you might have now? Go back to the source. Listen to the originals. Down thru the yrs the blues has been watered down, in alot of instances, to make it more palatable for the masses. There are alot of great players out there playin' blues but I think you should see/hear where they got it fm. All 3 Kings, Muddy Waters, T Bone Walker, Wayne Bennett, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, man it goes on and on. Get to the source, learn the licks, but when you play, make it your own. Blues ain't a color, it's a feelin' and we've all felt it.
 

Plankspanker

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Couple of other Blues albums to get and practice along with:

T Bone Walker "T Bone Blues" Atlantic SD 8256
Otis Rush "Groaning the Blues" Cobra various reissues
Freddie King "Takin Care of Business" Charly CRB 1099
 

FatStrat

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thanks for all the advice. Would someone mind though giving just a few things about the 1 IV V progression and some spice I can add tonally. Like I know over the IV and V there are some other colors (mixolydian over one) and I've heard you can move the pentatonic pattern up one fret to play over another chord in the pattern. I also want to hear more about the good tunes to get into....I am listening to more of the older stuff to just get to the roots.
 

dragon

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"For a Jam this Friday"

I'd suggest make your statement in 12 or 24 bars then get out and start listening/comping, lock in with the bass/drums. Don't get caught in weedle deedling thru it all there should be enough players doing that. If the area is big enough move away from your amp so you can hear the mix, and have fun being blue. I think BB or Clapton said that the music just flowed out of SRV, he never repeated himself, it just got better solo after solo.
Here's something to think about in a I IV V the I is the V of IV the IV is the V of the bVII of I and the V is the V of I.
 
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GlassSnuff

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The taproot of the Blues is Robert Johnson.
Get some Muddy Waters, too.

You could try "Everything About Playing the Blues" by Wilbur Savidge (Praxis Music Pub.), he also wrote "Scales Over Chords". After listening to the included CD, though, you may want to re-think your approach. Yes, you can write blues tunes down in European notation, and yes, you can understand what has been done with classical music theory, but it's kinda like a mechanical engineer explaining how many degrees he can lean over to a tight-rope walker. No matter how well he understands it, the engineer can't walk the rope.

In his book on playing harp, Tony Glover quoted this rhyme:

"If a bluesman you would be,
Learn to play the melody."

Play like a singer. You ought to be able to get through at least a verse without playing anything but the melody, and making the important notes hurt. It's not really which notes you play, it's how you play them. B.B. King became famous for how he bent a note and sustained it with vibrato. No one cared which note in the scale it was.
 

FatStrat

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Re: "For a Jam this Friday"

dragon said:
I'd suggest make your statement in 12 or 24 bars then get out and start listening/comping, lock in with the bass/drums. Don't get caught in weedle deedling thru it all there should be enough players doing that. If the area is big enough move away from your amp so you can hear the mix, and have fun being blue. I think BB or Clapton said that the music just flowed out of SRV, he never repeated himself, it just got better solo after solo.
Here's something to think about in a I IV V the I is the V of IV the IV is the V of the bVII of I and the V is the V of I.

did you write that last section right? Can you be a bit more practical about it?

In terms of the jam this weekend, it's actually just myself and one other guy who is looking to put an outfit together. We met at my store, picked the aforementioned 3 songs to jam and agreed to get together. It's just gonna be us, 2 electrics and 2 practice amps. I know his playing already, he's (technically) 6 times the player I am so I guess I just want to spice my blues up a bit if I can. Not more notes, just some more interesting moves over the chords.
 

r-senior

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FatStrat said:
...

I'm currently working on Stormy Monday, T-Bone Shuffle and Mary Had a Little Lamb for a jam this friday. Any applications to those songs is a bonus. Lets get a good conversation going about the mother of all guitar rock, the blues.
One of my favourite blues quotes with regard to electric blues playing is this one:

I believe it all comes originally from T-Bone Walker. BB King and I were talking about that not long ago and he thinks so, too. - Freddie King
So you've started well with T-Bone stuff. Bring in the delta-blues influence of the Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker stream of things, plus the other great advice above and you'll be well on your way.

In terms of theory, IMO the most important thing about the blues is the interplay of major and minor. As daddyo says though, it's not just a matter of throwing a minor pentatonic over a major chord progression (although that's probably the best grounding and fall-back position). Players like Freddie King, BB King, Buddy Guy, etc, etc, excel at mixing a handful of notes from the major and minor scales into a solo at the right time. That takes time to get right.

Something simple you can try with a pattern basis is to start to mix up the major and minor pentatonics, especially on the root chord of a blues. For example, in A, play around with the major pentatonic around the 5th-7th frets for a couple of bars, then switch to the minor pentatonic box around the 5th-8th frets.
 
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Matt3

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I don't know your level so this may seem too rudimentary but here is something VERY simple. I'm trying to keep it simple too, so please don't take offense if this is old hat to you or you're wondering where all the sevenths are.:)

To find out a few notes that are not in the blues scale to add spice to your playing, just add chord tones of the chord you are playing over.

So if you are playing blues in A; the A chord is A-C#-E. The A and the E are already in the A Blues scale so you just add the C# when playing over the A. Then the chord progression goes to the IV which is a D, or D-F#-A. Again, the D and the A are already in the A Blues scale so you add the F# (and take out the C# you were adding over the A chord). Figure out yourself what to do over the V or E chord. Learning a bunch of different "turnarounds" can be a good thing too (the "turnaround" is at the end of the chord progression where the V-IV-I change is and then the whole chord progression starts over).

Matt
 

FatStrat

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thanks guys...

I've been playing for 8 years so I'm not too bad ;) But I am JUST starting to focus my energies on the blues. I want to get past the basics (which I feel I have a firm grip on) and into some of that phrasing that reasches outside the minor/major position 1's and makes the blues sound like the blues.
 

keef

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So many good things have been said here...not much to add.

Another great Albert King quote: "don't blow your cookies in the first bar" (advice given to Tommy Bolin when he was playing in Albert's band.....).

Other things that many people don't do: using dynamics (going suddenly from intense and loud to a whisper - Buddy Guy is great at this) and 'blues timing' - always play a little before or behind the beat when you are soloing, and do NOT play all the time. I still find this the hardest thing to master. That is what makes the greats IMO - you can play BB's notes, but you will never sound like him..=(
 

Zhangliqun

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Zhang's rules for playin' bone-chillin' blues:

Seriously, if you want to play intense blues, it's really simple. Imagine the last time you were so torn up about something that you cried for at least an hour. Remember what you sounded like when you cried -- the rhythm, the pitches, the loud wailing moments, the quiet weeping, the pounding of your fist on a table in head-shaking frustration, writhing in your chair/bed/floor/gutter because you can't shake this horrible feeling off.

If you can do that, then try make your guitar SOUND like that. If you can, then you will automatically do the following without thinking:

1) Not play "too many" notes.
2) Play with plenty of dynamics.
3) Play the right notes with the right bends, etc.

Another thing you will probably do is frequently and deliberately(especially on bends) play off pitch, usually a bit sharp. This really gives a held bend a true wailing quality. Also play out-of-scale notes, and rips and slides up and down the strings, just make atonal noise at the right moments. (You'll know when those moments are -- those are the moments you'll be remembering the frustration and the fist pounding.)

You will then be known as a player who plays with "soul" and it won't be a gimmick at all because you REALLY ARE playing with soul at that point, because you are translating the experience of a sad, difficult time into music. You will be a true bluesman...
 

Zhangliqun

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Very cute. Your heart's in the right place. Sorry...this is one of those things you cannot teach....yes this may be a method way to "get in touch" with your feelings....but will it translate to your playing? Doubtful. You cannot teach soul. No matter what you do, some players will never have it. Soul is mostly inside you when you're born, and what isn't is forged of life experiences.

What's with the snotty "very cute" bullshit? Completely uncalled for.

This "method" of mine assumes a player with a certain level of ability. I assume that's what we we're talking about in here rather than rank beginners or the tone deaf. If a player is THAT lacking in soul, then your way won't help him either. If you're talking about a player who "will never have it", then by definition NOTHING will help him play good blues. Not "listening to the masters", not "being humble", and sure as hell no amount of "practice". So what is your point?

You talk about it like it's Kung Fu with Grasshopper at Master's feet or Luke Skywalker with Yoda. Yes you obviously will learn by listening to the greats, but at bottom this is raw, intuitive stuff, again assuming a certain skill level and at least some blues listening experience in advance. It's not wearing a robe in a monastery and learning to snatch the pebble from Master's hand and talking in riddles to each other.

No you cannot "teach soul" but you can bring out the soul that is hidden! For God's sake -- how can you "play from the gut" if you're going to be completely dismissive of the "gut"? Hello? Dept. of Oxymorons?

P.S. Mr. Morganfield was playing his blues at least 60 years after slavery ended so it's unlikely he had any personal experience with a whip. But whatever sad memories you've got, they should come up when you play blues or you really will "never have it".
 

hottub

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I'd throw in a little Mike Bloomfield too. Can't recall the name of the cd's right now but there are a couple out there that are good to have in your collection.
Someone mentioned about mixing major and minor pentatonics. A lot of Allman Bros stuff are good examples of 'weaving' in and out of those two forms.
The thread in which someone stated about "it's not what you play, it's what you don't play" is so true in the blues. Almost as if you telling a story with your playing and at just the right moments don't play anything at all. It's a nice dramatic effect.

Another good collection of Albert King stuff is

Albert King - The Ultimate Collection
 

Bluesbreaker59

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Zhangliqun said:

P.S. Mr. Morganfield was playing his blues at least 60 years after slavery ended so it's unlikely he had any personal experience with a whip. But whatever sad memories you've got, they should come up when you play blues or you really will "never have it".

Sir,

I don't mean to get into this debate between you and butterscotch, BUT, Muddy was a sharecropper, and most definitely knew about hard times, and a whip. Please read the book "I Can't Be Satisfied: Life and Times of Muddy Waters". Its a great read and it teaches you a lot about Muddy's background and life before being a famous Chicago bluesman.
 

Zhangliqun

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He was a sharecropper down south which wasn't exactly paradise to say the least. I take it that it was the Klan that put the whip to him in the middle of the night or something.

But all of this is beside the point, tangential, and splitting hairs. Clearly the man suffered hard times tough enough to make a lot of modern folk -- black and white -- who piss and moan about 'hard times' commit suicide if they were thrown into that situation. But it illustrates my point. He was a man with musical ability who was able to translate his hard times eloquently into music. He didn't have to think about it, he didn't approach it from a technical point of view, it just came naturally.

Today only a very few people in the US really know what hard times really means, at least economically. Modern blues players then have to consciously make an effort remember something sad whereas the greats lived lives of daily desperation so that expressing it came as naturally as breathing. The best blues players make/made the guitar sound like it's crying. I don't think that's a coincidence. If you're one of the lucky few who've never been that sad, the downside of that is I don't think you really can play authentic blues.

But nearly everyone has at least one tragedy in their past that makes them hang and shake their head when they remember, so this is what you have to tap into in order to play good, authentic blues. And by "authentic", I don't mean sounding just like so-and-so, getting the right pickups and the right vintage amp/guitar and all that ultimately irrelevant external crap. I mean PERSONAL authenticity -- it sounds like you and you only, playing blues the way only you can. The audience will know right away that it's real.
 
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