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Why should I learn to play the blues?

Why should I learn to play the blues?

Casey Saulpaugh and Steve Newbrough


3/27/21 

The blues have set roots in many genres, making it a staple for learning and playing guitar, especially for modern players. The blues idiom is classic, timeless, yet still modern and relevant to a high degree. 

 

Every person can relate to the blues: everyone has had days where they felt down, yet optimistic that times of hope and joy are around the corner.  It is the expressive opportunity, the possibilities for sharing your voice that makes the blues appealing for guitar players worldwide. 

 

The blues has been a significant force in music, especially in the 20th century. 

 

Its music has branched into jazz, pop, soul, folk, country, funk, and so many other genres.  It holds simple truths, with deep emotions, and still gets those feet tappin’.  Luckily for guitar players, the instrument lends itself greatly for conveying the blues spirit. 

 

Many guitarists hold the pentatonic scales close to their heart, and the blues has a style where these scales can be utilized with impact. Modern blues guitar is worth learning, especially if a player wants to squeeze more emotion out of their notes. 

 

Why does the blues guitar seemingly have endless possibilities for expression?  

 

With various forms (8-bar, shuffles, minor, major, etc.) there is plenty to work with…yet the blues hold deep, simple truths and players don’t need to stray far from this in their playing. 

 

Often, there is nothing more satisfying than playing through a simple blues form that has three chords, and just letting your soul fly free.  Licks and riffs can hold substantial emotion, and don’t need to be overly complex to touch listeners!  After all, what guitar player hasn’t toyed with a pentatonic lick through a bend of the string that just has that emotion dripping from it? 

 

Basically, the blues allows guitar players to have great leeway within a simpler framework.  Blues progressions are often straightforward and are great for newcomers and advanced players alike. Blues progressions in their simplest state utilize the tonic, subdominant, and dominant chords with predictable and sudden changes to from one chord to the other.  These clear changes make it easier for a soloist to choose notes and express themselves.

  

Why do blues guitarists bend strings?

 

Guitar bends allow a player to move in and out of notes with more elaborate articulations. Furthermore, bends allow a player to mimic the human voice, and truly make the guitar cry. Electric guitarists and steel string players will often push and pull a string slightly away from its landing point on the fretboard to create vibrato.

 

Vibrato on an instrument directly imitates the way a human voice wobbles on a note held for a noticeable duration.

 

This can be so soulful, just listen to some Aretha Franklin for ideas on how the human voice can elicit impassioned vibrato.  It is nice to know that guitar players have this potential as well, and can make those strings cry. Also, they're just downright fun to play (especially on an electric guitar a little bit of overdriven bite). 

 

The effective use of bends and vibrato can produce notes and tones that are haunting, beautiful, graceful, and striking at the same time. 

 

How can learning the blues help me to branch out?

 

The pentatonic scale on which the blues is built seems to be universally understood. Check this out: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale.

 

If a musician incorporates the pentatonic scale into their music they're giving the listener a familiar sound on which to base their expectations. Now add in those bends, vibrato, and a couple well placed blue notes and the listener will be able to relate and feel more emotion in the music.

 

Notable examples of players who extended the blues into new territories include: Jimmy Page, Duane Allman, David Gilmour, and so many more iconic players.  They were inspired and impassioned by classic blues playing, and were able to translate these passions through their own music. These players very often used pentatonic scales to elaborate notions of feeling…who would’ve thought that such simple scales could have such vast implications? 

 

With the blues being so influential in many genres of music, a player who learns blues guitar will have an advantage when climbing the tree of music.  The ability to branch out to these other genres becomes easier when a player knows how the blues holds it roots in them. 

 

Why is it important for guitarists to learn pentatonic scales early?

 

Many guitarists gravitate towards the minor pentatonic scale when first learning the guitar for good reason. The minor pentatonic scale's ability to convey so much, through so few notes, makes it a mainstay in any guitar player’s repertoire. 

 

Throw in the major pentatonic scale, and different registers of the guitar to play these scales in, and a guitarist has unlimited potential for declaring their musical ideas with feeling. 

 

I’m often amazed when I hear a heart-wrenching, gripping guitar solo that was played with just notes from the pentatonic scales…it can sound so much more complex than it truly is, but a player’s phrasing and note choices can make all the difference in the world.  

 

Blues forms and progressions are perhaps the best arenas for unleashing your pentatonic mayhem.  Sometimes hearing the beginning of a blues tune is akin to hearing the gunshot at the beginning of a race, all bets are off and you never know what can happen.  It is fun and exciting at the same time, with chaos and destiny intertwining to eliminate any chance of certainty. Modern and iconic players alike know that blues guitar can be an exciting and riveting form of playing.

  

Video Guitar Glossary will be releasing courses on the blues very soon! Stay posted! 

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