If you want to become a master of rock and roll guitar, why not go back to the source and learn how to play blues on an acoustic guitar? Many of the most influential classic rock guitarists, like Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page, all learned the blues inside and out before writing their most definitive works. In the words of Keith Richards, "If you don't know the blues… there's no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music." With that said, let's get you started!
To play the blues on an acoustic guitar, you will need:
- An acoustic guitar
- A guitar pick
- The ability to play the minor pentatonic scale
- The ability to play open chords
- When it comes to the blues, it helps to learn from actual recordings. The spirit of blues music comes from the person who plays it, not just the chords and the forms as written in a book. Some standard blues songs are "Malted Milk" and "Crossroads" by Robert Johnson, and "Catfish Blues" by Robert Petway, which was later recorded by Jimi Hendrix.
- Chords. We will start with a blues progression in the key of E. Blues mainly uses three chords in this key: E7, A7 and the B7. Blues chords are usually dominant 7th chords. A chart for open dominant 7th chords is linked below.
- Rhythm. Blues is often played in a slow shuffle that sounds something like "Bump-ba-dump-ba-dump-ba-dump."
- Improvisation. The minor blues scale is the most popular scale. It is a slight modification of the minor pentatonic scale, which consists of five tones. In the key of E minor, these would be E-G-A-B-D. The blues scale adds another note to this scale, called a "blue" note, which is used as a passing tone to sweeten a solo phrase (passing note meaning you don't resolve or end a phrase on this note). In the E minor blues scale, you will add a B flat to the E minor pentatonic, making the scale tones E-G-A-Bb-B-D. Some of the best blues solos interweave chords and scalar improvisation to create a unified, vibrant sound that is both soulful and technically profound.
- Practice. The best way to learn the blues chops is to actually play it with other people. Get a hold of a band, some friends, or find a local music shop or another suitable venue that hosts weekly jam sessions and "sit in" with other players. It may be nerve-wracking at first, but its a great way to learn the blues!
- The twelve-bar blues. Blues is often played in 4/4 time, meaning that a "bar" will last for four beats of the pulse. Here is one way of playing the twelve-bar blues:
| E7 | E7 | E7 | E7 |
| A7 | A7 | E7 | E7 |
| B7 | A7 | E7 | B7 |
You can vary the last four bars by substituting these chords:
| B7 | B7 | E7 | B7 |
Or, you can substitute these:
| B7 | B7 | E7 / A7 | E7 / B7 |