They say you have to have the blues to play the blues. But what if you’re blue because you don’t know how to play the blues to begin with? Guitar teacher Mike B. has you covered with these five fun, easy licks…
Presented here are 5 easy blues guitar licks that are essential building blocks of a larger blues vocabulary. Before we dig into these licks we need to cover a few basic principles.
First, all five of these easy blues guitar licks come out of the minor pentatonic scale. If you do not know it I have tabbed out one of the fingerings of the scale in the chart below. The fingering I wrote out coincides with the fingering required for these five licks.
The second point I want to make about these licks is that they are all in the key of A. This means you can play these licks exactly as written over a blues in the key of A. In order to play in different keys you will have to move these fingerings to different sections of the neck, which we will cover a little later on.
Thirdly, throughout I am going to refer to the fingers you should use with numbers. The numbering is as follows:
1 = index finger
2 = middle finger
3 = ring finger
4 = pinky
This lick is used a great deal by just about every blues and rock player. It is a great way to start a phrase, or a great way to extend a phrase with a new idea. To play this lick you want to begin by bending the 7th fret of the third string up a whole step. In order to do this you want to use your third finger to bend, while having your second finger behind the third finger to provide more strength for the bend.
For the next two notes (located on the fifth fret of the second string and the fifth fret on the first string) you want to use your first finger for both notes, since they lie on the same fret. To do this you should be rolling your finger from the second string to the first string, striving to separate the notes so they don’t ring together. In some situations you may want the two notes to ring together, which would allow you to simply barre your first finger across the fifth fret on both strings.
For the last note of this lick you want to bend at the eighth fret of the second string with your third finger. As before, you want to supplement your third finger with at least your second finger in order to increase the strength of your bend.
This lick starts exactly like lick 1 but ends with a pull off rather than a bend. In order to execute this you want to play the note on the eighth fret of the second string with your pinky and pull off to your first finger on the fifth fret. In order to do the pull off, you will pick the note with your pinky and without picking again lift your pinky off of the fretboard with your first finger already fretted below it. If done properly the note on the fifth fret will sound.
This lick is almost identical to the beginning of lick 1, except you are playing both of the notes simultaneously. In order to do this you want to barre your first finger across the fifth fret on both strings, and pick both notes simultaneously.
This first bend in the lick will be fingered exactly as the last note in lick one. Since we are fretting this with our third finger, it makes sense to fret the other notes on the eighth fret with out third finger. The remaining notes will be fingered with our first finger.
This lick will start with your third finger bending the string (reinforced by your second), and then your first finger fretting the fifth fret, finishing with your third finger on the seventh fret of the fourth string.
How to Practice Guitar Licks
It is important to drill these licks over and over until you are very comfortable playing them. You want to take little pieces of each one and combine them together with other fragments of the other licks to create your own licks.
Also, practice moving them around to all of the different keys. To do this simply move the lick exactly as-is to other frets. This changes which key you are in. To find the new key you are in, simply look at the note your first finger would play on the first string if you were playing a pentatonic scale in that position. That note is your root. A few examples are provided above.
I hope you enjoyed looking at these five easy blues guitar licks. The next step after this is to start learning solos by your favorite guitar players and see how they use these licks, as well as learning other licks and tricks they play that interest you.
Mike B. teaches acoustic guitar, blues guitar, and guitar in Arcadia, CA. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Guitar Performance from University of Redlands, as well as his Master’s Degree in Studio and Jazz Guitar from University of Southern California. Mike divides his time between performing live, doing recordings, and being an educator. He has been teaching students since 2004. Learn more about Mike B. here!
Photo by Nesvand