A Lesson In 12-Bar Blues




I'm reminded of a guy I used to play music with. Anytime we would get a request to play something he didn't want to play, he would say, "We don't do that one but we'll do another one that has alot of the same notes in it!" Surprisingly most of them would accept his answer and move on. I'm sure after a few minutes they were thinking, "Hey, wait a minute..." But seriously folks, I'm sure you're asking me what about the blues makes me think of that story. I'll tell you, your guitar has the same notes on it B. B. King or Stevie Ray's guitar has. As a matter of fact, you could learn to play the songs they do or did note for note and still not sound right. Why, you guessed it, because "The Blues" is more about the feel of your playing than the notes you play.

It's difficult to teach someone to play with a blues feel using a book or any other traditional form of instruction really. That's probably why you don't see many books that do justice to the subject. The key to your learning the blues style is that you listen to your favorite players and try to emulate their sound. How can you feel your way around a style that you aren't REALLY familiar with? So, assignment number one is - Listen! Listen to all your favorite blues guitarists. Don't just listen and marvel at their skill. Listen for the subtle things and try to emulate them.


The 12-bar blues progression is found in just about every style of music you've heard, i.e., Jazz, Rock, Country, Gospel, etc.. Pick a few musical styles you like and listen closely to the "feel" of the players. For an explanation of the 12-Bar Blues Progression see the info section of the lesson titled, "Rock n'Roll Blues Riff."


A few years back the distortion pedal came into being. Then you had the phase-shifter. Then there was the Echo-plex! I personally loved that big, bulky thing. It was a contraption with magnetic recording tape that looped through a recording head and then a playback head. You could adjust the physical position of the play-back head so that the delay time would change. You could see the tape looping under a clear cover. It was mesmerizing.

Well, effects have come a long way since then, or have they? You've got all these digital processors and some of them are really cool but the blues player tends to be more of a purist. Blues guitarists want a tube amp with a little bit of an edge on the sound and nothing else. To be honest, for blues I do too. Even a cheap tube amp set correctly can produce a warm tone for blues where a cheap digital effects pedal will suck the life out of your tone.

Did I hear you say, "But I thought digital was better! What's up with that?" Let me explain. Cheap digital convertors do the same thing to your sound that cheap digital cameras do to an image. At first glance a cheap digital photo looks ok but, if you zoom in on a digital photo you'll see little squares, or jaggies. Below are two zoom levels of the same image. It's the same image but when you zoom in you can see the jaggies.


I know some of you have played through some cheap effects and on the surface thought, hmmm, not bad but in the back of your mind you were saying, hmmm, something's missing here. That's because cheap digital effects give your sound "audio jaggies" for lack of a better term.

If you've got the money there are some really good higher dollar digital effects out there with good quality convertors and there are some good ole tried and true analog stomp-box type effects that sound pretty good. For what it's worth, here is a little help to give you a head-start on setting up an inexpensive tube-amp for a pretty good blues tone.SETTING UP YOUR AMP FOR A GOOD BLUES TONEBelow is a picture (taken with a cheap digital camera, hehe) of the tone setting I like to use for blues when I play through my old Peavey Classic 30 amp. It's a cheap amp and it's a little noisy but it sounds pretty good for blues. I prefer amps with a closed back, though.


Some people like to turn the bass setting all the way up. It just depends on the bass-response of your cabinet. This is strictly a subjective call. I mean it's whatever you like. Too much treble will thin out your sound though, so be careful with that.

Now for the preamp setting:


Notice that the Pre setting is higher than the Post setting. That's how you get that little bit of an edge on your tone. Experiment with the pre and post settings along with the master volume of your amp so that you get to the point where playing with a light touch doesn't sound very distorted but when you really dig in you can get that distorted edgy sound that is characteristic of blues players like B.B. King and the like.MAKE IT UP AS YOU GOUse the techniques and licks in this lesson as a spring-board for developing your own. Play along with the background trax by clicking on the PRACTICE button in the main tutorial screen. It's set to loop 50 times before you have to start over. Practice doing these licks over and over. Go back and listen to the AUDITION audio and try to match the feel of it too. Remember, the more you learn, the easier it is to learn more!



No audio files available for this lesson.