6 Desert Blues Guitar Licks You MUST Know!

6 Desert Blues Guitar Licks You MUST Know!

If you dig deep into the origins of the blues, you’ll wind up in Africa. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover many ‘World Music’ influences from northern Africa. Desert Blues, Gnawa, Rai, Chaabi, Sharqi, and Soufi music are some of the styles that are strongly connected with the North African music culture and the Sahara desert.

Jan Wouter Oostenrijk’s 30 Desert Blues Licks You Must Know celebrates these diverse styles with this very unique collection of licks. In these 6 free guitar lessons, you’ll get a sampling of several great “desert blues” guitar licks. Be sure to check out the full course for more!

Sus Pentatonics

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

This lick is about sus-pentatonics, a scale that is used a lot in music from the western part of the Sahara, like desert blues and gnawa. It really differs from the minor and major pentatonics because it doesn’t have a third in the scale, like in sus chords.

The melody in this lick refers to an old gnawa traditional called “Soudani Manayou” usually played on a kind of bedouin bass guitar called guembri or sentir or hezjhouzj.

Sharqi Rhythm Pattern

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

Sharq is the Arab word for “east”, and refers to bellydance culture known as Raqs Baladi. The rhythm I play here is called maqsoum, a pattern often played on the percussion instrument darbouka. It’s one of the basic rhythms patterns that we can hear a lot in Egyptian and Middle Eastern music, with all kinds of variations also in modern Oriental dance music.

Bluesin’ Hegaz

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

As I mentioned before, Hegaz is the Arab name for the scale we know in the Western world as Phrygian dominant. The lick I play here is pretty much in the blues and rock tradition, but by using Hegaz instead of the usual pentatonic stuff, you’ll add an Oriental flavour, which is inspiring. The lick is usable as a solo part or as background to improvise on.

Groovy Camel Rock

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

These upcoming licks are also in the Hegaz mode, but this time on a slow groove. The melody in the bass we can hear in traditional wedding parties on the moment the bride is presented. But here it’s used as a bassline that leaves a lot of space for the melody. If you like this stuff, you’ll find more of it on my album Sharqi Blues.

New Wave Oriental

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

As a teenage guitar player, I was inspired by the song “Killing an Arab” of the band the Cure. Although the song title is controversial, especially nowadays, it’s still a nice example of integrating cultures and fun to play.

Sahara Blues Jam

Download the tab, notation and jam track for this desert blues lick on TrueFire.

The Hendrix Essaouira groove is basically built up by 2 bars riffing the chord followed by 2 bars of melody. It’s nice to improvise these melodies and give them a little twist in every cycle. This way you stay in this modal trance vibe without getting bored. In the previous lick, we mainly focused on the lower part of the maqam Saba zamzam. Now we’ll expand and play it up to the octave.


Dig these free guitar lessons? Check out the full 30 Desert Blues Licks You Must Know course for more including tab, notation, jam tracks, and more!