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Step Up Your Blues Rhythm Playing with These Free Lessons

These free blues rhythm guitar lessons are from Jeff McErlain’s Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm Edition. Jeff has invested the time on the front-end of this rhythm guitar edition of Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm to ensure that you have ample guidance to get up to speed on all of the essential blues rhythm guitar concepts and feels needed to ‘survive’ any situation on stage. All you have to do is invest the time on the back-end to work through the material and shed it until it permeates your DNA. Everything you really need to know is demonstrated and explained here in Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm Guitar.

Blues Feels

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Variation is what makes for a great night of blues, if everything becomes a mid tempo shuffle I start to loose my mind. A perfect example is on the classic recording BB King Live at The Regal. There are 10 tracks on the recording and they are all great and with different feels. BB knew how to switch it up. Key to the blues is what we call a swing eighth note as you can see in my demonstration it is very difficult to play the blues without them. Some basic feels are the slow 12/8 shuffle such as “Stormy Monday”. What does 12/8 mean? It means we have 12 eighth notes per bar. That breaks up into 4 groups of triplets, 1-2-3, 4-5-6, 7-8-9, 10-11-12. Other feels is an up tempo shuffle like “You Upset Me Baby” from Live at the Regal, for us blues rockers Van Halen uses this feel in “Ice Cream Man”. Other blues feels is New Orleans 2nd Line, Funk, Country, straight, swing, waltz, etc. I think you get the idea!

Addressing The 3rd

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ATTENTION: This may be the single most important section of this course! The key note to the blues is the 3rd, and this is where it gets tricky and super cool. Let’s talk scales for a second, the first scale we guitar players grab on a blues is the minor pentatonic scale. But have you stopped to consider that the I chord in a blues is major? So we are playing a minor scale over a major chord, in any other situation this would be a serious no no. But in the blues it sounds great, if you don’t sit on that note that is. So we tweak it a bit to allude to that major third that is in the chord. We want to bend it a 1/4 step and usually resolve it. Generally we don’t want to spend too much time on that note. This bend gives us that characteristics flavor we associate with the blues. We can also fret that note and sound the major third. This sound is bluesy as well but much much brighter. Not bad, but certainly a choice that has it’s place.

Riff Based Blues 1

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“Howlin’ Wolf recorded “”Killing Floor”” in 1964 and it was released as a single. According to blues guitar great and longtime Wolf associate Hubert Sumlin, the song’s title refers to male-female relationships. “Down on the killing floor – that means a woman has you down,” The song became an instant classic and is a blues staple. The version here is similar to Jimi Hendrix’s take on the tune. If you are not familiar with the Howlin’ Wolf version, please listen immediately!”

Riff Based Blues 1 (Performance)

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This version is similar to the Jimi Hendrix version of Killin’ Floor from The Monterey Pop Festival. That performance in particular is special as it was one of Jimi’s first American debuts and he had something to prove, it is also the same show where he set his guitar on fire and smashed it. Quite an impression. You can see all of this footage in the film Jimi Plays Monterey. It is required viewing for any player, please keep in mind it was 1967.

Riff Based Blues 2

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The focus on this tune is keeping the right hand going. That is the support and the groove of the tune. We see this as a theme through out this course, the right hand is the propellant that keeps everything moving forward. As you can see I am mostly using down strokes to sound the notes of the riff, it think it is easier and sounds better. There are steadfast rules on this in many cases, whatever works and sounds the best is often the best route.

12/8 Blues

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The classic slow blues is almost always in 12/8 time. The bottom number in a time signature tells us the note value equaling one beat in this case an 1/8 note. The top number tells us how many of those beats are in a bar. So in 12/8 time we have twelve eighth notes in a measure. In other words, four triplets. We can count this as ONE-two-three, TWO-two-three, THREE-two-three, FOUR-two-three. Of course we are accenting the down beats in capital letters. Unclear? Listen to the ride cymbal, he is playing that very pattern.

12/8 Blues (Performance)

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A trick to any slow blues to keep the time together is to count the triplets in your head. We could count just beats 1, 2, 3, and 4, but when the tempo is super slow it is very difficult to not rush or drag. If we count the triplets and time 12/8 it is much easier to keep it together, the triplets also give us the proper pulse that is so important in a slow blues. This technique work for any very slow tempo, we can count it in double-time as not to rush or drag. The same concept holds true for extremely fast tempos but in reverse, count them in half time. It make that tempo feel much more manageable.

12/8 Blues 2

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On of my favorite 12/8 blues is of course Stormy Monday. If you are interested I show you how to play a version very close to the famous Allman Bros version from Live At The Filmore East. It’s on my 50 Eclectic Blues Licks You Must Know course. Whether you get it from me or anyone else I highly suggest you get that tune with it’s changes in your vocabulary. It is the consummate slow blues, and the Allamans just kill it on that amazing recording.

Dig these Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm guitar lessons? Download Jeff McErlain’s Blues Survival Guide: Rhythm Edition for much more including tab, notation, and jam tracks!