In the previous part of this article series about playing killer blues guitar licks, I showed you how to ensure that your blues playing always remains clean and accurate no matter if you are playing softly or with over-the-top power and aggression. If you haven’t yet studied that article, take a few minutes to watch this blues guitar licks video now before reading further, so that you get the most out of everything I explain below.
In this article I will show you how to combine your improved muting technique with a variety of highly expressive ‘bluesy’ phrasing elements that will help you get a whole lot more expression from your guitar licks and apply them creatively in your blues guitar solos.
Before I walk you through the steps for doing this, watch the video demonstration below to see and hear how it should sound when you are using the concepts of this article in your guitar playing:
Now that you’ve watched the demonstration in the video above, here is an outline of how to put these ideas into practice to help you improve your blues guitar solos:
Step #1: Think of any ‘short’ blues guitar lick that you are familiar with (or quickly improvise one) and play through it several times. While choosing your lick, use no more than 3-4 notes in your phrase. This will force you to get the most expression possible out of each note when you use the techniques described below.
Here are three examples of blues guitar licks you can use (notice that the rhythm of these licks is not notated - be creative and vary the rhythm freely):
Note: these example licks are played in a very ‘plain’ way on purpose. Your task (in the next step) will be to ornament them following the techniques you saw in the video above (by following the steps below) so that they come to life and start to sound totally mean.
Step #2: Take your lick and ornament it by applying each of the techniques listed below, one at a time (you can hear the demonstrations of each in the video above). First play the lick a few times incorporating technique #1, then play it again incorporating technique #2 and finally technique #3.
Technique #1 - Slide Accent: Play any note within your blues lick and use the finger that is fretting the note to quickly slide up (in pitch) and then return back to the original fret to continue the lick. It doesn't matter how far exactly you slide up, since your goal is only to ornament the note of the original lick with the sound ‘effect’ of the back and forth slide (vs. sliding to any particular note on the guitar). This will accent the note in a very unique way, enhancing the creative musical expression of your lick (as you heard in the video above). Once you have practiced this technique several times and it feels comfortable, create several variations of your original lick by using slides to accent every note contained within it (in alternation).
There are dozens of ways to apply this concept (each one sounding cooler than the last).
Technique #2 - Delayed Vibrato: While playing through your blues lick, apply vibrato to any notes that are held out/sustained for a long time (usually the last note or second to last note). However, do NOT apply vibrato immediately after picking the string. Strike the string you want to play and wait a moment (letting the note sustain) before applying vibrato. After a short delay, use VERY wide and heavy vibrato! This approach builds a lot of tension in your lick by creating a strong sense of anticipation. Once you finally apply the vibrato, it makes your lick sound truly aggressive and mean! After you have worked on this for a few minutes and it feels natural, create several variations of your original lick by delaying your vibrato for varying lengths of time before applying it to the note.
Technique #3 - Slow & Menacing Bend: On the second to last note in your blues lick, perform a VERY slow, whole step bend up to the final target note in your lick. A good lick to practice this with is the 3rd example of a 2 note phrase I showed you in the tab above. This will create a menacing build up of tension that will add a lot of intensity to the phrase. Important: The effectiveness of this bend lies within the very long delay between the beginning of the bend and its resolution on the root note. Do NOT bend up to the root as soon as you pick the string (watch the video above again to see exactly how long this bend should last). When it comes time to resolve the bend, hit the note you are aiming for with MAXIMUM power!
Once you have practiced this and mastered it, apply the bend for varying lengths of time to create several variations of your original lick.
Step #3: Now that you have run through many variations with the 3 techniques above on your first lick, move on to do the same with another lick (repeating this for as long as you want). This can/should keep you busy for a LONG time because there are dozens upon dozens of ways to apply the 3 general guitar phrasing concepts explained above to just a single lick. Challenge your creativity to expand by thinking of all the possible ways you can creatively play just a small 2-4 note blues guitar phrase. Note: The reason I had you go through all 3 techniques with one lick at a time (rather than changing to a new lick every few seconds) was to make sure that you get ‘as much musical expression as possible’ out of each technique all within the context of the same blues lick. This is more challenging to do but will GREATLY improve your blues phrasing and soloing.
Listen to a quick demonstration of several phrasing variations created using the techniques above (applied to the first example lick I showed you in the tab above).
After following the steps above, you’ve learned how to easily create tons of blues guitar licks that sound totally badass. Now learn how to use ‘rhythm’ to enhance your blues guitar playing by watching this free guitar phrasing video.