Sloppy string noise often occurs when hitting the strings very hard or applying wide vibrato to notes and double stops (as you often have to do in blues). Until you understand exactly how to eliminate this problem from your playing, your blues guitar licks will continue to sound sloppy and your ability to express yourself in blues will be limited.
In this article, I will walk you through the step-by-step process of playing intense and clean blues licks. To get started, watch this blues guitar licks video so you understand exactly how to do the exercise that follows and hear the difference between clean and sloppy blues guitar playing.
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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Step One: Begin by creating a short blues guitar lick, consisting of no more than 2-3 notes. Here are 3 examples for you to choose from (or you can create your own):
It’s important to NOT make your phrases more than 2-3 notes long. Using a small number of notes will force you to get the maximum musical expression possible out of each one, while allowing you to focus on the muting techniques you have to learn and master. Note: I intentionally did not notate the rhythm in the licks above, because you can freely vary the duration of each note in the lick. Don't practice all 3 of the licks above right now, just pick ONE lick and play it several times in a row to get used to it. Make sure that you play the final note of your lick with an UPSTROKE (this will become very important in the next step).
Step Two: Now focus on the final note of the lick and make sure that when your pick plays it (with an upstroke), it comes to rest on the next lower string - using the ‘rest stroke’ technique I described in the video. Don’t allow the pick to fly up into the air (away from the strings), which is a common mistake. Either rest your picking hand thumb on the lower in pitch strings (this is what I recommend and demonstrate in the video above) or use your palm to do the same. Practice this technique now for a few minutes.
Step Three: Now, focus on muting the higher in pitch strings by using your fretting hand index finger (or the fingers not holding the pick) as you play the lick over and over. For more illustrations of these 2 muting techniques, read this article about muting unwanted guitar string noise. Practice while focusing on this for a few minutes.
Step Four: Begin playing the lick with as much aggression as you can, by doing any combination of the following:
- Apply very wide/aggressive vibrato to the notes that are sustained in the lick.
- Whenever you play ‘double stops’ (2 notes played at the same time on 2 strings), apply vibrato to ‘both’ strings at the same time.
- Hit the strings with as much aggression, articulation and power as you can (you can see and hear demonstrations of this in the video above). Don’t be afraid to hit the strings as hard as possible!
As you do this, you will notice that the techniques you practiced in steps 2 and 3 will allow you to play cleanly while picking each note of the lick with maximum aggression. If you still hear sloppy noise from the strings that aren’t supposed to be ringing, go back to the earlier steps of applying the muting techniques that will help you solve this problem. Stay patient, and these muting techniques will soon become part of how you play lead guitar.
Step Five: Move on to practice the remaining blues guitar licks I gave you earlier in this article (or find your own), taking them through the same practicing steps and applying the muting techniques in both hands.
Now that you’ve practiced keeping your guitar playing clean as you play aggressive blues guitar licks, you are ready to focus on coming up with more creative variations out of your guitar phrases. Get lots of ideas on how to do this by watching this classic rock guitar licks video.
To learn how to improve your guitar technique so that you are not restricted to only playing slow blues guitar licks, watch this free video about playing guitar fast.