Cool (But Simple) Blues Lead Guitar Licks You Probably Never Learned That Will Make You Sound More Pro
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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If you think you “already know” the pentatonic scale, but are still unhappy with the sound of your blues guitar licks...
This blues lead guitar article will show you awesome blues guitar licks you probably don’t know that will level-up your guitar solos.
Believe it or not...
There is much more to playing blues lead guitar (and pentatonic guitar licks) than the stock pentatonic scale patterns you’ve probably already played a million times.
Emotion To Any Guitar Lick
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And you don’t need to be an advanced guitar player to play pro-level blues guitar licks either.
All it takes is...
A few basic blues guitar patterns
(that I'm about to show you)...
Combined with a few general blues lead guitar phrasing concepts (that will easily add fire and emotion to any guitar solo).
That's enough to start impressing yourself (and everyone who hears you play) with the sound of your pentatonic guitar licks.
Watch this video with some easy-to-play and ultra-fun blues guitar licks:
And now that you know a few cool pentatonic guitar licks...
... here are 5 more blues lead guitar phrasing concepts to level-up your guitar solos:
Blues Lead Guitar Soloing Tip #1 Learn All 5 Boxes Of Pentatonic Scale
If I told you to improvise a blues lead guitar solo in B minor pentatonic, where would your fretting hand immediately go?
If you said “7th fret of the 6th string” (aka: the first box shape of the minor pentatonic scale) – you’ve got a big problem that limits your ability to play creative pentatonic guitar licks like a pro.
Here is why:
There are 5 pentatonic boxes to know if you want to play blues guitar licks all over the fretboard. If all you know is box 1, spend some practice time learning the other 4.
Then – challenge yourself to play guitar solos using ONLY shapes 2-5. Intentionally restrict yourself from using box 1. This will force you to learn the shapes faster and help you come up with guitar solo ideas you likely wouldn’t have discovered any other way!
For more tips on how to best memorize pentatonic scale shapes (and the shapes of all other scales you practice), watch this guitar soloing video:
Also, understand the relationships between the pentatonic scale boxes and the boxes of traditional (major and minor) guitar scales.
Here is what I mean:
The pentatonic scale is simply a 5-note version of the 7-note major scale (with the 4th and 7th notes removed).
For example: the notes C D E F G A B spell the C major scale.
Remove the 4th and the 7th and you get: C D E G A. This is the C major pentatonic scale you can use to play blues lead guitar licks and guitar solos.
It follows all the same principles as the C major scale.
Just like the C major scale has a relative minor of A natural minor, the C major pentatonic scale has its relative minor as A minor pentatonic.
The pentatonic scale shapes connect to each other the same way as the major (and minor) scale shapes do.
The first pattern of C major pentatonic starts on C (the 1st note).
The second pattern starts on D (the 2nd note).
The 3rd pattern starts on E. The fourth pattern starts on G (the 5th of the pentatonic scale, since it's the 4th note sequentially, but functions as the 5th).
And the fifth pattern starts on A.
If we took the A minor pentatonic scale, it is just like A natural minor, without the 2nd and the b6.
So, its notes are A C D E G.
The first pattern starts on A (the 1st note).
The second pattern starts on C (it is the same as C major pentatonic - relative major of A minor pentatonic). The 3rd pattern starts on D, the 4th - on E and the 5th on G.
With these understandings, you should have a much easier time playing blues guitar licks using the pentatonic scale.
Blues Lead Guitar Soloing Tip #2 Master String Bending
If there is one thing that makes your blues guitar licks sing it’s string bending.
Here is how to best practice string bends in your pentatonic guitar licks:
Step 1: Play a note you want to bend up to (as a regular, unbent note).
Step 2: Listen to its sound and remember it.
Step 3: Bend the string up to the target pitch (slowly) until the bend is in tune.
And don’t be fooled by the ‘simplicity’ of string bends.
String bending could be something you’ve been doing for as long as you’ve played guitar...
... but wait until you try the ultra-wide string bends on guitar (like the 2-step string bends, 2 and 1/2-step guitar string bends and 3-step guitar bends) that can make even the simplest blues lead guitar licks feel quite hard to play.
And even though string bending licks can easily get quite advanced...
...anyone can do them once you understand a few guitar phrasing principles (and tactics) I’ll lay out for you.
Watch this lead guitar phrasing video where I teach you wide string bends on guitar:
Question: “But Tom Hess, what if I'm still struggling to do even the basic blues lead guitar bends – let alone the advanced ones from your video? How can I troubleshoot the string bends in my pentatonic guitar licks?”
Answer: Tune your guitar down a half step (or a whole step). This will make it physically easier to bend strings and help you build consistency with this crucial blues lead guitar technique.
Then, once your string bending improves, go back to standard tuning and you will have a much easier time using this technique in your guitar solos.
Another idea is to simply use a lighter guitar string gauge (only, instead of doing it ‘temporarily’ – you switch to it permanently).
Blues Lead Guitar Soloing Tip #3 Master Your Blues Lead Guitar Vibrato
Once your blues lead guitar bends start to take shape...
... the next step to making your pentatonic guitar licks sound awesome is by mastering your guitar vibrato.
Ironically, blues lead guitar vibrato is... a series of string bends applied to a note in a particular way.
But when you do it right, your pentatonic guitar licks won't sound like a series of bends. They’ll sound like a rhythmic pulse that adds a ton of emotion to any note.
Here are the key principles to follow as you practice your blues lead guitar vibrato:
1. Keep your vibrato in tune
This means to: bend the string to the same pitch during each pulse of the vibrato...
... and release the string all the way to its original pitch between the bends of the vibrato.
If you don’t release the bend fully, your vibrato (and your pentatonic guitar licks) will sound out of tune.
Tip: record your blues lead guitar licks into your computer and listen back to them at half speed.
This will make it easy to tell if your vibrato is in tune or not.
2. Keep your vibrato in sync with the beat.
The ability to do this in your blues guitar licks and guitar solos is a sign of pro-level lead guitar mastery.
How do you do this?
First, choose the note values you’ll do your vibrato in during your pentatonic guitar licks. (Such as eighth notes, triplets or sixteenth notes.)
Then, practice doing vibrato using your chosen note values.
Here is how it will sound when you do it right:
3. Balance The Speed Of The Vibrato With Its Width
Here is the thing to remember: if your vibrato is too fast and too narrow – it will sound nervous and out-of-control. (And so will the rest of your playing.) But if your vibrato is wide and slow – it will sound like a series of bends, but NOT like vibrato.
The faster you do vibrato in your blues guitar licks – the wider it should be to sound good. (And the slower it is – the narrower it should be.)
Use your ear to find the proper balance. Watch this guitar soloing video to see a demonstration:
Blues Lead Guitar Soloing Tip #4 Master Noise Control
Excess string noise can get in the way of you expressing yourself fully with your blues lead guitar solos.
Fortunately, you can learn to control string noise easily once you understand where it comes from and how to mute it.
String noise that affects your blues guitar licks can come from the lower (in pitch) strings or from high in-pitch strings.
And there are 2 ways to mute it:
1. Using your picking hand’s thumb. (This is called ‘thumb muting’). As the name implies, you rest your picking hand’s thumb on the thicker strings and slide it up and down the strings while you play.
2. Use your index finger (of your fretting hand) to rest on the higher (in pitch) strings, muting noise from the other direction.
Question: “Tom Hess, what about muting string noise using the palm of the picking hand (aka: palm muting)? Can I do it in place of thumb muting?”
Answer: You can do what you want, but I recommend thumb muting to all my guitar students. The main reason is: thumb muting makes sure the pick stays at rest in the trench (space between) strings. This makes your technique more efficient and accurate.
Plus: thumb muting is also far more secure, since having the thumb on the strings doesn't interfere with normal picking motions. Keeping the side of the palm on the strings does.
Bonus tip: string noise can also quite often happen when you do string bends on guitar (due to excess muscle tension from the string bend itself).
Watch your picking hand’s reaction when you bend a string during your blues lead guitar licks. If it flies away from the strings, it means it’s unavailable to mute excess string noise in that moment.
When can you do about this?
Practice doing narrow string bends (such as half-step bends instead of whole-step bends)... and watch your picking hand as you do it. Concentrate on relaxing the rest of your entire body (especially your picking hand).
Then, as you gain more control, it should be easy to keep the picking hand on the strings even when doing very wide blues lead guitar string bends.
Blues Lead Guitar Soloing Tip #5 Use Double Stops
What are double stops and how can you use them in your pentatonic guitar licks to make your blues lead guitar playing sound better?
You’re playing a double stop when you play 2 notes at the same time.
Unfortunately, when it comes to blues guitar licks, many guitarists only use ‘unison’ bends as double stops.
A unison bend is where you strum 2 strings and bend one of them up until both strings are sounding the same pitch.
As cool as these double stop ideas are, they are quite overused.
... there are countless more double stop variations (that are just as easy to play) that you can easily insert into your blues lead guitar solos to create guitar licks other guitarists will want to learn.
Here are a few double stop examples you can try:
Now that you know how to play cool pentatonic guitar licks with cool blues phrasing, the next step to making your guitar playing feel easier is to eliminate excess muscle tension most guitarists struggle with. I can show you how in my free master class Total Guitar Playing Tension Control. Watch it today and discover the guitar technique mastery secrets few guitarists ever know.
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