Mitch Laddie’s Top 5 Blues Guitar Tips
Why is it that the blues eludes so many of us? Those licks and solos are simple enough to learn and reproduce, but mastering that authentic feel and touch can take years! Whether you are a metal head or a die hard rocker; the blues is the basis for most of our expression, emotive playing and phrasing on the guitar - put simply, a little blues goes a long way! Here are 5 things to consider next time you take a trip to blues guitar solo town.
1. Take your time
Space is a good thing, it’s as important as every note you play. You might be able to play “Flight of The Bumblebee” at 300bpm but it doesn’t mean everyone wants to listen to it.
Think like a singer or saxophonist - give your licks and phrases spaces where these musicians would take a breath. Each lick you play should be a musical statement; like a good public speaker, leave room to give that statement meaning, affording the listener time to take it all in.
2. Respect your bends
Take time to get to know how to control your bends so that you are consistently reaching the notes you are aiming for. Otherwise you may as well play any note on the fretboard in its place - they’re both going to sound wrong.
Remember - the purpose of a bend is to reach another note within the scale/key, so aim to hit that pitch every time! Be mindful of the different string tensions you experience from playing higher up the neck vs the lower registers - the key here is to learn how each bend feels and how much pressure you need to apply in order to land that target pitch.
Not all bends are created equal either! Explore pre bends, micro tonal bends (on the right notes) and experiment with the speed and attack of your pitch bending.
3. Work Overtime On Your Vibrato
Vibrato is one of the most important and exploitable weapons as a guitarist. It’s almost like a fingerprint and ALWAYS defines a great player but most importantly, a unique player.
Think about any of the blues greats - you can recognise their playing from a single note! That’s the power of a good vibrato!
Much like your bends - value and consider your vibrato - it’s speed, how wide you take it, does it fit the mood/tempo of the music? Consider where you place your vibrato too; at the end of phrases or applied to notes for which you wish to make a ‘feature’ are all perfect places to add vibrato.
Remember - vibrato is like ketchup, don’t put it on everything!
4. Be Listenable
Don’t just play licks because you think they’re cool, serve the song/mood and remember, melody is king.
To go further - don’t play with other guitarists in mind. By this I mean - create melodies, licks and lines which non-guitarists would enjoy. This often creates more memorable and musical decisions; dropping that big lick which you hope will invoke envy from your guitar brethren often lands cold if it doesn’t come from a place of musical integrity!
5. Remember to have fun!
Don’t always get bogged down by the theoretic side of music. It’s supposed to be fun and over theorising everything will be a hinderance to your creativity and connection with the instrument.
Learn to let go and play in the moment; fear is a big killer for your creativity so relax and enjoy the creative process of improvising - wrong notes and all! There is a time to dispense with over thinking and just let the music ‘come out’.
Give yourself permission to play simple things (and make them sound good too) just because you want to! Inject personality into your playing and be playful with your phrasing.
At the end of the day, every listener wants to hear, and watch, a guitarist who is having fun! And that feeling will always translate to your playing in a positive way; you can hear when a guitarist is smiling!