Blues Phrasing and Expression

Welcome to the ninth lesson of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. In the last couple lessons about blues guitar, we learned a blues scale shape, where all the root notes were located, and how to start choosing notes in the scale to fit over the chords in the 12-bar blues progression.

In this lesson, we’re going to be focusing more on adding feeling and style to your blues lead guitar playing. To do this, we’ll be looking at techniques like bending, vibrato, and sliding. These elements can add a lot of emotion to your playing and help you to create your own unique sound as well.

The first thing we’ll talk about is phrasing. When you’re playing the blues you don’t want to just sound like you’re playing through a scale shape. Like we talked about earlier, blues is all about expression. A good way to think about phrasing is to think like a singer. In this case, think about a blues singer. String notes together that make a statement. Sometimes you’ll want to rest for a few beats or measures. Sometimes you’ll want to repeat the last “statement” you made. Sometimes you’ll play a bunch of notes quickly, and other times you’ll just play one or two notes. It’s all about expressing yourself just like a singer would.

The next technique we’ll look at is bending. Bending is one of the most unique and iconic elements of playing the guitar. Bending is used a lot in blues music because it seems to evoke a lot of emotion. Bending can be half-step bends, whole-step bends, or even larger intervals. One thing to remember, is when you bend you can use multiple fingers together on one string to make bending a little easier.

Next, we’ll talk about vibrato. This is where you can really start to develop your own voice on the guitar. Basically, vibrato is just bending a note up a little bit, then back down, then back up, over and over again. Different players have very different sounding vibratos and this is especially noticeable in blues music.

The last technique is sliding. Sliding up to a note sounds totally different than just playing the note outright. It has a bit of a voice-like effect. A simple and effective sliding lick is simply sliding up to the flat five.

Experiment with these stylistic tools and try to develop your own style and sound when playing the guitar. Pull up the jam tracks and listen to how each one of these techniques sounds when playing along to music. In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at blues turnaround licks.