Normally in pop and rock songs, eighth notes divide each beat into two equal pieces. The eighth notes create the familiar “one & two & three & four &” feel that were used to in rock songs. On the other hand, blues guitar uses a swing feel, where each beat is divided into three pieces. Instead of “one & two &,” we get “one & a two & a three & a four & a.” Breaking the beats into three pieces creates what are called eighth note triplets. Since there are usually four beats per measure in the blues, you are usually playing four groups of three.

When you are learning how to play blues guitar, you want to practice strumming a chord like an E7, which is a shorthand way to write E dominant 7, with a swing feel. You should practice strumming down on the strong beats, those that fall on the one, two, three, or four, skip the ‘&, and strum up again on the “a.” With that rhythm you get the do DAH do DAH do DAH do DAH sound made famous by artists such as Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and BB King.

  1. Another big part of learning how to play blues guitar is learning how to play a dominant seventh type of chord.
  2. All chords have 2 pieces, and blues guitar chords are no exception.
  3. If you have an A7 chord, you know two pieces of information from that name, you know that the chord is built on an A note, and you know it has a dominant seventh chord quality, or sound.
  4. Dominant seventh chords use the root, third, fifth, and flatted seventh of the major scale.
  5. It is that blending together of the major third and minor seventh notes that give dominant seventh chords their unique appeal.
  6. In most forms of music, only the chord built from the fifth tone is permitted to be a dominant seventh chord.
  7. Not so in blues, every chord is a dominant seventh chord often.

The last thing about blues guitar is the use of the blues scale. From a major scale, take the root, flatted third, fourth, flatted fifth, fifth, and flatted seventh degree and you have a minor blues scale. To get the major blues scale, you take the root, second, flatted third, third, fifth, and sixth tones from a major scale. What really makes these scales sound ‘bluesy is the way they contain a flatted third, but are played against dominant seventh chords which have a major third. This usage is one of the more prevalent characteristics of blues music. It is also a major component of a lot of blues-based rock and popular music.

If you are learning how to play blues guitar, never forget the words of the great BB King, “The blues is the easiest music to learn, and the hardest to master.” As in many facets of life, the blues is taking small ideas and constructing them together in such a way that they make something great.

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