How To Clean Up Your Blues Guitar Licks

Before you read the information discussed below, make sure you are familiar with the ideas in the previous entry to this article series about developing blues guitar playing technique. To quickly learn these ideas, watch this short video on how to play killer blues guitar licks.

You will now learn how to utilize the muting technique you learned in the previous article along with several creative blues guitar techniques that will make your blues phrases sound much more expressive.

To get started, watch the video below and observe how to perfectly use the Before you get started reading information below, take a moment to watch this video so you can hear 'exactly' how it should sound when you are perfectly using the concepts of this article:

Once you have seen the demonstration in the video above, follow these steps and start enhancing your blues guitar licks:

Step One: Improvise a small blues guitar lick and play it a few times until it feels natural. As you are creating your lick, use no more than three or five notes. By doing this, you will minimize the distraction that comes from playing a long string of notes so you can focus purely on getting as much expression as possible out of the few notes you are using (while using the techniques I will talk about momentarily).

Below, I've provided you with three quick examples to use for getting started. Notice how I have not included the rhythm along with the tablature. I want you to be creative and think of your own unique rhythms.


MP3 - Example #1
MP3 - Example #2
MP3 - Example #3

Warning: these licks are not meant to be highly creative on their own. You must use the techniques discussed below (and seen in the video you watched) to transform them into something truly awesome and unique.

Step Two: Now it is time to enhance the original lick you created (or chose from the examples above). Follow the instructions beside each of the three individual techniques below. Do this 'one at a time', focusing on getting the maximum expression out of each technique.

Technique Number One: Slide Ornament

After playing any note within the lick you created, use the finger that was fretting the note to immediately slide up the fretboard to a random fret and quickly return back to the original fret of the note you were playing. Then continue playing through the lick from where you left off. Don't worry about sliding up to a specific pitch every time you do this, you are only using this technique as a way to ornament the note you chose (creating an interesting sound effect in the process). This technique creates a very unique sound and will make your lick much more expressive in a very creative way. After you have mastered this, make three more variations of the lick you began with that use slides in this manner. There are countless ways to use this idea in your playing, try to see how many cool variations you can think of.

Technique Number Two: Intense Vibrato

Identify the notes within your blues guitar lick that are held out longer than the rest (these will usually be the last one or two notes of the phrase). Then apply wide vibrato to these notes - however, do not apply it instantly after you play a note. Instead, play the note and let it ring out for a moment or two... then apply a WIDE and powerful vibrato. This will add tons of tension and intensity into your lick by first creating a sense of anticipation and the providing an 'answer' to what the listener was waiting for. Additionally, the vibrato naturally makes your lick sound powerful and aggressive. After applying this technique to your lick and getting comfortable with it, create many variations of your original lick by delaying your vibrato for different lengths of time.

Technique Number Three: Tension-Building Bend

Play through your lick until you reach the penultimate note (2nd to last note) and use a 'very' slow whole step bend up to the final note in the phrase. The best lick to try this on (from the ones I offered to you above) is the third one with only two notes. This type of extremely slow bend will build tons of intensity in your playing if done right (watch the video above again to see precisely how to achieve maximum intensity). Don't simply bend the note up to the target pitch very quickly - this will ruin the effect. Then when you are ready to pick the final note, use A lot of power! After you've mastered this technique, use it to create several variations of your original lick.

Step Three: Once you have gone through the instructions of each individual technique from above (and made many new variations of your original lick), choose a new lick and repeat the process. Since there are countless ways you can apply the techniques above to a single lick, this will provide you with something you can practice for a long time. Increase your creativity by coming up with all the different ways you can enhance one to two notes in a phrase using all the techniques in combination with one another. Really focus on getting as much expression as possible! By pushing through and forcing yourself to be creative, you will greatly improve your blues guitar playing.

Listen to this quick blues lick audio sample that includes various ideas that use the techniques mentioned above.

Now that you've gone through each of the steps above, you have learned how to make some truly killer blues guitar licks. It's time to apply the musical element of 'rhythm' into your playing to become an even more creative player. Learn more about this by checking out this free lead guitar phrasing video.

Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.

Visit his site to discover highly effective music learning resources, guitar lessons, music career mentoring and tools including free online assessments, surveys, mini courses and more.

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