Pentatonic Aggression: The Secret To Playing Badass Blues Guitar Licks

To play badass blues guitar licks, you must not only master the ability to play with tons of power in your picking hand, but also prevent any unwanted string noise from occurring. Until you can do this effectively every time you play, you will struggle to make your licks sound as expressive as you want them to sound.

For most guitarists, unwanted string noise frequently occurs while playing blues licks and using wide vibrato, double stops or extra power in the picking hand. You must master the ability to play cleanly while using these techniques, otherwise your blues guitar playing will never sound as self-expressive as you want it to.

For the rest of this article you will be taken through the exact steps needed for cleaning up unwanted string noise in your blues guitar licks. Warning: You must watch the blues guitar licks video below to hear exactly what it sounds like when blues licks are played with zero string noise. This will help you to understand when you are using the ideas below correctly.

After you've finished the video above, pick up your guitar and begin following these steps to make your blues guitar licks intense and clean at the same time.

Step One: Quickly create a new blues guitar lick containing a maximum of 2-3 notes. To give you some ideas to get started with, look at the examples below:


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

It is crucial that you do not make your guitar phrases any longer than three notes (max). By only using a few notes, you will be forced to think creatively and get the most musical expression possible from each note. This is also important because it will help you focus on using proper muting technique to keep your phrases clean. Also observe how I did not notate the rhythm in the examples I provided for you. You are free to think creatively about the rhythms you use while playing these examples. Additionally, don't play all of these licks at once, choose one and practice it many times until it becomes second nature. Also, make sure that the last note of every lick you play ends with an upstroke (this is important for the next step).

Step Two: After using an upstroke on the last note of your lick, rest the pick on the string directly below the string you were playing on (as I demonstrated in the video above). While doing this, do not bring your pick up and ‘away' from the strings. To avoid this, rest your hand on the strings using either palm muting or thumb muting in your picking hand (I highly recommend you use thumb muting in the same way it is used in the video demonstration). Take several minutes to practice this.

Step Three: Next, use any finger that is not holding the pick to mute the higher strings while playing the lick (including available fingers on the fretting hand and picking hand). If you are uncertain about how this is done, check out this article on eliminating excess guitar string noise. Again, work on this for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step Four: With your picking hand, play your blues lick with as much intensity as possible by doing the following:

  • Use very heavy vibrato to emphasize any sustained notes in your lick.
  • While playing double stops, use heavy vibrato on both strings simultaneously.
  • Pick the strings with as much force as possible (don't worry about breaking the strings).

As you play your guitar lick with a lot of intensity you will quickly understand the importance of the muting techniques you learned in the previous steps. If you are still having issues with unwanted string noise, return to the previous steps to fix the problem. As you are going through this process, don't feel frustrated if you are unable to quickly play without creating unintentional string noise. By being patient and practicing you will master this and greatly enhance your lead guitar playing.for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step Five: Create several additional blues guitar licks or use the alternate examples I provided above and take them through the previous steps to make them as clean and intense as possible.

After you've mastered each of the concepts in the five steps above, it's time to start creating many more awesome guitar licks. Learn how to come up with an endless supply of highly creative licks by checking out this video on the topic of how to play rock guitar licks.

Add even more aggressiveness to your guitar licks by studying the ideas in this video containing exercises to help you increase guitar speed.

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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