Essential Blues Guitar Techniques: A Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. String Bending in Blues Guitar
  2. Slide Guitar Technique
  3. Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs
  4. Fingerpicking Blues Style
  5. Blues Shuffle Rhythm
  6. Riff-Based Blues Playing
  7. Using the Blues Scale

So, you want to learn how to play guitar for blues? Well, you're in the right place! This guide is going to break down the techniques you need to start playing blues guitar like a pro. But hey, don't worry! This isn't a stuffy textbook. We're going to keep things simple and fun. So grab your guitar, and let's get started.

String Bending in Blues Guitar

First up on our list of blues guitar techniques is string bending. You've probably heard this one in action. When a guitarist bends a string, it makes the note pitch go up. It's like a musical stretch, and it's a big part of what gives blues guitar its signature sound.

Here's how to do it:

  • Press down on a string: You'll want to use your finger to press down on a string at any fret. This is your starting note.
  • Push or pull the string: Now, while holding that note, you're going to either push the string up towards the ceiling or pull it down towards the floor. This is what makes the pitch go up. Think of it like you're trying to slide the string down a slippery slope.
  • Release the bend: After you've bent the string, you're going to let it slowly return to its original position. This is the cool part. It's like the note is slowly falling back down to where it started.

String bending might feel a bit tricky at first, but don't stress. With a bit of practice, you'll get the hang of it. And remember, the key to a good string bend is all in the wrist. So take your time, stay relaxed, and before you know it, you'll be bending strings like a blues pro.

Alright, that's one technique down! But remember, playing blues guitar isn't just about mastering one technique. It's about how you mix and match them to create your own unique sound. So keep practicing your string bending, but be ready to add some more techniques into the mix. You're on your way to knowing how to play guitar for blues!

Slide Guitar Technique

Next up, let's talk about slide guitar. The slide technique is a hallmark of blues guitar, and it's a ton of fun to play. When you slide, you're literally sliding a small tube—usually made of glass or metal—along the strings to change the pitch of the notes. Think of it as skating on ice, but on your guitar instead!

Here's the scoop on how to do it:

  • Pick your slide: You can use a variety of materials for a slide, from a glass bottle neck to a metal pipe. Each one will give a slightly different sound, so play around and see which one you like best.
  • Place it on a finger: The slide goes on one of your fingers—usually the ring or pinky. It should fit snugly, but not too tight.
  • Slide along the strings: Now, lightly touch the slide to the strings and glide it along. You're not pressing down, just skimming the surface. The sound is made by the slide moving over the strings, not by pressing them down to the fretboard.

One key thing to remember: the slide should be directly above the frets, not in between them like when you're playing normally. This will give you the clearest sound.

Slide guitar might seem a bit strange if you're new to it, but give it a try. The smooth, gliding sound it makes is a big part of what makes blues music so unique. And remember, it's all about having fun and experimenting. The more you play around with it, the better you'll get, and the more you'll start to develop your own personal blues style. So get sliding, and keep exploring how to play guitar for blues. The blues is all about expressing yourself, so don't be afraid to let your personality shine through in your playing.

Hammer-Ons and Pull-Offs

Now that we've covered slide guitar, let's move on to another cool technique: hammer-ons and pull-offs. These techniques are like the salt and pepper of blues guitar—they add a little extra flavor to your playing and can give your music a real kick.

So, what are hammer-ons and pull-offs? Simply put, they're ways of playing two notes quickly, without picking the string twice. It's a bit like getting two notes for the price of one!

  • Hammer-Ons: To do a hammer-on, you first pick a note normally. Then, without picking the string again, you "hammer" one of your other fingers onto the fretboard, creating a second note.
  • Pull-Offs: Pull-offs are essentially the opposite of hammer-ons. You start by picking a note with one of your fingers on the fretboard. Then, you "pull" that finger off the string, allowing a second note to ring out.

These techniques can add a lot of speed and fluidity to your playing. They're also great for adding a little extra emotion to your solos, which is a big part of what blues guitar is all about. So next time you pick up your guitar, try throwing in a few hammer-ons and pull-offs. You might be surprised at how much they can spice up your playing.

Remember, the key to mastering these techniques—like anything else on the guitar—is practice. So keep at it, and don't get discouraged if you don't get it right away. With time and patience, you'll get the hang of it, and you'll be one step closer to knowing how to play guitar for blues. So go ahead, give it a try. Who knows? You might just find that hammer-ons and pull-offs are your new favorite thing.

Fingerpicking Blues Style

Another technique that's really useful when figuring out how to play guitar for blues is fingerpicking. This style of play can add a whole different level of emotion and depth to your blues tunes. In essence, fingerpicking allows you to play multiple strings at once, which can create some really cool, complex sounds.

Here's a simple way to get started with fingerpicking:

  1. Rest your thumb on the top three strings (E, A, D) of your guitar. This is your bass line, and your thumb will play these strings.
  2. Your index, middle, and ring fingers will take care of the bottom three strings (G, B, E). Each finger is responsible for one string, so your index finger plays the G string, your middle finger plays the B string, and your ring finger plays the E string.
  3. Start by picking the strings in order, from the thumb to the ring finger. This will get you used to the motion of fingerpicking.

Once you're comfortable with this, try mixing up the order in which you pick the strings. This can create some really interesting patterns and rhythms, which are key elements of blues guitar.

In the end, remember that fingerpicking, like any other guitar technique, takes practice. It can be a bit tricky at first, but stick with it. With time, you'll start to see improvement—and before you know it, you'll be fingerpicking like a pro.

So there you have it: fingerpicking is another great tool for your blues guitar toolbox. It can add a whole new layer of complexity and emotion to your playing, helping you to express your feelings through your music. And isn't that what playing the blues is all about?

Blues Shuffle Rhythm

Let's move on to the heartbeat of the blues: the blues shuffle rhythm. When you're learning how to play guitar for blues, understanding this rhythm is like knowing the secret handshake. It's everywhere in blues music and it's what gives the blues its unique, foot-tapping quality.

So, how do you play a blues shuffle rhythm? Here's a quick breakdown:

  1. Start with a simple open chord, like an A or E. These chords are great for practicing the shuffle rhythm because they're easy to play and they have a nice, full sound.
  2. Next, add a bit of shuffle to it. This means alternating between the root note of the chord and a note that's two frets higher. So, if you're playing an A chord, you'll alternate between the A (the root note) and the C# (two frets higher).
  3. Finally, add some rhythm to your shuffle. The classic blues shuffle rhythm goes like this: long-short-long-short. So, play your A and C# in this rhythm: A (long), C# (short), A (long), C# (short). Repeat this pattern over and over.

And there you have it: the blues shuffle rhythm. It might take a little practice to get the hang of, but once you do, you'll be able to add that authentic blues feel to your playing. Plus, it's a lot of fun to play!

Remember, the blues is all about feeling and expression. So, don't worry too much about getting it perfect. Instead, focus on feeling the rhythm and letting it guide your playing. That's the true spirit of the blues, after all.

Riff-Based Blues Playing

Alright, let's shift gears and talk about riff-based blues playing. This approach is another answer to "how to play guitar for blues?" and is quite the game-changer. It's a fun way to add some flavor to your blues guitar playing and to really make a song your own.

Riffs are short, repeated melodies that are played throughout a song. They can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be, but the key is repetition. You repeat the riff over and over, creating a sort of musical theme for the song.

Here's a simple way to start creating your own blues riffs:

  1. First, pick a blues scale. The A minor pentatonic scale is a good one to start with because it's easy to play and it has a nice bluesy sound.
  2. Next, choose a few notes from the scale and arrange them in a sequence. This will be the basis of your riff. Remember, it doesn't have to be complicated. Even a simple two or three-note sequence can make a great riff.
  3. Finally, repeat your sequence over and over, playing it in time with the music. Congratulations, you've created a blues riff!

So, give riff-based blues playing a try. It's a great way to add some personality to your blues guitar playing and to make your music more memorable. And who knows? You might even come up with a riff that becomes the next blues classic!

Using the Blues Scale

Now, onto another key element of learning how to play guitar for blues: using the blues scale. This particular scale is the backbone of the blues genre. It's like your toolkit — it has all the notes you'll need to create that distinctive blues sound.

The blues scale is a six-note scale that includes the minor pentatonic scale plus a flat fifth, often referred to as the 'blue note'. This blue note is what gives the blues scale its unique sound. Every time you hit that note, you'll feel the blues seeping through your fingers.

Let's say you're using the A blues scale. You'll play the notes A, C, D, D# (the blue note), E, and G. It's these notes, played in this order, that will give you that blues sound we're aiming for.

Here's a simple exercise for you:

  1. Start by playing the A blues scale up and down a few times to get the feel for it.
  2. Next, experiment with creating your own melodies using the notes from the scale. There's no wrong way to do this; it's all about exploring the scale and seeing what sounds good to you.
  3. Finally, try playing your melodies over a 12-bar blues progression. This will give you a taste of how the scale can be used in a musical context.

Remember, the blues scale is just one tool in your toolbox. It's not the only way to play blues guitar, but it's a great place to start. The more you play around with it, the more you'll start to develop your own blues style and sound. So, give it a go and see where the blues scale takes you!

If you're eager to take your blues guitar skills to the next level, check out the workshop 'How to Get Better at What You Do - Go from Good to Great!' by Debbie Knox-Hewson. Although not specifically focused on blues guitar, this workshop will provide you with valuable tips and strategies to improve your overall musicianship and help you become a more versatile blues guitarist.