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Learning Blues Guitar From The Greats

By: Ricky Sharples

Books and Music If you enjoy listening to blues guitar music you might want to learn about the early blues guitarists who laid the foundation for the popularity of modern blues guitar music. The works of many blues artists are now available as guitar tabs, and with a reasonable amount of daily practice you will soon be able to play blues music by the likes of Robert Johnson, B.B. King and Eric Clapton.

Searching the internet for blues guitar tabs is going to yield an abundance of lessons in playing the blues as well as tabs for traditional blues music by artists and composers of the early twentieth century. I should mention that many songs defy efforts to trace their origins but have been popular songs since the before the birth of the blues as we know it. So let us take a look at some blues guitar players who were influential in shaping blues music into a popular idiom.

You cannot begin to learn to play blues guitar without listening to the great artists of the past with an enlightened ear. In other words, you will need to do more than simply appreciate the music on an emotional level - you need to know a little about what you are listening to.

So here is a quick guide to a couple of the key words in the blues dictionary. Groups of notes used as material for guitar solos are known as "licks". They may be scales or arpeggios or random notes but all blues guitarists have a collection of licks that they can throw into a guitar solo or use as a basis for improvisation. Another word you will need to know is "riff". A riff is a pattern of notes which is repeated throughout a song. The use of riffs was very popular in the '60's and many people will recognize a song more from hearing the riff than listening to the lyrics.

Mississippi John Hurt came to fame as an old man appearing at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. With his vocal and guitar playing skills still as bright and shiny as ever, he made many recordings of traditional blues songs during the 1960's. But John Hurt was a prolific blues recording artist in his youth, and his recording sessions in the 1920's brought to light such blues standards as Frankie And Johnny and Stagger Lee.

Robert Johnson was born in 1911 and was an extremely talented guitarist, singer and song writer. We do not know a whole lot about him apart from the legend of his meeting with the Devil. Apparently Johnson's success as a blues artist was due to the fact that he swapped his soul for mastery of the blues guitar. Johnson's prime was in the 1920's and 1930's but he did not achieve wide reaching acclaim till the 1960's. He delivered his soul to the Devil in 1938 at the age of twenty-seven.

No discussion of blues music is complete without Leadbelly. Huddie Ledbetter was born in 1888 and is strongly associated with the twelve-string guitar which he played like an angel. The rest of his life was far from angelic consisting of romping with numerous women, drinking copious amounts of alcohol and killing a person or two. His virtuosity on the twelve string guitar inspired Pete Seeger to popularize the instrument in the 1950's and 1960's.

You may already have some idea about whether you want to play acoustic or electric blues. The three blues guitar players I have mentioned were all acoustic guitarists, partly due to electric guitars being unavailable to them in their heyday. But to many people blues guitar music is synonymous with the electric guitar. B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Roy Buchanan were, in their individual approaches to the blues, pioneers of electric blues music.

Ricky Sharples has many more tips for guitar players of all levels at his blog Learn How To Play A Guitar For Free, a continuously updated directory of free guitar lessons, videos, chord charts and lots of useful guitar stuff.
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