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sloar 06-15-2019 01:16 PM

Best way to learn blues?
Iíve searched the net and get confused on what to learn. I normally just find songs to learn, but most acoustic blues tutorials are scales and riffs. So whatís the best way to get started and what should I concentrate on learning first. Thanks

Paddy1951 06-15-2019 01:47 PM

I am of the opinion that Blues, especially acoustic Blues, should not be learned "academically."

Blues is a folk form. It was learned by the masters from elders who passed it on as they had learned it. It is/was a bit of a trial and error music if you will. It is not about cranking out as many notes as you can. It is not about speed.

To me, it loses its appeal if it gets to "prettied up."

Listen to a lot of recordings. Listen to recordings of lesser known players as well as the greats. Watch old film clips. Learn the "feel" of it.
It's about how the person feels.

I have heard too many players perform it taking the rough edges out of it or playing it too fast. It isn't supposed to be a perfect kind of music. It is about expressing ones self.

I became a blues fan at age 14. Howlin' Wolf... got me going. I am close to 70 now. Spent much time in Chicago. Saw many of the Blues greats.

I don't do a lot of Blues myself because I don't think I do justice to the form. But I sure love the Blues.

Kerbie 06-15-2019 02:09 PM

Love the blues! I agree with much of what Paddy said above, although I believe there is nothing wrong with learning academically. Learning by book or video can be a great way to supplement learning by ear. People learn different ways and anything that works is OK.

I also love the old greats, but I like listening to some contemporary blues artists too. You might check out the AGF's own Toby Walker. Great player and excellent web site. I also love the blues of Scott Ainslie, Mary Flower, Guy Davis, Rolly Brown, Mike Dowling, Jorma Kaukonen, etc.

There are tons of helpful videos on the internet and youtube. There are instructional DVDs available. Lots of ways to do it. Have fun.

Silly Moustache 06-15-2019 02:17 PM

I believe that this is a popular way,

Seriously tho' folks, as Paddy says, it isn't an "academic" thing.

We mostly learn by watching and listening.

There are a thousand different styles, often defined by region, but most use well tried and tested chord progressions, not least the basic I,IV,V in a 12 bar format, with soloing based on major/minor pentatonic scales.

Maybe start by listening to Jimmy Reed and Lightning Hopkins for country blues, and Mississippi John Hurt for pretty basic fingerstyle.

However, it is not just a cliche to say that to play the blues convincingly, one needs to "feel" the genre.

raysachs 06-15-2019 02:18 PM

I agree that you can't learn "the blues" academically, but you can learn a lot of technique that helps you play blues academically. I've been playing electric blues since I was 18 years old to one degree or another. Most of that I picked up on my own. I'm not that good but I think on a good day I play with a lot of feeling, which is the key to it. But I've never had the patience to learn to fingerpick and most of the great acoustic blues players fingerpick and/or play slide.

I finally decided to just do it within the last several months and I found some online courses to help me. In my case I'm using some David Hamburger courses on Truefire, but there are a lot of others out there, including a bunch by Toby Walker, who's a forum member. My left hand already pretty much knew what it was doing, but my right hand was clueless. And now it's coming along with the help of these lessons. I have an enormously long way to go - frankly this should keep me busy the rest of my life. But 7-8 months ago I couldn't do anything and now I can play some stuff that at least sounds like blues to me and enjoy it.

So look online. There's a ton of resources. Try a couple of courses, see what feels right to you to work on.

tonyo 06-15-2019 03:04 PM

This video helped me get started with the blues.

LyleGorch 06-15-2019 03:18 PM


tbeltrans 06-15-2019 03:18 PM

Lose it all, and then come back to sing about it. :)


JonPR 06-15-2019 04:32 PM


Originally Posted by sloar (Post 6087371)
I’ve searched the net and get confused on what to learn. I normally just find songs to learn, but most acoustic blues tutorials are scales and riffs. So what’s the best way to get started and what should I concentrate on learning first. Thanks

Listen and copy.
Listen and copy.
Listen and copy.

It's how all the greatest blues players learned, and it obviously worked for them. ;)

"I normally just find songs to learn". So keep doing that. Find some old acoustic blues songs you like, and learn them.

BTW, I wouldn't be too prescriptive about only learning by ear (some might). The internet is here, use it! But use it to find out more about those songs you want to learn. Don't waste time on exercises, scales, riffs, all that stuff - it's a distraction. Just make sure that you check everything you find against the original. Your ear rules.

Back in the 1960s, I learned old acoustic blues off records using a tape deck to slow them down. If, back then, I'd had the film you can find free on youtube of people like Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Big Bill, Son House, Gary Davis, etc, I'd have thought I'd died and gone to heaven. Likewise, software like this:
(Oh yes, and there are tutorials on actual tunes - not just scales and riffs - by Stefan Grossman and others.)

RJVB 06-16-2019 03:54 AM

Heh, the exact reason why I picked up the guitar last summer, after about 10y not touching any instruments (and having been a "semi-pro" amateur baroque violinist before that).

The big problem for me is what I think of as playing based on chords, that's not something you typically learn as a classical player (certainly not a violinist). I'm trying to wrap my head around that, and how people can do something interesting with just a series of chords (heck, even grab them without thinking).
The solution for me has been to buy a series of scores (not just tabs...!) and video courses, and work on written-out transcriptions all while trying to associate what my hands are doing with the chord names. There's a lot going on at the same time here... I think I'm not doing too bad on the feeling side, but those chords... well, it feels like I'm trying to learn Chinese! I would probably have to find someone willing to teach me like I'm a beginning kid (knowing I wasn't receptive at all to theory when I was a kid, and my teachers sadly gave in to me "just wanting to play nice tunes").

Anyway, I'm guessing that someone who is already used to learning songs from series of chords should have a much less hard time and should be able to get kickstarted by following a few video courses. The primary goald would be to help learn express the blues feeling on the guitar, develop ideom. The 1st course I bought was Doug Macleod's 101 Blues Essentials (available from MusicGurus); his is really the style that I would love to learn. He's got 2 great tips in his introduction: "Don't think of these as licks but as building blocks, otherwise you think you're playing but really all you are is just licking". And "don't be afraid to get lost on the guitar, because if you get lost you'll get found" (= experiment, you'll know when something works).

There are very instructional courses in the Stefan Grosman collection too; there's one by him that goes into the chord thing

and there are a series of course taught really well by Tom Feldmann, e.g. on John Lee Hooker's music:

There are also many free lessons available, e.g. those by John Hatcher's Blues Guitar Institute.

BTW, I discovered Doug Macleod in the documentary on National Guitars:

which has interviews with a number of great musicians (including Bob Brozman). Somewhere in there is another great tip that I think is really true, I think from Bob but maybe from Doug. Basically: play a blues bass until you can breathe it and when you really feel the need to add something to it, just pluck a note or chord while keeping up that bass. You'll be making music in no time.

Mr. Jelly 06-16-2019 06:19 AM

I learned the blues by ear. In my day and area it was the only way. I still can't help myself from playing my blues / music. It's an expression. Having said that a person gets tired of themselves and looks to expand their tools or arsenal. That's when I go back to learning signature licks from songs, look at tab and YouTube to pick little sounds and licks to incorporate into my playing. One of the first things that was of interest was the chord sequence of different blues. That lead to pre-jazz and country rag guitar. That's song structure of blues. Picking your area of interest can speed the process up. Is it Chicago blues, rock blues, piedmont blues or delta blues? A look into old time country and bluegrass is valid also.

815C 06-16-2019 06:33 AM

If you are writing blues lyrics, it's good to know these rules...

1. Most Blues begin, "Woke up this morning..."

2. "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes... sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound."

4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch--ain't no way out.

5. Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sport Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft and company motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6. Teenagers can't sing the Blues. They ain't fixin' to die yet. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues, "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7. Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You cannot have the blues in any place that don't get rain.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain't the blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg cause you were skiing is not the blues. Breaking your leg 'cause a alligator be chompin' on it is.

9. You can't have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10. Good places for the Blues:
a. Highway
b. Jailhouse
c. An empty bed
d. Bottom of a whiskey glass

11. Bad places for the Blues:
a. Nordstrom's
b. Gallery openings
c. Ivy league institutions
d. Golf courses

12. No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be a old ethnic person, and you slept in it.

13. You have the right to sing the Blues if:
a. You older than dirt
b. You blind
c. You shot a man in Memphis
d. You can't be satisfied

14. You don't have the right to sing the Blues if:
a. You have all your teeth
b. You were once blind but now can see
c. The man in Memphis lived
d. You have a pension fund

15. Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the blues.

16. If you ask for water and your darlin' give you gasoline, it's the Blues

17. Other acceptable Blues beverages are:
a. Cheap wine
b. Whiskey or bourbon
c. Muddy water
d. Nasty black coffee

18. The following are NOT Blues beverages:
a. Perrier
b. Chardonnay
c. Snapple
d. Slim Fast

19. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broke-down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

20. Some Blues names for women:
a. Sadie
b. Big Mama
c. Bessie
d. Fat River Dumpling

21. Some Blues names for men:
a. Joe
b. Willie
c. Little Willie
d. Big Willie

22. Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

23. Make your own Blues name Starter Kit: a. name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.) b. first name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Melon, Kiwi, etc.) c. last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.) For example: Blind Lime Jefferson, Jackleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

24. I don't care how tragic your life: if you own even one computer, you cannot sing the blues.

sloar 06-16-2019 07:03 AM

Nice set of rules, love it. And thanks everyone for the advise. Iím a beginner so playing by ear is not an option yet. So thanks for all the links,.

Kerbie 06-16-2019 07:15 AM


Originally Posted by sloar (Post 6087824)
I’m a beginner so playing by ear is not an option yet.

That's fine. We all began somewhere. That's why there are a lot of different ways to learn and they're all good. People are different... Find the best ways for you and go for it. Learning by ear will probably come later. Good luck.

JonPR 06-16-2019 07:45 AM


Originally Posted by sloar (Post 6087824)
Nice set of rules, love it. And thanks everyone for the advise. I’m a beginner so playing by ear is not an option yet.

Everybody plays by ear. Music is nothing but sound, so how else do you appreciate it, or judge it?

Obviously as a beginner your ear is untrained. Like I said in my post, I don't recommend learning by ear alone. That's way too frustrating when you're starting out, especially now when there is so much help around - it would be crazy to shut yourself away and ignore all that.
The only time I learned stuff by ear was when there really was no alternative. No tab then, and if the music hadn't been published all there was was the recording. Now I prefer to learn stuff by ear even when it is published and all over the internet - but it's taken me a long time to get to that point.

I didn't give you a link to Stefan Grossman last time. He learned directly from Rev Gary Davis, and is probably the best living authority on the old country blues.
You can find free lessons on youtube too:

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