Playing blues is just downright fun to do! It’s a universal language and a connecting point for most musicians whatever their main style may be.
Instead of always needing to rely on other musicians to make what you play sound full and complete, let me show you a very cool, yet very easy way to fingerpick through a blues on your guitar.
This particular approach I am going show you today will allow you to play both the lead and rhythm parts of a 12 bar blues at the same time! What you play will sound full and complete all on it’s own without the need for other musicians. Better yet, it’s easy. With just basic skills and a little work, you’ll be up and running in no time!
Let me give you a brief description of what we will be covering today:
It’s going to be all in your picking hand. The index, middle, and ring fingers will be busy playing riffs and melodies on the higher strings of your guitar. Your thumb will be constantly plucking one of the lower strings, generally an open string, but not necessarily. Together they will provide you with both the melody and accompaniment to our blues.
Read on to follow my step by step strategy of getting this technique into your guitar playing. You won’t be disappointed as you discover how easy it is to effortlessly play through chorus after chorus of a blues in this manner, impressing all who hear you play!
Fingerpicking Blues Drills
For the purpose of developing this technique, we will be using both pentatonic patterns 1 and 2 in the key of Em. More specifically the top 4 strings of each of these patterns, as follows:
First up, we are going to play the low open E string of our guitar, along with each note of the scale in a quarter note rhythm (ie. on the beat) like so:
Once you have the above exercise down, we are going to separate the fingers from the thumb by having them play different rhythms.
Your thumb will pluck the low open E string in a swinging eighth note rhythm, while your fingers continue to play the pentatonic scale pattern in a quarter note rhythm, like this:
This of course is a little more challenging to do, but is a great exercise in getting your fingers to work independently from your thumb. Be patient, you will get it soon enough, as long as you take it slowly.
Don’t forget to watch the video that accompanies this article for more details, and to see this technique in action. In the video you will hear that I am palm muting the low open E string to create more contrast between the bass and the riffs, or if you like, the accompaniment and melody parts.
Once you have these basic drills down, and have developed the ability to have your thumb work independently of your fingers, you will find what follows next, easy to do!
Blues Riffs For Fingerpicking
Riff 1 :
The next step requires that we have a riff of some sort. Using our hybrid pentatonic pattern, here is a typical call and response riff we will be using:
Once you have this riff down in isolation, you will then add the plucking of the low open E string in an eight note rhythm like this:
Hear how something so simple as a low open E string can make your riff sound whole and complete!
Seeing as though the first chord of a blues in E is an E7, the low open E string in this case is implying an E7 chord.
The next chord in our E blues, the IV chord, is A7.
It could not be simpler to cover this chord, as all you need to do is play the exact same riff, only with your thumb plucking the open 5th/A string to imply an A7 chord:
With both the E7 and A7 chord covered, we can now fingerpick our way through the first 8 bars of a 12 bar blues, like so:
In the example above, I am using the same riff throughout.
Riff 2 :
Let me take you through the process one more time, with a new riff, to really reinforce this fingerpicking blues technique.
Here is the riff we will use:
And here is the riff accompanied with the low open E string in a swinging eighth note rhythm:
To cover the IV chord of our blues in E, the A7, we simply repeat the riff only with the low open 5th/A string accompanying throughout:
Now, here is our riff arranged across the first 8 bars of our blues in E:
The B7 Chord
We only have one thing left to do now to complete our 12 bar blues, and that is to deal with the V chord, the B7.
While we don’t have an open B string to pluck to accompany the riff we play on top of this chord, it doesn't matter as we can simply use a fretted note instead.
So while forming the standard open B7 chord, your thumb will pluck the root note that is at the 2nd fret on the 5th string, while your fingers play a riff on top as you did with the chords of E7 and A7:
We now have all the pieces we need to fingerpick our way through a 12 bar blues in E.
In the following example I will do exactly that using a combination of the riffs we have studied:
How cool does that sound!
So simple, yet so effective in providing both the rhythm and lead parts at the same time, as you effortlessly wander through a 12 bar blues in E on your guitar.
In the example above I took the liberty of adding a few bass note connections when changing between chords. This brings interest and movement to your arrangements.
Your job now is to take what you have learned in this article and apply, apply, apply! This is critical if you are to truely master this technique and be able to effortlessly fingerpick your way through chorus after chorus of a blues on your guitar.
Let me tell you, it’s a great feeling to be able to do this, and your listeners will not be disappointed with what they hear too!
Learn more advanced sounding, but easy to play fingerpicking blues techniques for your guitar playing
About the author: Having taught guitar professionally for over 20 years, Simon Candy is a highly experienced, successful, and sough after guitar instructor from Melbourne, Australia. Specialising in the acoustic guitar, and running his own guitar school, Simon also provides online instruction for acoustic guitar