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Add Licks to the Blues Riff

Welcome to the eleventh video of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. If you’re jumping into this series on this lesson, I highly recommend going back to the first lesson and learning everything we’ve covered because this lesson ties all of the previous lessons together. In this lesson, we’re going to take the intermediate 12-bar blues riff and learn how to put some lead licks into it.

This is a valuable skill to develop whether you’re playing blues music by yourself, playing with a band, or accompanying a singer. If you haven’t learned the intermediate riff from lesson five, go back and get that down really well since it’s the foundation of everything we’ll be playing here. If you have been through all of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series, you can watch the video as I play through the riff as a refresher for you.

This riff sounds awesome as it is, but we can make it sound even better by throwing in some lead licks in different spots. If you don’t have this riff down yet, keep practicing until you can play it spotlessly.

The first thing we need to talk about is where you should interject your lead licks in a standard 12-bar blues progression. You’ll want to consider factors like who you’re playing with or the context you’re playing in. If you’re playing the standard 12-bar blues with a singer, you don’t want to walk on the singer. Instead, you’d want to put your licks in the gaps where the singer isn’t singing.

You can divide the 12 bars into three different four-bar phrases. If you do this, usually another instrument will be playing or someone will be singing during the first two or three bars of each four-bar phrase, and you can use the last bar or two to play a lick.

In this lesson, we’ll divide the riff into three different four-bar phrases. For each of the first two four-bar phrases, we’re going to fill the last bar, so bars four and eight. On the last four-bar phrase, we have a turnaround lick that will go over bars eleven and twelve.

If you already know the intermediate blues riff we’re talking about, you can play the first three bars like you normally would. In the video, you’ll notice that I stopped on the first note of the fourth bar, and this is where you’ll put in your first lead lick.

We’ve hit the first power chord of bar four, so now begin the lick. Place your second finger on the second fret of the G string and bend it up a half step. Play the open B string, followed by the open high E string. From there, play the second fret of the G string and pull off to the open G string. To finish up this lick, play the second fret of the D string, the open D string, and then the second fret of the D string again.

Using these notes, this lick emphasizes the 1 chord that you’re playing over. You can hear it in the video as I demonstrate what this lick sounds like played as a part of the first four bars of the 12-bar blues.

From here you move on to the 4 chord, and it doesn’t change from what you’ve already learned over these two bars. For measures seven and eight, we move back over the 1 chord, and measure 7 doesn’t change either. For measure eight, you’ll hit the first downbeat again and then move into the next lead lick.

Start this lick with your third finger on the third fret of the B string, slide it to the fifth fret, and play the open high E along with it. Hit those two notes two more times, for a total of three times. Next, play the second fret of the G string and pull off to the open G. Play the second fret of the D string, the second fret of the G string, and finish this lick with the third fret of the G string.

From here we move to the 5 chord, which is the B chord, then the 4 chord, which is A, and your standard riffs will stay the same. After this comes measures eleven and twelve, the 1 and 5 chords. This is where we’ll be playing our turnaround lick. If you’ve been through the entire Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series, you’ll know this lick already from the last lesson we completed.

Start with a strong downbeat on the E power chord, place your third finger on the third fret of the G string, and your fourth finger on the third fret of the high E string. Pluck those notes with the second and third fingers of your strumming hand and slide those them from the third fret to the fourth. Play two swung eighth notes on the fourth fret, two on the third fret, and two on the second fret.

Leave your third and fourth fingers on the second fret of the G and high E string and finish the B7 shape we learned in the last lesson. Strum down through the A string, D string, G string, and then one strum through the B and high E strings together. That finishes your turnaround lick.

Hopefully, now you see that you can keep any blues riff going and throw in some good leads licks too. In the video, you can hear me play the full riff along with the jam track.

It’s important to practice this to a steady beat so you can develop your internal clock. You can use a metronome or the jam tracks I have for you. Choose whichever one you want, as long as you’re playing with a steady beat.

I know this has been a lot of work, but you’ve come a long way since the beginning of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. Working on skills like this improves both your rhythm blues guitar vocabulary and your lead blues guitar vocabulary.

In the next lesson, we’ll take a look at what you need to do to continue your blues guitar education. I’ll also give you some tips on how to continue the rest of your guitar journey too.

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