The Blues is one of the most fascinating developments in the entire history of music. At once profoundly simple and staggeringly complex, the blues seems to capture the very essence of pain, struggle, and the whole of human experience. After emerging from the folk songs of African Americans living in the deep South, the blues quickly grew to captivate listeners all of the world, and has endured ever since as a major driving force behind most of the music of the last 100 years. Counted among the descendants of the blues are: jazz, rock and roll, country, bluegrass, Americana, soul, hip hop, and countless other genres and sub-genres.
The guitar played a pivotal role in the the history of the blues. Second only to voice, the guitar is the most common sound in blues instrumentation. Many of the earliest blues musicians were solo singers who accompanied themselves by playing guitar while they sang. Ultimately however, it was blues music that played and even bigger role in the history and development of the guitar. It was the popularity of the blues that rocketed the guitar from musical novelty, to the most popular instrument in the world in just a few decades.
Because the blues is so integral to the guitar’s development, nearly all guitar teachers tutor their students in the blues. Most students looking to learn to play steel string acoustic or electric guitar should try to gain a working knowledge of the blues. Many of the early blues songs can be mastered by beginning guitarists and sound awesome when played by a single guitar. So even if you’re goal is to be the next Yngwie Malmsteen, you should strive to tackle some blues standards FIRST. Even Yngwie himself became very devoted to learning the blues at one point in his career.
I think a lot of today’s guitar students should start by simply LISTENING to the blues. Luckily, recorded music started shortly after the emergence of the blues so we have authentic recordings of blues music from many of the original artists. I put together this Spotify playlist of some key recording that can help break you into the blues.
As you listen to these recordings, listen for what the guitar is doing, but also listen to vocal. Listen to the way the words are repeated. This will give you the best way understanding the blues form. Listen to the way the melody rises and falls in the vocal. This is where you will begin to understand blues phrasing.
Simply listening to the blues is the best way to start to understand this amazing art form. Then, when you decide to take guitar classes, a guitar teacher can help tutor you on the finer points like blues scales and chord progressions.
Over the past few months Gables Guitar Studio has seen an increase in the number of young students interested in playing rock music. I don’t know what it is about this current group of middle-schoolers. They really have this incredible curiosity about rock music, heavy stuff in particular.
I’ve been trying to do my part to help introduce the broad spectrum of rock recordings to some of my students. The days of mix-tapes or even mix-CDs are long gone. I really don’t think there is anything left that I can physically hand them and say, “Hey, check this out!” I’ve started using Spotify playlists to bring certain artists and songs to the students’ attention. It’s not ideal. Students have to sign up to use Spotify if they want to listen to the playlists on their own devices. Also, some key artists and songs aren’t on Spotify. But it works pretty well in the sense that students who have Spotify can access the music easily.
I put together this Spotify playlist that featuring 50 of the Greatest Female Rock Icons:
It was such a fun and exciting experience to go back through the decades of rock music and listen to all these amazing songs again. I tried to limit my selections to one song per artists which was really hard to do in almost every case. So please share this playlist with the young rocker in your life. As a musician who happens to be male, I can tell you ALL that these women have artistically impacted me as powerfully as any of their male counterparts. That is why I am so adamant about sharing their work with the next generation.
Special thanks to Paola for helping me compile this list, which is in no way definitive. In fact, I am 100% positive that I have omitted some truly legendary artists. Do me a favor and tell me all about it in the comments section. I’ll get things started: Joan Jett! The bulk of her best work, including the undeniable anthem “I Love Rock and Roll”, is not on available on Spotify at the present time.
Freddie King (1934-1976)
Freddie King is one of the greatest guitar players ever to pick up the instrument. He is often referred to as one of the “3 Kings” of the Blues guitar (the other two “Kings” being Albert and B.B.) Having grown up in Texas and then later moving to Chicago, Freddie created a unique and energetic style of blues guitar playing that blends his traditional southern blues roots and the new electrified blues style that Freddie helped establish in northern cities like Chicago during the 1950’s and 60’s.
What I like best about Freddie King’s music is the simplicity of his melodies. Freddie’s melodies are as clear and lyrical as they are innovative and soulful. He’s a great example of a guitarist who does a great many things with only a handful of notes. I chose Freddie King for this week’s Player Profile not only because I love his music, but because guitarists can learn so much from his fantastic gift for crafting melody. Freddie didn’t just play guitar solos, often his guitar sang the entire song.
Sadly, Freddie King died young at age 42. But his music lives on in his many recordings, including some great recordings of his live performances on television (see below). If you are a guitarist, no matter what style you play, I recommend that you not only listen to Freddie King’s music, but learn to play some of his solos and instrumental tunes. To help you get started I’ve posted my transcription of Freddie’s instrumental Top 40 hit “Hide Away”:
“Hide Away” is a simple melodic theme that is easy to play. Even guitarists who have only been playing a few weeks should be able to handle the first chorus. Over the 6 choruses that follow (each a standard 12-bar blues in E) Freddie masterfully moves his melodic theme all up and down the guitar neck making use of the E blues scale in various positions. Even advanced guitarists can learn a few very valuable lessons about phrasing, rhythm, how to use double-stops and how to blend Major and Minor pentatonic tonalities. It is pretty amazing how this simple tune can serve as a perfect illustration of all those stylistic concepts all at once!
This song sounds good with a bright, clean electric guitar sound. But you can also play it with a slight bit of overdrive so that it has some bite to it. From the video you can see that Freddie didn’t play this song with a traditional flat picking style. He used a plastic thumb pick and a metal finger pick on his index finger. I have always played this song with a regular pick and I find I can get it to sound just fine. If you do use a flat pick, I recommend you try hybrid picking the double-stop run in the 5th chorus with the pick and middle finger.
The most important thing is to get that swingin’ rhythm right. Practice one phrase at a time and listen to Freddie’s recording often as there are layers of nuance that you can add to your playing if you can unlock the feeling in Freddie’s articulation of these simple notes.