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.