Blues 6 - Soloing - Expression


In this lesson on playing Blues guitar, i'll discuss various ways to make your blues playing more expressive. Expression is one of the most important aspects in Blues. Some of the guitar articulations and inflections that are used in other genres of music today have their origin in the Blues.

Here are the most important techniques that allow you to manipulate your notes and give your playing a Bluesy sound...



Bending strings and blues go hand in hand. Every single blues player uses it. Bending can be seen as an imitation of what singers do when they glide from one note to the next.


The usual notes which are bent in the pentatonic minor scale, are on the G, B and E strings:


In the A blues, using the A pentatonic minor (index finger on 5th fret), you can do a full bend on the following notes:


4th to 5th: Ring finger, 7th fret, G-string.


flat 7th to root: Ring finger (not pinky when bending, because it's too weak)


flat 3rd to 4th: 8th fret, B-string. Ring finger (instead of pinky), 8th fret, high E-string.


Bending - Blue notes

Normally a bend can make a note a half tone higher, a whole tone higher or one and a half tone higher. However, in Blues, there's something called blue notes. These are bent notes that are not quite 'in tune', but they just sound really good. The technical term for this is microtonal bend.

The three blue notes are:

- The flat third. Has to be bent slightly, into a blue note, lower than the major third. In an A blues, play the C note on the fifth fret of the G-string, with your index finger. Now bend that note slightly, less than a half tone. What you get is a blue note. Be careful not to release the bend, but mute the note to end it. Guthrie Govan explains why in a video, from 3m08 onwards..

- The fourth can be bent slighty, into a blue note. Bend less then a half tone so it's sounds lower then the flat fifth of the scale. On an A blues, using the A minor pentatonic: Ring finger, 7th fret, G-string.

- The sixth can be bent into a blue tone as well. Slightly bend this note (again, blues in A): ring finger, 7th fret, B-string.


What makes blue notes sound good is not the final note but the BENDING itself, the sound of the note going up in pitch.


Double bend

A double bend is tricky to do, but can sound very cool powerful. Jimi Hendrix and Gary Moore (listen here, from 6m51) do this a lot.
A great double bend is achieved by putting the ring finger flat on both G- and B-strings, picking both strings, followed by bending both strings downwards. In A pentatonic minor, this gives you TWO blues notes at once!
It take some practise to achieve control when double bending, but it's worth it!



Vibrato is a great sound on the guitar. On the guitar, vibrato is achieved by wiggling the finger on the string so that the string moves slightly up and down over the fret, causing the note to go up and down in pitch.

When making a vibrato, let your whole hand turn back and forth, slightly, from the wrist. It's difficult at first but it will come. Blues players, famous for their vibrato, are BB King and Albert Collins.

blues guitar - Dereck Trucks hits hard during his solos
Derek Trucks has a great finger attack. A similar sound can achieved with a pick rake attack.


Vibrato bend

A vibrato bend is a note that is bent first and then given vibrato while sustaining. It's a very dramatic and effective technique. The result has to sound in tune, which requires a lot of control from the guitar player.

Gary moore, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana are masters of the Vibrato bend.


First make sure you can succesfully bend and use vibrato, before attempting this.



You can either slide into a targeted note, or sustain a note followed by a slide up or slide down. This sounds cool and rather unexpected.


A famous slide technique in blues guitar is trademark BB King: playing a very high note and sliding down quickly (in this video: 1m41).


Try to slide up to a note with the ring finger and bend it up immediately, a very cool blues guitar trick.


Pick rake attack
Sometimes you want to give a note a very agressive sound. This is done by hitting the note you want very hard, together with one or more muted strings. The free fingers of the left hand are used to mute the strings next to the fretted note.

Dereck Trucks does this a lot (although he uses his fingers instead of a pick) and has one of the most dramatic attacks in guitar playing. Check him out!


Dynamics - guitar volume
Another way to make your playing expressive is to change the volume of your guitar during your Blues solo. Try playing a very soft passage with the guitar volume turned down, followed by a hard-hitting lick with full volume!


Changing your guitar's volume works especially well when you have your amp or effects pedals set for a medium overdriven sound. This way, with the guitar volume down, you'll have a clean sound, a volume up will give you full overdrive! You can really floor an audience with this kind of stuff.


Michael Landau is an undisputed Master of using guitar volume to achieve expressive dynamics in his Blues playing.


Practice all these techniques and see if you can slip them into your improvised Blues solos, it's a lot of fun! See you next lesson!!


Albert Collins soloing with Bluesy expression
Albert Collins uses raw expression in his Blues and takes no prisoners.