Guitar Licks You Should Know for Blues Beginners: Essential Riffs Explained

Learning to play blues guitar is an exciting journey that often begins with mastering a few essential licks.

These licks, or short sequences of notes, are the building blocks of blues music. For beginners, understanding and playing these licks can be the first step towards developing their own style and sound.


Starting with blues means getting a grasp of its expressive capabilities; it’s all about conveying emotion through your instrument. The versatility of blues allows guitarists to tell their own musical stories. While playing through these basic licks, you’ll not only improve your technical skills but also start to feel the rhythm and groove that make blues so unique. By practicing these licks, you’re also learning the language of blues which is universal in the world of guitar music.

Key Points

  • Mastering basic blues licks is essential for beginning guitarists.
  • These licks form the foundation for blues improvisation and soloing.
  • Practicing blues licks develops both technical skills and musical expression.

Getting Started with Blues Guitar

When I first picked up the guitar, the blues genre immediately caught my attention for its expressive depth and soulful melodies. Let me walk you through the foundational knowledge you need and the essential scales that give blues guitar its characteristic sound.

Understanding the Basics of Blues

Learning the blues starts with a solid grip on music theory basics, notably chord progressions and rhythmic patterns. The 12-bar blues is a classic progression that forms the backbone of countless blues songs. It typically involves the I, IV, and V chords of a given key. It’s also important to get comfortable with the idea of swing rhythm, which gives the blues its distinctive shuffle feel.

Essential Scales for Blues Guitar

To really express the blues, you’ll want to get familiar with the blues scale. This scale is a variation of the minor pentatonic scale with an added flat fifth note, often referred to as the “blue note.” The blues scale is fundamental to creating those soulful, wailing licks that are synonymous with blues guitar.

Here are the scales in tab form to show you the shapes on the fretboard:

  • Minor Pentatonic Scale: e|-----------------|-------------- B|-----------------|-------------- G|-----------------|---2-4-------- D|---------------2-|4------------- A|-------1-4-------|-------------- E|---1-4-----------|--------------
  • Blues Scale: e|-----------------|-------------- B|-----------------|-------------- G|---------------3-|-4------------ D|-------------3-4-|5------------- A|-------1-4-------|-------------- E|---1-4-----------|--------------

Both scales are movable to different keys, and getting these “shapes” under your fingers is key to playing fluid blues licks. Besides the minor pentatonic and blues scales, the major pentatonic scale is also useful, offering a brighter sound, often mixed with the minor pentatonic for a richer blues sound.

Top 5 Guitar Licks for Beginners

When I first started playing blues on the guitar, I discovered that a few key licks could really add some flavor to my playing. Here are the top five beginner-friendly licks that I believe every aspiring blues guitarist should know. They are not only easy to learn but also form the building blocks for more advanced playing.

  1. The Minor Pentatonic Box: This is the go-to scale for blues guitarists. A classic lick within this scale is simply walking down the scale in a descending order, starting from the root note and adding a slight bend on the third string. E|———————-
  2. The Blue Note Bend: To give your playing that sorrowful edge, bend the fourth note of the minor pentatonic up a half-step and release it back down – it’s a blues signature! E|—————–
  3. The Turnaround Lick: Often used at the end of a blues progression, this lick circles back to the beginning stylishly. E|—————–1–0–
  4. The Slide Up to the IV: This one’s used when transitioning from the I chord to the IV chord in the 12-bar blues. It provides a smooth movement up the neck. E|—————–
  5. The Double Stop: This technique involves playing two notes at the same time, often strings three and four at the same fret. It gives a fuller, more rhythmic sound. E|—————–

Core Blues Licks and Techniques

In this section, I’m going to share essential licks and techniques that form the backbone of blues guitar playing. From bending and vibrato to slide techniques and double stops, mastering these will help you express that authentic blues sound.

The Signature Blues Licks

One of the first licks I teach beginners is based on the minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the blue note (the b5th). This creates a classic blues sound. Here’s an example in the key of A:

  • A (Root)
  • C (Minor 3rd)
  • D (4th)
  • D# (Blue Note)
  • E (5th)
  • G (Minor 7th)

A standard lick might move through these notes with a triplet feel, incorporating slides, hammer-ons, and pull-offs to add expression:


Mastering Bending and Vibrato

Bends and vibrato are crucial in blues guitar. For a beginner, start with practicing half-step and whole-step bends on the B string, where bending is typically more manageable due to the string’s tension. Once you’ve got the bend under control, try adding vibrato by slightly oscillating the pitch up and down:

  • Half-step bend: Bend the note until it sounds one fret higher.
  • Whole-step bend: Bend the note until it sounds two frets higher.

To practice, play a note on the B string, bend it up to the target pitch, hold it, then apply vibrato:

B|-7b8-| < Whole-step bend from 7th fret (D to E)

Slide Techniques and Double Stops

The slide technique involves gliding from one note to another, creating a smooth transition that’s synonymous with the blues. You can start sliding between note pairs like the root to the third or fourth to the fifth. Pair this with double stops—playing two notes simultaneously—often using the 3rd interval for a thicker texture:

  • Slide: Pick a note and slide into the next without re-picking.
  • Double Stops: Play two notes at the same time for complexity.

A simple double stop with a slide in A might look like this:


Playing Your First Blues Solos

When I started with blues guitar, I quickly learned that creating solos is an exciting journey, piecing together licks and using phrasing to express my musical voice. Here’s how I approach crafting those initial solos.

Combining Licks into Solos

To build my first guitar solos, I start by mastering a selection of licks. I usually focus on the A minor pentatonic scale because it’s a cornerstone of blues lead playing. Here are some steps I follow:

  1. Learn Individual Licks: I learn licks from tabs or by ear, ensuring each lick is comfortable under my fingers.
  2. Memorize Licks: I make sure I can play them from memory, so I’m not thinking about the notes when combining them.
  3. Use a Backing Track: I play along with a slow blues backing track to practice fitting licks into the groove.
  4. Connect Licks: I experiment with connecting different licks to create a smooth flow.
A Minor Pentatonic Scale

By incorporating licks from this scale, I create my solos that sound authentic and emotionally resonant.

Improvisation and Phrasing

Improvisation is at the heart of blues guitar. I think of it as having a conversation:

  • Start Simple: I begin with simple phrases, much like introducing a topic.
  • Develop Ideas: I expand on the phrases, exploring variations and building on the initial theme.
  • Listen to the Backing: I pay close attention to the backing track or other instruments to find my place in the musical dialogue.
  • Leave Space: Good phrasing means not overcrowding; I let my solos breathe by leaving space between phrases.

I always remember that improvisation is about expression, not showing off technique. It’s about telling my story with the guitar. Using the electric guitar’s expressive capacity, I can bend notes, add vibrato, and use dynamics to enhance the emotive quality of my solos.

Frequently Asked Questions

Blues guitar licks are the building blocks to playing with soul and expression.

I’m here to guide you through some common queries beginners often have about getting those bluesy sounds under their fingers.

What are the essential blues guitar licks for a beginner to learn?

For starters, I find that the minor pentatonic scale is my go-to for blues licks. You’ll want to master the classic ‘box pattern’ for this scale and learn licks that involve bends, hammer-ons, and pull-offs within this framework.

How can I get started with learning easy blues licks on an acoustic guitar?

First, grasp the fundamental techniques like string bending and vibrato. Then, I recommend learning the pentatonic scale in open position. Starting with licks in this scale on an acoustic guitar can give you a foundation that’s transferable when playing electric.

Where can I find a PDF of beginner blues licks to practice?

There are many resources online where you can find beginner blues licks in PDF format. Look for reputable music education websites or online guitar communities that offer free materials suitable for beginners.

What techniques are important for playing blues licks on the guitar?

Playing blues licks on the guitar usually involves bending, vibrato, slides, and the occasional use of the trill. Getting these techniques right adds a lot of expressiveness to your blues playing.

How can I improve my blues guitar playing as a beginner?

To improve, consistency is key. Practice regularly, listen to blues legends for inspiration, and work on your timing by playing along with backing tracks. Don’t be afraid to record yourself and critique your playing to see where you can improve.

Are there any simple blues guitar tabs that I can start with?

Yes, many beginner-friendly blues tabs are available that highlight simple licks and riffs. These tabs often show popular and easy-to-learn blues progressions. They are great for understanding the structure of blues music.

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