Learn This Beginner Blues Guitar Riff

The blues and boogie-woogie are both popular musical styles that originated in the African American communities of the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Though popular in their original forms, these styles eventually played huge roles in the development of various genres of music, particularly jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. And, in turn, these movements birthed some of the most iconic blues and rock guitar riffs. Follow along with guitarist and educator, Jeff McErlain as he walks you through learning a variation of blues’ most recognizable guitar riff.

A Blues Guitar Riff To Get You Started!

What is a 12-bar blues?

The 12-bar blues is a specific chord progression that forms the foundation for countless blues songs. It consists of three four-bar segments, and each segment follows a specific chord pattern. The basic structure is as follows:

  1. The first four bars (often referred to as the “first line”) typically use the I chord (the “tonic” or root chord of the key). For example, if the song is in the key of A, the I chord would be A.
  2. The next two bars (the “second line”) move to the IV chord (the subdominant). In the key of A, the IV chord would be D.
  3. The next two bars (the “third line”) return to the I chord.
  4. The final four bars (the “fourth line”) use the V chord (the dominant). In the key of A, the V chord would be E.

We use roman numerals to represent this progression. Those roman numerals typically look like this: I-IV-I-V-IV-I, indicating the chord sequence. The 12-bar blues structure provides a framework for improvisation, allowing musicians to express their own style while staying within a recognizable form.

What is boogie-woogie?

Boogie-woogie, on the other hand, is a piano-based style characterized by a strong, repetitive bass pattern and syncopated melodies. It emerged in the early 20th century and was known for its energetic qualities. While boogie-woogie is primarily associated with piano, it didn’t take long for it to extend to guitar playing as well.

In boogie-woogie guitar riffs, the guitarist usually adapts the piano bass line to the guitar’s lower strings. They often use a combination of palm muting, slides, and rhythmic patterns to mimic the piano’s rhythmic drive. The right hand employs a technique called “strumming in triplets,” emphasizing the swing feel that defines boogie-woogie. Though boogie-woogie guitar riffs can vary in complexity, they always involve a strong emphasis on rhythm and groove.

For more Jeff McErlain guitar lessons and a massive library of Song Lessons, check out JamPlay.com! JamPlay has over 450 guitar courses from 120+ instructors, and online guitar lessons tailored to every skill level, music genre, and playing style. Click here to learn more.

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