I want to learn guitar and I listen to the blues with just a little bit of folk and rock.

When I talk to people at local businesses, they ask me whether I want to learn Classical or Rock guitar. Frankly, neither interests me all that much, as I love my some Blues. If I tell them that I want to learn to play Blues, I usually get a long-suffering sigh or get the question repeated back to me in short simple words.

What answer must I provide these people so that I can get my message across?


2 Answers 2


Are you asking how to learn blues guitar or how to explain to people that you want to learn blues guitar? Your question seems to be asking the latter, but your title suggests the former.

When most people lump guitar playing into classical and rock; or classical, rock, and folk; they are not really making a distinction between the musical styles as much as between the playing styles.

Think of it this way: imagine seeing three pictures: a person playing classical guitar, a person playing rock guitar, and a person playing folk guitar. Are your mental pictures different - to the point where it is easy to recognize which is which? That is because each style is defined partially by its component physical techniques and disciplines, such as sitting/standing position, right-hand technique, and the type of guitar used.

Now imagine seeing two more pictures: a person playing rock guitar, and a person playing blues guitar. Are these two different enough to easily recognize which is which? If they are, I would bet it is less due to actual differences in the style and more due to stereotypes we hold about the styles. For example, some electric guitars seem less bluesy than others, and although I would certainly say that some guitars have tone/action better suited to blues, our stereotypes tend to center more around body style.

In this regard, playing blues guitar is playing rock guitar - just with an emphasis on certain techniques and a certain musical style. Many rock bands are really just playing blues riffs and blues solos with slightly less bluesy drums & vocals.

For most people, the specifics of what you are playing is less distinctive. For example, if I were to play a Bach lute suite on an electric guitar, using a pick and the whole nine yards, most people would say I was playing rock guitar, not classical guitar. The visual aspects are more relevant to the opinion than the aural aspects.

So basically, if telling people you want to play blues is not clear enough, then telling them you are interested in rock guitar will get your point across. You would not be lying and it really doesn't commit you to playing anything you don't choose to play regardless.

  • 2
    Another approach to take would be to give the shop examples of the musicians whose style you want to learn to emulate. This may help them guide you toward specific guitars and amplifiers that will help shape your sound into what you want (though as with any instrument it's really down to the player to make it sound "right").
    – voretaq7
    Mar 15, 2012 at 17:48
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    +1 for giving examples. I did not put 2 and 2 together to realize that the business mentioned in the question might actually be music/guitar shops. I would hope that anyone working in a guitar shop would understand the different nuances between rock and straight blues, but you never know...
    – tpburch
    Mar 15, 2012 at 17:57
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    Unfortunately Dumb and Dumber seems to be the hiring standard at music shops these days - at least the big ones. If you have a small local shop that actually knows... anything ...then you're ahead of the game :-)
    – voretaq7
    Mar 15, 2012 at 17:59
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    NOTE: there is no one defining guitar type for playing the blues. You can play blues on any guitar although the typical ones are: flat top with steel strings, solid body electric (strats, SG, PRS), semi-hollow body electric (Lucille), slide guitar both electric and non-electric, doboro.
    – filzilla
    Mar 15, 2012 at 18:15
  • @tpburch Yes to both, I suppose. I want to learn to Play The Blues and I need to figure out how to beat that concept through the pretension exhibited at the guitar shops. +1 for 'Lucille' style. I love me some BB King.
    – Magellan
    Mar 15, 2012 at 21:21

If you want to learn blues guitar the first thing a teacher is going to ask you is what experience do you have on the guitar so far? Maybe you've never picked up a guitar, then they might ask you if you have any musical training: piano? voice? other?

Then they might want you to show them some of the more interesting things you can play, just some samples so they can evaluate your present skill level.

The next thing they should ask you is what Blues Guitarists are you interested in? This could be anyone from Robert Johnson to Albert Collins.

If you don't know? Then you need to do some homework. Here's a list of blues musicians you should listen to and get a sense of history (1920's to present) not just guitar either.

Pine Top Smith (piano, boogie), Robert Johnson, Lead Belly, T-Bone Walker, Freddy King, Muddy Waters, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, and Buddy Guy

And this is just the tip of the ice berg, here's some more: http://www.digitaldreamdoor.com/pages/best_bluesguitar.html

In any musical instrument instruction you should receive some of the following: theory, history, technical exercises (such as scales, arpeggios, chords, positions), expressive elements (vibrato, tremelo, bending notes, slurs, slides, hammer ons, etc), learn pieces, play duets, play solos, play in an ensemble.

Update and edit based on comments:

"Love me some BB King and John Lee Hooker." and "...still read sheet music for choral singing having done a few years of cornet in middle school..."

So you have some great tools to work with and a focus on who you like.

Some people will argue that reading music will not help, but since there are a number of people who have transcribed earlier blues music your sight reading skills will be of use. For the most part, like folk music, much of blues is by ear, so ear training is recommended as well. Don't worry, any good music school would teach both ear training and reading skills. Most professional blues players that I know personally play by ear, and can learn a 'riff' or 'lick' almost instantly. A combination of good ear training, knowing the guitar finger board up and down, and some natural talent is all good.

Your experience with the cornet will assist in understanding melody and expression.

  • Thanks! Love me some BB King and John Lee Hooker. The stuff after 1970 is okay, but it doesn't reach in and grab me.
    – Magellan
    Mar 15, 2012 at 21:04
  • And yeah, I can mostly still read sheet music for choral singing having done a few years of cornet in middle school. But that's about it.
    – Magellan
    Mar 15, 2012 at 21:14
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    Another concept to learn about playing blues with an electric guitar is that the vast majority of pro players will tell you that your 'tone' is based on the combination of both the guitar and the amp--most lean heavily on the old Fender tube amps from the 50's and 60's. There are a ton of folks that are building replicas of these today. Tube amp building is not a lost art, it has exploded in the last 20 years.
    – filzilla
    Mar 15, 2012 at 22:29
  • oops, an omission. Blues 'tone' for an electric guitar is based on the three things: Guitar, Amp, and your touch!
    – filzilla
    Mar 15, 2012 at 22:53

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