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12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 4: Accenting the Backbeats

12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar — Lesson 4: Accenting the Backbeats

Welcome to 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar, a lesson series designed to give you a solid foundation in this essential style. I previously showed you how to use rhythmic contrast by applying different note values—quarter notes, eighths, and triplets—over different beats. In this lesson, I’ll demonstrate how to improve your blues playing by accenting the offbeats, all on a one-chord groove in E.

Start with the foundation, picking steady quarter notes with your thumb, as shown in Example 1. The offbeats, often called the “ands,” are what come in between all of the downbeats, or the strong beats. Holding down a partial A chord form (barring strings 3 and 4 with your first finger), try adding double-stops on the “ands” (Example 2). For the proper groove, be sure to cut off the sound of each double-stop by relaxing your grip just after you pick the notes.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, try adding a bit of emphasis on the “and” of beat 4 and letting the chord ring through the next measure, as notated in Example 3. That sustained push really lends momentum—especially when you pick the “and” of 4 a little harder. Once you’re comfortable with this basic groove, it’s time to add some bluesy notes—namely, the flatted third (G) and the flatted seventh (G), on strings 5 and 6, respectively (Example 4). And as depicted in Example 5, to take things to the next level, try inserting a triplet-eighth-note move, from the minor third (G) to the major (G#) to the chord.

If you want to start adding some single-note licks, the first step is to lay down the groundwork and play a third-string A on the “ands” (Example 6). From there, you can add a little lick that includes the sixth (F#) and flatted seventh (G) notes of the A chord, as shown in Example 7. To turn it into a call-and-response pattern, see Example 8, in which the ending of the first phrase goes up to G (bar 2, “and” of beat 2) , while that of the second phrase goes down to E (bar 4, “and” of beat 2).

Once you’ve mastered all of the above moves, try Example 9, which ties together this lesson’s concepts—chords on the offbeats, eighth-note triplets on beat 4, bluesy single-note lines, etc. This is just one way to add that great offbeat groove into your playing. Whenever you’re just sitting on a chord, you can pass through lots of cool variations. And remember the all-important foundation—always make sure that the bass notes remain rock-steady when you’re emphasizing the offbeats.

David Hamburger is a composer, guitarist, and instructor based in Austin, Texas.

We hope you enjoyed the fourth lesson in 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar. We’ll be releasing a new lesson in this series each month. Can’t wait? Support Acoustic Guitar on Patreon and you’ll get access to all twelve video lessons right now!

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