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How to Play Smoking Hot Blues Guitar Licks In Any Key, All Over The Fretboard, In One Easy Lesson

Updated on June 25, 2013

Start right here:

Want to play smoking hot blues guitar licks? What do you need to know?

The pentatonic scale.

What key you're in.

Where the root note is.

And you're all set.

The blues scale

The blues scale in E at the bottom of the fretboard.
The blues scale in E at the bottom of the fretboard.

The basics

The diagram shows the blues pentatonic scale in E at the nut of the guitar. The notes of the scale are E G A B D and E. E is the root note. The chords in the blues progression in E are E major, E7, A major, B7, played in this sequence:

E / / / | E / / / | E / / / | E / / / | A / / / | A / / / | E / / / | E / / / | B7 / / / | A / / / | E / / / | E / / / |

Blues scale

A blues pentatonic scale can be played at five places on the fretboard before the pattern begins to repeat at the 12th fret.

The first one goes like this:


Box I

This scale is in E. If you wanted to play it in, say, F, then all you would have to do is transpose all the tabs up one fret. The beauty of it is this: learn the scale once, and you've learned it for every key. All you have to do is move it around.

But scales aren't licks

Indeed they're not - but inside the scales there are powerful musical phrases, and these are what you want to play.  Check out the video to see how you can pull a musical phrase out of the simple pentatonic scale. (You're going to have to bend a note for this one.)

Here's the tab:


If you've never used tab before, and you're scratching your head right now, think of it as music notation for musical illiterates like me. The lines represent the strings of your guitar, as it appears when you play it. The bottom line is the bass E string, the top line the top E.

Blues scale in E

How to play it

This phrase starts on the G string at fret 2. Hit the note (A) and bend it up a whole tone so that it sounds like it would if you played the note on fret 4 (B). Leave the string bent and hold the note. Then play the note on the B string at fret 3 (D). Then play the bent G string again and let it bend back down. Play the open G string. Then play the D string at fret 2(E). Play it open (D). Then play the D string at fret 2(E) again.

Recognize any of that? Keep playing it. If you find the bend a bit hard on your finger, try sliding the note up from the 2 fret to the 4, and back down.

The blues scale on the fretboard

There are more places on the fretboard where you can play the blues scale before the pattern starts to repeat itself at the 12th fret. Here are two more:


Box 2


Box 3

Hot blues tip:

When you find a hot blues lick you like the sound of, it's a great idea to play it all over the fretboard. Find out where the notes are and play it in every position. This will help you gain mastery over the frets and give you more choice when you come to compose or improvise lead guitar solos. Also, turn it upside down and inside out - try putting one of the notes up or down an octave, or play it back to front. Wring everything you can out of it.

Blues note riffs

Two more scale patterns

Here are positions four and five:


Box 4


Box 5

How to pull licks out of the blues scale

There are several ways to pull licks out of the blues scale. The first is to listen to the great blues guitarists and steal their licks. Find one you like and work out how to play it. Don't be bashful. Chances are, that's exactly what they did.

The second way is to mess around with the blues scale. Take three notes from it and play them. Change the order. Try picking apart a chord from the sequence and playing the notes from it, then change to another inversion and play that. Keep listening, and every time you come up with a lick you like, make a note of it: record it on audio or video, or write down the tab.

The more you familiarize yourself with the scale, the more of its secrets it will give up.

A third way is to learn some other scales and add them to the mix. Blues doesn't just rely on one strict set of notes. Try mixing in major scale licks from country guitar, or minor scale flourishes from Spanish guitar. Whatever sounds good. One of the best things about the blues is that, being so simple, it can absorb other styles and musical influences easily and naturally.

You're on your way

And that's how you get started. The simple chord structure of the blues makes it ideal for someone just starting to learn how to play the guitar, but the depth and intricacy that is available when you begin to play lead guitar makes it a playground for the virtuoso guitarist. There's a recorded legacy of great blues guitar music going back years. If you're serious about playing blues guitar, and you want to play smoking hot blues guitar licks, listen to the greats and take from them everything you can. That's what Clapton and Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn did.


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    john m 5 years ago

    Thankyou for the great posting and lesson, I don't know if I will ever be able to master the boxes, Got #1 ok . Work on the 2ns I guess

  • geoffco23 profile image

    geoffco23 5 years ago from Mansfield, UK

    Thanks. Appreciated. It's a great time to be learning to play, what with YouTube and online lessons.

  • sparkster profile image

    Sparkster Publishing 5 years ago from United Kingdom

    Pretty cool hub, I wouldn't have been able to put this into words any better.

  • blues lessons profile image

    blues lessons 6 years ago

    Blues guitar has so many different styles. There's a huge number of ways to play the blues. Even though I lean towards the classic acoustic blues men, a select few of the present day 'legends', such as Buddy Guy also impress me. Genius is genius, no matter when it was created. In my opinion, it seems that the best music of today has it's roots in acoustic blues, that's why I keep keep going back to that music. You can detect the sounds of Broonzy and others in all present day rock. Additionally, Piedmont guitar can be heard in some jazz. Students starting to learn blues guitar would be advised to begin from the beginning and progress until they find their passion.