My jaw drops when [insert guitar hero’s name] plays a blistering line up that covers the neck.
But I also love the raw delivery of a simple melody by someone like Mississippi Fred McDowell tune.
And that’s one thing that draws me and many blues lovers into Delta Blues:
I know that might term strike you as odd, so let me explain.
Delta Blues isn’t necessarily easy to play. I get that. And I know you can spend a lifetime unlocking the magic behind the early Delta sound. But it’s a perfect style for taking a simple idea that isn’t terribly difficult on the guitar and working it into something great.
So while Delta Blues has plenty of difficult parts, almost anyone can get started with the basics. Like when I played the example in Tuesday Blues #331 – Slow & Easy Delta Blues That Sounds Great almost exclusively with my thumb.
So, from a beginner to advanced player, there’s headroom to explore.
In this lesson, we’re going to step into some of that headroom by expanding the basics with three simple tips.
Tip 1: Make it Sing with Melody Notes
Keep the performance from Tuesday Blues #331 in mind as a baseline. We’ll expand from there.
Most of the 12 bar example in that lesson was played on the lower strings. This made the tune within reach of early intermediate players and gave the tune a darker sound. But what’s interesting is that the darker sound hits a little harder when there’s contrast.
So, first expand the tune by playing some higher notes during the riffs. You can do that with the addition of a single note like Example 1.
Let the open 1st string ring over everything else that you play. This adds to the overall sound but isn’t very difficult to play.
Since your thumb is busy with the lower strings, pluck the 1st string with any other finger you like. I used my index finger.
Expand this idea further by playing more notes on the higher strings like in Example 2 from Bar 6 in the performance (see the video above).
Notice how the low strings drop out entirely to make room for the higher notes. This is a great way to slowly build a melody while still keeping things simple.
Simple. Keep that in mind.
Complex stuff is fun, but zeroing in on simple ideas will help you grow as a player. Example 3 shows us how simplicity can serve a purpose.
The bars feature a simple connection in the final notes of the bar when the chord changes from E to B7.
We’re using two notes at the end of each measure to step into the chord changes.
This is an easy way to put the higher strings to work and expand the sound.
Tip 2: Change the Rhythm for a Subtle Impact
Most of the original example had the same rhythmic feel. Yes, there were eighth notes and triplets. But overall, the rhythm was fairly constant.
Try a simple departure from established rhythms to make a statement. One of my favorite examples of this is the ZZ Top style quarter note triplets in this lesson.
But bringing this back to the Delta…here’s Example 4.
Notice the quicker rhythm applied to the final notes of Example 4. The previous measures ended with an eighth note triplet. This is a subtle change, but one you notice.
Tip 3: Add Licks Before the Chord Changes
Another great way to expand the basic Delta Blues sound we learned in Tuesday Blues #331 is to add a few licks.
But here in Example 5, we’re increasing the intensity and playing a rhythmic lick just before the chord changes.
The bars just before a chord change – I call them Setup Bars – are excellent spots to play a lick.
It can build momentum and move the tune along.
The lick you play doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, a simple MicroLick can do the job. But you can also take this and run with it!
You Can Use These Tips at Any Level
Maybe some of these examples are out of reach for you right now. That’s ok, you can still put the tips into action.
Work on a lesson like Tuesday Blues 331 first. Then start small and add one single high note to the bar.
Remember, the Blues doesn’t have to be complicated to play to sound good.
But, if you’re finding these examples easy, then find ways to take these tips to the next level. Explore more of the headroom with:
- Longer licks
- Different chord voicings
- More intricate rhythms
That’s what I love about the Blues…
There’s something here for all of us.