There is not much music theory needed to play this style of music, but there are still a few basics that must be understood.
As I mentioned in the previous post, blues is typically played in 5 different keys: A, C, D, E, and G.
Although some blues songs are only played with 1 chord, most are played with 3 chords. To play songs with 3 chords, you will need to learn the I chord, the IV chord, and the V chord.
Below is a handy reference chart which breaks down the I, IV, and V chord based off the key:
Essentially, most blues songs are based around a certain chord. Let’s say it’s an A chord. If we are going to base a song around a certain chord, that means we are playing the song in that key.
Based on the chart above, in order to play a 3 chord song in the key of A, you will also need to learn the D chord and E chord.
If you look at the chart above, you will see you will need to learn to at least one B chord and F chord.
Luckily, nearly every country blues player (and most folk and country players) used a form of the F chord with no barre, and played an easy to fret B7 chord instead of B major.
If you are comfortable with how progressions work, take a look at this post to see diagrams of the chords you’ll need to know.
A front porch gem.
This song’s droning and persistent bass line reminds me of blues music from the Northern Mississippi Hill country.
You can sit on the groove of this song all day, spinning up variations and just playing the main riff. The underlying groove is just a template for you to experiment upon.
But the best part of this whole song is that you can play it with only your thumb!
This song is a perfect way to practice varying the bass movement in an alternating bass setting (but you also learn an amazing song in the process).
The basic song is structured around a E chord. The E chord should look like this:
I would suggest holding down the full E chord while you play the song instead of just the relevant notes. A lot of times you’re hitting more than just the note tabbed out. Making sure those extra strings harmonize with what you are hitting is key.
For the verse, use your pinky to grab the 3rd fret on the 6th string. Begin to see if you can bend it with just your pinky to get that nice slurred sound that is essential to the blues.
It may be best to start this song by learning the verse. Getting the groove into your hands will prepare you for tackling the bass runs.
When you’re mastering the underlying groove, think about it like a drum beat.
Once you’ve gotten the song under your hands and can play it in your sleep, throw in some bass line variations or treble runs.
If you need some ideas, check out Lightnin’ Hopkins’ or Corey Harris’ version.
This song was recorded by Robert Petway in 1941. Here’s the version mine is based on. Catfish Blues is also a master class in blues vocals:
A lot of really great songs are based around 1 chord. If you can master this one, check out Rolling Stone Blues by Robert Wilkins:
If you’ve got your alternating bass technique locked in, try adding melody notes on top.