How to Play Beginner Blues Guitar Solos

There is a lot of information available on playing blues guitar solos, but where do you start if you’re just beginning? You could spend ages learning and memorizing scales, scale positions, boxes, patterns, bends, slides, hammers and so on. But what you want is to have some fun jammin’ the blues, right?

So to get you off to a quick and simple start, here’s a lesson that shows you a minimal set of notes you can use to start playing beginner blues guitar solos right away.

12 Bar Blues Recap

In this lesson we’ll learn how to play some easy blues guitar solo licks over a blues in E major. Before we look at the licks, let’s make sure you know the E major blues, shown below with the E7, A7 and B7 chords.

/ E7 / E7 / E7 / E7 / A7 / A7 / E7 / E7 / B7 / A7 / E7 / B7 /

To practice blues solos over this progression record yourself as you play it using any chord shape you want.

Beginner Blues Guitar Solo Position

Blues player most commonly use the minor pentatonic scale to play their blues guitar solos. If that all sounds like Greek to you that’s because it is. Penta is Greek for five – the scale has five notes, and tonic is a note. As we’ll see you don’t have to speak any more Greek to use it.

The five notes of the blues scale repeat many times on the guitar fretboard, which can confuse you. To keep things simple in this lesson we’re going to look at just one occurrence of each note, right up near the end of the neck close to the open chord positions you’re probably familiar with.

The fretboard diagram below shows the notes of the E pentatonic scale: the root note E (marked R), the b3 (pronounced flat third), the 4, 5 and finally the b7 (flatted seventh).

1    |---|---|---|---|
2    |---|---|---|---|
3 b3 |---|-4-|---|-5-|
4 b7 |---|-R-|---|---|
5    |---|---|---|---|
6    |---|---|---|---|

Use your index finger to play the R and 4 notes and your ring finger to play the 5. The b3 and b7 are played on the open 3rd and 4th strings.

Example Blues Licks

Now you have some basic blues note positions, but how do you make a solo with them? The answer is, make up licks with the notes and play them one after another.

A lick is a short sequence of notes. You can think of the five pentatonic notes as the letters of your musical alphabet, and licks are like the words or phrases you create by combining these letters. This might sound complicated, but it’s actually really easy because unlike a language like English there are virtually no spelling mistakes in the blues.

The easiest way to get the hang of this is to take a look at some example licks.

We’re going to use guitar tab notation, this presents the six strings of the guitar, lowest string at the bottom, and marks the fret number to play on each string. Read the tab from left to right and play the indicated notes one after another. The beats are marked above the tab lines.

Blues Solo Lick 1

   1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &
1 --------------------------
2 --------------------------
3 -------------------0------
4 ----0--0-h2--0-h2-----2---
5 --------------------------
6 --------------------------

Blues Solo Lick 2

   1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &
1 --------------------------
2 --------------------------
3 -------2--4--2--0---------
4 -2-----------------2~~~~~-
5 --------------------------
6 --------------------------

Blues Solo Lick 3

     1  &  2  &  3  &  4  &
1 --------------------------
2 --------------------------
3 -2h4---2h4---2h4--4-------
4 ---------------------2~~~~
5 --------------------------
6 --------------------------

Put It Together

Practice these licks until you can play them comfortably and in time. Then you can build a solo by stringing them together over the 12 bar blues progression. Once you’ve mastered these make up new licks of your own using the five notes, try any idea you like to discover how it sounds.

That’s it, you’re on your way to becoming a blues guitar player.