10 Easy Blues Guitar Licks For Beginners

QUICK HIT: Leigh Fuge of MGR Music digs into 10 interesting and helpful lead blues guitar licks, ideal for beginners or novice blues guitar players looking for an injection of practice ideas.

Have you ever wanted to play the blues but didn’t know where to start? In this lesson, I will show you 10 basic lead blues licks you can incorporate into your personal repertoire. Next time you’re thrown into a blues jam, you can pull them out and apply the patterns.

Before we start, I am going to assume you know the Minor Pentatonic scale. For this lesson I will be using the Minor Pentatonic scale in the key of A Minor. 

When I play blues, I always aim to make the guitar as vocal as possible. – Leigh Fuge

To build all 10 blues guitar licks, I’ll use the first two shapes of the minor pentatonic scale. For reference, here are both those shapes:

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Blues Shape #1

Blues Lick #1 (fixed)

First pentatonic minor scale shape in the key of A.

Blues Shape #2

Blues Shape #2

Second pentatonic minor scale shape.

While the licks in this lesson are all in the key of A Minor, they are transposable, meaning you can perform each lick, in any position and any key, by sticking with the Minor Pentatonic framework.

These will also work in the major key with the relevant Major Pentatonic shapes.

Blues Lick #1

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First Blues Lick (fixed)

First example lick with three full bends on triplet patterns at the seventh fret position.

This lick stays within the first position of the Minor Pentatonic scale. It starts with a full tone bend on the G string 7th fret, up to the pitch of the 9th fret.

Technique and Mechanics

Remember to bend with your third finger and provide support with your first and second fingers, this will help with the pitch control. The bend is followed by two notes on the B string, the 5th fret and 8th fret. This three-note grouping is then repeated. The three-note groupings occupy a single beat each in a triplet feel (1 2 3 2 2 3)

This is followed by a further 7th fret full tone bend on the G string and ends on the 5th fret.

Blues Lick #2

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Second Blues Lick#2

Second example lick with three full bends at the eighth fret position.

This lick starts with two notes on the 5th fret of the E and B strings, you might find it easier to barre these two notes with the first finger, then you’ll be jumping to the 8th fret on the E for a series of three successive bends.

Beat and Timing

The first two bends are a full beat each (quarter note) and the third bend is half the length (eighth note) as it jumps back to the 5th fret to end.

Blues Lick #3

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Third example lick with three triplets.

This lick is repeated triplets on the E and B strings. As with the previous lick, you can barre the 8th fret here with your first finger. You’ll be picking the B string at the 8th fret, before hammering onto the 10th fret and then picking the 8th fret of the E string.

Barring?

Holding the 8th fret notes down with your first finger removes the need to jump your hand around. It’s a typical Eric Clapton style lick, and can be heard in a lot of his solos from the Cream era.

Blues Lick #4

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Fourth blues lick example, walking down the minor pentatonic pattern.

Here is a descending pentatonic lick using the first shape. It starts on the E with a pull off from the 8th fret to the 5th, this pattern is then repeated on the B string. Each pull of phrase lasts one beat as these are eighth notes. This is followed by a quarter note, full step bend on the 7th fret and ending on the 5th fret.

Blues Lick #5

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Fifth blues lick example using two bends within the pentatonic minor pattern.

This lick is something that will really get your fingers moving through the scale shape.

Pull Off and Bends Best Practices

Start with a bend on the 7th fret of the G string followed by the 5TH frets on the B and E strings (As with previous examples, you can barre those notes for ease of playing). This is followed by a pull off from the 8th fret of the B to the 5th. You could keep the barre in place for this also so that all you need to do is move one finger to play the 8th fret for the pull off. The lick ends with a full tone bend on the 8th fret of the B string.

This lick is quite busy so be sure to slow it down and take your time to nail the picking.

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Blues Lick #6

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Sixth blues lick example with 16th notes and full bends at the seventh fret.

Here is a Jimmy Page style repeating lick. It’s great for playing fast or slow. One of my favorite uses for a lick like this is to start it slower and increase the speed.

Pull Offs, 16th notes & General Mechanics

Start with a full tone bend on the 7th fret of the G followed by the 5th fret on the B and then a pull off from the 8th fret to the 5th fret. This repeated lick is grouped into sixteenth notes, so you’ll be shooting for four notes per beat. Once you’ve repeated these three times (As per this example) you can end on a run up from a 7th fret bend on the G, 5th fret on the B and a full tone bend on the 8th fret of the B.

The initial repeated line can be played as many times as you desire.

I like to use repeating licks like this in my own playing and increase the speed before hitting the final run as quickly as possible without missing notes.

Blues Lick #7

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Seventh blues lick example with pull offs and triplets.

Another Jimmy Page style lick here, this time pull offs played in a triplet feel, meaning you’ll be hitting three notes per beat. You should barre the 5th fret on the E and B strings with your first finger and play the 8th fret with your third or fourth fingers.

Blues Lick #8

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Eighth Blues Lick

Eighth blues lick example.

This lick is a great introduction to the second shape of the Minor Pentatonic scale. It’s full of Albert King flavor (you may also recognize these types of licks from Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing).

Mechanical Advice 

Lead with your third finger and slide up to the 10th fret of the B string. On the E string you’ll then be playing the 8th and 10th fret before hitting the 10th fret again for a full tone bend. This is followed by a quarter tone bend on the 8th fret with your first finger before the final two descending notes.

A Little About Quarter Note (Tone) Bends

Quarter tone bends are not as reliant on accuracy as other types. You can perform this with just your first finger and a slight curling movement. You aren’t targeting another pitch with a bend this small, you are just adding a slight vocalization to your playing. Try the lick with and without that small bend and you will see a difference.

Blues Lick #9

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Ninth blues lick example.

When I was learning the blues guitar style, the most important figure for me was BB King. This is a lick straight out of King’s vocabulary.

BB King’s Bend Style & Technique

Start with a pair of quarter tone bends on the E string followed by a descending scale run. I’ve added a pull off from the 9th to the 7th fret of the G string as they should be played a little faster to allow the final note to ring a little longer, but you can apply your own timings to this and make it sing.

BB King was the master of taking a few notes and telling a story with them.

Blues Lick #10

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10th Blues Lick

10th blues lick example.

This final lick slightly emulates a bottleneck style slide guitar sound.

Lead with your middle finger for the slide up to the 9th fret on the G. You’ll then use your first finger to play the 8th fret of the B before going back to the 9th on G. Best practice would be to place both fingers down to allow you to easily play both notes. Dig in a little with your pick here to simulate that dirty slide guitar style tone.

Summary and Conclusion

These licks will be a helpful addition to your practice sessions. 

If you’re new to the blues style, or you’ve been playing for a while and want to learn some new ideas, take some of these blues guitar licks and incorporate them into your own playing. Try them at different tempos and even apply your own phrasing to make them suit various types of blues playing styles.

The most important thing with blues guitar playing is to make the notes sing and not to over-complicate what you’re doing.

When I play blues, I always aim to make the guitar as vocal as possible (this is where the quarter tone bends come in use) and capture all those small pitch influxes that a vocalist would naturally have in their voice.

The blues isn’t about flash. It’s about emotion, nuance and style.

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