Guitar Tips and Lessons: Texas Blues Basics

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Summer 2020 Issue

Austin, TX, is a hotbed for music. All the mojo and vibe of this city resonates through some of its famed residents. Over the years, it has been home to many amazing artists, and some of its homegrown talent have made waves in the blues scene.

Modern-day blues hero Gary Clark Jr. hails from Austin, while Jimmy Vaughan (older brother of Stevie Ray), though born in Dallas, based himself out of Austin. The Canadian blues guitarist Sue Foley is also an Austin resident. Texas was, and still is, a fantastic place to be if you love the blues.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at some Texas blues and get into that southern groove.

Before we get started, let’s talk about the rhythm that we need to keep in mind here. Texas blues is heavily associated with a triplet feel shuffle. Though some of these examples may appear to be written as eighth notes, you play them with a triplet feel.

1 & a 2 & a 3 & a 4 & a* 

Most of the notes fall on the beat and on the “a.” Where the notation shows a triplet, it’s played as three notes per beat. Where it shows eighth notes, it’s two notes per beat played with a triplet feel.

Example 1

This is a typical Stevie Ray Vaughan-style rhythm part. It covers two bars of your typical twelve-bar progression. This example is in the key of E, but it can be transposed anywhere you wish if you use a capo.

You’ll notice a muted strike between each note: these happen on the “a” of the triplet feel and are best played on the up stroke.

(* Editor’s note: Method books commonly count triplets as “1-trip-let, 2-triplet, 3-trip-let, 4-triplet.” Reason: to avoid confusion with the combination of one eighth and two sixteenth notes, which is counted as “1-&-a.” But saying the word “triplet” can feel clunky, especially in faster tempos, so musicians tend to count triplets in a lot of different ways.)

Example 2

The triplet feel can even cross over into the lead guitar world. This lead line is a high energy line that is quite simple to get to grips with once you get the rhythmic feel under your hands.

The first two bars are identical, play these with a triplet feel. The slide from the third to the fifth fret on the B string takes place on the first beat.

The second half of the lick is played with exactly the same feel, except you’re moving backward down the E minor pentatonic scale with some string bends slotted in at the start of the first and third beats.

Example 3

Each beat across this entire example contains three notes per beat. You’re still following the triplet feel, but now you’re playing every single note across the triplet.

The opening bar is one triplet lick repeated on each beat. To play this, barre the E and B strings at the twelfth fret with your index finger. Use your ring finger to perform the bend on the G string. Don’t forget to support the bend with your middle finger.

Example 4

More triplets here in this open string-heavy lick: this follows the E minor pentatonic in the open position, with the additional first fret on the G string added.

In the descending run in the second bar, you’ll notice that the pattern between the first and second triplets is identical, except that you move to the next pair of strings. The quarter tone bends at the start of these are just a little pitch alteration to add a vocal quality to the run.

Example 5

Many Texas blues players add chordal parts to their lead lines for interesting effect. This lick contains an inversion of an Esus2 chord (made up of an E, B, and F#,) which is played in bars one and three with the same triplet feel.

The bars between these chords feature short minor pentatonic licks. This is a great way to play a lead line with rhythmic elements, especially in a one guitar player band setup, where no second player is handling the rhythm part.

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