Header image:  B.B. King by Heinrich Klaffs, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Making Music with Marshall

Playing styles


Posted: 30 June 2020

No genre has influenced more playing styles and given birth to new music more than the blues. We take a look at where the blues began and what elements of blues are most prominent today.

Read time - 3 mins


Influenced by work songs, church music and folk, Blues developed in the Southern United States. The earliest references of blues date back to 1890’s and was primarily played by the Southern black community. Blues developed in Georgia, Texas and Mississippi, where slight variations of style developed such as Mississippi Delta blues. Players such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Charley Patton and Robert Johnson paved the way for the genre where over time cities such as Atlanta, Memphis and Chicago began to adopt the sound.

After World War II electric guitar became paramount in blues music, with musicians such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and many more championing the genre. The blues heavily influenced Elvis Presley and later British rock icons such as The Rolling Stones, John Mayall and Eric Clapton.


Phrasing and keeping lead lines simple but rhythmic are important factors of classic blues playing, but some of the most notable blues guitar techniques are the use of bends and using a minor pentatonic/pentatonic blues scale. Try bending a half tone or whole tone up when playing a lick. Hammer-ons and pull-offs are also commonly used in more blues rock playing.

The 12-Bar Blues

The foundation of most blues music is the 12-bar. Using a 4/4 time signature, the term 12-bar counts the number of measures. Divided into three four-bar segments. The 12-bar uses the first, fourth and fifth notes of an eight-note scale. The I chord being played for the first four bars, the IV chord in the second four bars and then the V chord and IV chord in the last four bars. Not all blues songs are in 12-Bar arrangement, but this progression will help you to understand the foundation of many blues songs. Try improvising the E minor pentatonic scale over a 12-Bar in Em (I = Em, IV - Am, V = Bm7)

Further listening

We've created a playlist featuring a selection of genre defining Blues players. Listen to early trailblazers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lead Belly along with artists who propelled the style into the mainstream like Elvis and B.B King, and finishing up with modern takes on Blues from The Black Keys and Marcus King. This selection takes you from the early roots of Blues right up to Blues music today.

Listen to the full playlist here or a quick selection below.