The root of many genres today goes back to the roots of blues back in the early and mid 20th century. Originally from the African-American communities of the southern United States, this genre became one of the most important influences for the development of American and Western popular music. It influenced many genres today, starting with rock and roll, rock, metal, funk, country, R&B, soul, and many more.
Therefore, a guitarist must go back to the blues, to the roots to comprehend modern music better. Besides, it is a vibrant genre with many nuances and variations, creating some enjoyable riffs, solos, rhythms, and song structures.
If you want to learn how to play blues on guitar, you must first start by understanding the structure. Blues is a vocal and instrumental musical genre, based on the use of blues notes and repeating patterns, usually following a 12-bar structure and mainly in a 4/4 time signature. It has its own scales such as pentatonic and blues scales mainly used to create riffs and solos.
The best way to learn more about blues is to grab your guitar and start playing some blues songs. Keep your attention on the rhythms used, scales and notes preferred and how the song progressions goes.
Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Released in 1971, Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers is one of the most widely known blues tunes. The song has a bluesy character with sentimental lyrics and a fun-to-play guitar pattern.
The song is played with the fingerpicking technique, which has a quite irregular yet easy riff. The arpeggios have a double stop on the lower two strings and long spaces between arpeggios during which the chords are let ring. Its slow-paced and straightforward structure makes this song perfect for beginner guitarists to get familiar with the fingerpicking technique.
Boom Boom – John Lee Hooker
One of the most famous blues tunes of all time is Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker. The uptempo blues song hit number 1 in many lists when it came out in 1962.
The song is played with a traditional blues transition riff followed by lead or vocal fills. Some of the lead guitar partitions may be challenging for beginners, but you can use the easier ones instead until you nail the other ones.
This song has every blues characteristic with many quarter bends, slides, double stops, and legatos.
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
Mannish Boy is one of the greatest hymns of modern blues. It’s a song that anyone has ever heard in their life, and that sounds familiar to everyone, even if they don’t know a word about blues. It was composed by Muddy Waters in 1955.
The tune features one of the most effortless main riffs of blues history, along with 4 straightforward lead guitar fills. It is one of the best songs to get in the blues world for novice guitarists. The song uses the blues scale, has bends and slides with a blues rhythm; it has everything to get you to start bluesing.
Smokestack Lightning – Howlin’ Wolf
One of the most influential blues songs, Smokestack Lightning, is a blues standard recorded by Howlin’ Wolf in 1956. It is based on earlier blues songs, and numerous artists later interpreted it.
The tune is played with two different patterns that are repeated throughout the whole progression. The riffs consist of bass notes on the 6th string, and higher notes on the lower string picked together to create the melody. There are slides and pull-offs used in the riff, which give significant nuances.
Sweet Home Chicago – The Blues Brothers
Composed by Robert Jonhson, Sweet Home Chicago got popular with its The Blues Brothers version in 1980. Many blues artists covered the song and performed it on live performances, from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
The song’s rhythm guitar is mostly played with power chords and is incredibly beginner-friendly. There are piano and sax solos on top of the rhythm guitar partitions, so it is also a great song to play with your friends who can solo on top with any instrument.
Life By The Drop – Stevie Ray Vaughan
The acoustic blues tune Life By The Drop by the guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan was released in 1990 after his death. There’s a sad, melancholy tone in the piece, which perfectly goes along with its bluesy character.
It is originally played with a 12-string acoustic guitar, and thanks to the power chords used, it is an easy song to play, especially for an SRV song. The intro part can be challenging, so take your time with those legatos and licks.
Got My Mojo Working – Muddy Waters
Got My Mojo Working is a blues song written by Preston Foster and recorded by Ann Cole in 1956 and popularized by Muddy Waters the following year. The water version is played with a short piano accompanied by a lead electric guitar and harmonica.
The guitar fills with the tune are pretty straightforward, with notes mostly on 2nd and 3rd strings. Jimmy Rogers uses many bends and slides in blues scale to catch the blues setting.
Crossroads – Cream
Crossroads is a cover of Cross Road Blues, a song composed by Robert Johnson in 1937. Eric Clapton adapted and covered the song to play it with his band Cream back in 1968.
Crossroad features the classic 12-bar blues progression with the same guitar riff played in different chord positions throughout the progression. With mutes and double stops, it is an absolutely cool progression to learn and play.
Born Under A Bad Sign – Albert King
The first song on the list is Born Under A Bad Sign by the American old-school blues guitarist Albert King. The tune was released in 1967, and the same-named album is considered one of the greatest blues albums ever made.
The song features an R&B-style bass and rhythm guitar line along with King’s iconic solo licks. The melodies are extremely beginner-friendly with a slow pace and comfortable fretting hand positions. It is also a great introduction to the pentatonic blues scale on upper strings.
Ice Cream Man – Van Halen
Ice Cream Man is a cover song written by blues guitarist John Brim. Van Halen included a new version of the song on their debut album, and it became a live staple for the group.
This is a complex song with various sections played differently around the same pattern. The main riff is a great acoustic blues riff that gives place to heavier tones with power chords later in the song.
The solo is very hard, even for experienced players, but the rhythm guitar partitions are fun to play and easy with walks and power chords on the blues scale.
Kind Hearted Woman Blues – Robert Johnson
Released in 1936, Kind Hearted Woman Blues is the first song recorded by the blues pioneer Robert Johnson. This song shaped blues for future generations.
With its 6/4 time signature and various chord progressions, this can be a challenging song for absolute beginners, but players with some experience can learn and play it. As with many acoustic blues songs, it is played with a single-picked bass note followed by triads and double stops on lower strings.
As the chords and their progressions are typical blues and the track’s rhythm, it is an excellent song for guitarists looking for an old-school blues song to learn and play.
Hoochie Coochie Man – Muddy Waters
Hoochie Coochie Man is a blues standard composed by Willie Dixon and recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954. The song became a massive hit in the blues world and is one of the most well-known songs of Muddy Waters.
As a beginner-friendly song, it is played mainly with power chords with bassy transitions in between. The song shows many blues characteristics with A blues scale and its rhythmic patterns and progressions.
I Just Want To Make Love To You – Foghat
I Just Want To Make Love To You, the first hit of the blues band Foghat, is a cover of Muddy Waters’ famous blues standard. The tune’s blues-rock character gives space for some overdrive and delightful playing on guitar.
The rhythm guitar part of the song is played with only three chords. The intro solo is reasonably easy with bends and vibratos and some hammer-ons, which is perfect for beginners to get familiar with bluesy solos and licks.
Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett
Mustang Sally is a rhythm and blues song written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965, but the most appreciated version is performed by Wilson Pickett.
With palm-muted single-note melody partitions and various power chords, the song is not challenging at all to play for beginners. So listen to the timing carefully and add this great song to your blues repertoire.
Hey Hey – Big Bill Bronzy
Hey Hey by American blues singer and guitarist Big Bill Bronzy is an old-school blues tune from 1952. The song is a great example of the folk-blues genre.
The song in 12 bar blues progression uses a bass note followed by a double-stop on lower strings which creates the folk-blues characteristic of the melody. This melody may be challenging for beginners as it has a relatively high pace. But start slow and try to build upon it.
All Your Love – The Blues Breakers
All Your Love is the first song of the first album, Bluesbreakers, by British blues-rock band John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, featuring Eric Clapton as the lead guitarist.
It is a beginner-level song with an easy guitar riff on upper strings and lead fills on lower strings. The fills are easy to play but use many different scale positions, which is excellent to learn the blues scale.
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
Folsom Prison Blues sits somewhere between country and blues. It is a great song composed by the country legend Johnny Cash in 1955.
The song is played with single-picked bass notes with traditionally strummed chords coming after in an upbeat structure. There are some simple solo fills in between verses that create a bluesy character. Ultimately a great song to add to the blues repertoire for guitarists.
I Put A Spell On You – Jay Hawkins
Released in 1956, I Put a Spell on You is the rhythm and blues song by Screamin Jay Hawkins. The song reached high popularity and was selected in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Songs.
The song was covered by many artists, including CCR and Nina Simone, which are more known than the original version.
Jay Hawkins did not use any guitar in the original recording, but the piano partitions can easily be adapted to the guitar. The song has some bass walks along with staccato double*stops that create the continuous main riff of the song, which is more than easy and enjoyable to play.
I’m A Man – Bo Diddley
I’m a Man is a rhythm and blues tune composed by Bo Diddley in 1955. The song uses one of the most classic riff progressions of the blues genre, played in between the vocal lines.
I’m A Man is a straightforward song to play with the same riff is played repeatedly after every vocal line. Any guitarist, including absolute beginners, can play the riffs consisting of two power chords.
Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues – Buddy Guy
Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues is the first song of the same-named album by the famous blues guitarist Buddy Guy. The song and the album are considered a comeback for Buddy Guy as he was not so productive for many years before this album’s release.
The song features a classic 12-bar blues progression with a traditional blues melody with a scale run. The song is a great example to learn the blues chord changes as its structure comes from the heart of the blues.
The Sky Is Crying – Elmore James
“The Sky Is Crying” is a blues classic created by one of the most terrific blues composers, Elmore James, in 1959.
The song features some great licks for beginners coming from James’s guitar. Almost all of the song is played in the same fretting hand position with different scale licks down and up the fretboard. As it is a slow-paced song, it is an excellent tune to get familiar with blues-type soloing.
Boogie Chillun – John Lee Hooker
Boogie Chillun is a blues song created by John Lee Hooker in 1948, which features a solo performance with Hooker’s vocal, electric guitar, and rhythmic foot stomps.
The entire song consists of a repeated guitar melody with little solo fills, mostly consisting of slides, here and there. It is a very quick and easy song to learn and play.
Rock Me Baby – BB King
Rock Me Baby is a blues standard that has become one of the most recorded blues songs of all time. Covers by Muddy Waters and B.B. King popularized the song widely in 1964, and it was the first successful hit of B.B. King.
The tune is a classical 12 bar progression in C. The main riffs of the tune are created with a single bass note followed by two or three single picked melody notes on lower strings. It is an easy and fun song to play.
Matchbox – Carl Perkins
Matchbox is a rock and roll-blues song composed by Carl Perkins in 1956. The song has become one of Perkins’ best-known recordings, followed by different covers by many other artists, especially The Beatles.
This is a relatively easy song to play with repetitive riffs. The main melody consists of double stops and some single pickles bent bass notes in between. The fast tempo may be a challenge first, but it is fairly straightforward when you get familiar with the tabs.
Alberta – Eric Clapton
Alberta is a famous blues tune initially composed by Lead Belly and covered by several blues musicians. Eric Clapton performed the song during one of his unplugged concerts; fortunately for us, it is a great version. But unfortunately for him, it got him into trouble about copyright issues.
The song is pretty straightforward to play with conventional chords such as G, F, and C. There are some licks in-between chords to learn, and you are good to go. It is a very easy blues song to learn.
Double Trouble – Lynyrd Skynyrd
The southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd’s bluesy song Double Trouble was released in 1976. It did not become one of the signature songs of the bands but received appreciation from blues fans.
The song consists of three different riffs, which are all straightforward with arpeggiated triads. All the chords used are simple open chords such as A, D, and E. Straightforward a and great song to learn and play.
Baby What You Want Me To Do – Elvis Presley
As one of the most covered blues songs of all time, Baby What You Want Me to Do is a piece that is regarded as a classic in the blues genre. The version of Elvis Presley is one of the best ones and features great blues riffs perfectly suitable for beginners.
The chords used in the song are E, A, B7, and A7, all open chords with comfortable positions. The straightforward intro is played with power chords, and the two riffs played throughout the tune are more than simple. Overall, a great song to learn and play for beginners.
Before You Accuse Me – Bo Diddley
Before You Accuse Me is the blues song written by American musician Bo Diddley in 1957. It was also interpreted by Eric Clapton, which elevated the song to another level of popularity.
The song can be played with 5 easy open chords, E, E7, B7, A, and A7. You can use down strums to catch the bluesy setting of the tune.
Me And The Devil Blues – Robert Johnson
Me and the Devil Blues is a blues song composed and performed by the American musician Robert Johnson. The song was performed and covered by many artists such as Eric Clapton, The Doors, and Peter Green.
You can play this tune using the fingerpicking technique as it is easier than playing with a pick. It is mainly played with triad chords and dyad chords, consisting of a single bass note and a higher note on lower strings.
It is a great acoustic blues song to learn and play that totally deserves to be in any blues repertoire.
Blues Stay Away From Me – The Delmore Brothers
The blues-influenced country song Blues Stay Away From Me from The Delmore Brothers is the last song on this list. It was released in 1949 and has been performed by many artists since then.
With three open basic chords, G, C, and D7, it is one of the most straightforward songs to play with your guitar. Listen to the song carefully to get the strum pattern and timings right. You can whistle the harmonica parts while playing the chords to have some fun too.
As seen on the list, many blues songs have similar structures and some nuances and characteristics that give the particular song its soul, which differs it from the others. There are many bends and slides, songs with 7th chords, 12-bar progressions, similar rhythmic patterns, and song structures.
If you have noticed, many blues songs use similar chord progressions too. The blues progression is based on the first, fourth, and fifth chords, which lays the foundation for blues.
Back in the 1930s, a standardization was made regarding the 12-bar blues, which has the following forms:
- I – I – I – I
- IV – IV – I – I
- V – IV – I – V
You have completed the list of famous and easy blues songs for beginner guitarists. Now you have a familiarity with blues scales, licks, progressions, and not only that; you know how to do your little steps and improvise blues on it, including famous bluesmen resources like BB King, Albert King, or Stevie Ray Vaughan.
So keep it up; there is still a long way to master the blues and the roots of our modern music.
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