Killer Blues Guitar Lesson – How To Play Aggressive Blues Licks Cleanly

Author: Ed Cupler

Would you like to know how to play awesome blues guitar licks with tons of aggression and intensity? The key to doing this is picking every note with a lot of power while also getting rid of any excess string noise. A lot of blues guitarists are forced to choose between ‘playing with aggression’ or ‘playing cleanly’ because their playing sounds unclean when they attempt to do both simultaneously.

The most common situations that cause string noise include picking the strings with extra power, using heavy vibrato or using double stops. Unless you figure out how to eliminate extra string noise, your blues guitar playing will sound very unclean and your musical expression will suffer as a whole.

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For the rest of this article you will be taken through the exact steps needed for cleaning up unwanted string noise in your blues guitar licks. Before you read the steps below, check out the following video to better understand how to use the concepts I will be discussing and hear the difference between clean and sloppy playing:

Once you’ve watched the video above, pick up your guitar and begin following these steps to make your blues guitar licks intense and clean at the same time.

Step One: Think of a very short blues guitar lick that is made up of three notes or less. Here are several examples you can use for inspiration:

It is crucial that you do NOT make your guitar phrases any longer than three notes (max). By only using a few notes, you will be forced to think creatively and get the most musical expression possible from each note. Additionally, this will give you the ability to focus more on the muting techniques needed to eliminate unwanted string noise. Notice: The rhythm in the examples above is not notated – This is done to give you freedom to change the rhythm any way you like. Don’t use all three of the notated licks at once, simply choose ONE and play it continuously until it feels natural. Also, make sure that the last note of every lick you play ends with an upstroke (this is important for the next step).

Step Two: Pay close attention while using an upstroke to play the last note of your blues lick to make sure it comes to rest on the adjacent lower string. This uses the ‘rest stroke’ technique demonstrated in the video above. It is a common mistake to let the pick to come away from the strings while doing this, so make sure this is not occurring for you. To avoid this, rest your hand on the strings using either palm muting or thumb muting in your picking hand (I highly recommend you use thumb muting in the same way it is used in the video demonstration). Take several minutes to practice this.

Step Three: Next, use any finger that is not holding the pick to mute the higher strings while playing the lick (including available fingers on the fretting hand and picking hand). To see pictures of how your fingers should look while using these muting techniques, check out this article about how to eliminate sloppy guitar string noise. Take several minutes to work on this.

Step Four: Add as much intensity to your lick as possible by performing any combination of the following sub-steps:

  • Use very heavy vibrato to emphasize any sustained notes in your lick.
  • While playing double stops, use heavy vibrato on both strings simultaneously.
  • Use as much power as you can in your picking hand by using A LOT of force to strike the strings.

While using a lot of power to pick the notes, you will see the importance of muting with the techniques you learned in the previous steps. If you are still having issues with unwanted string noise, return to the previous steps to fix the problem. Don’t worry if you cannot play your licks perfectly without any string noise yet. Be patient, practice and you will quickly be able to incorporate your lick into your everyday guitar playing and make it sound great.

Step Five: Create several additional blues guitar licks or use the alternate examples I provided above and take them through the previous steps to make them as clean and intense as possible.

After you’ve gone through all five steps mentioned in this article, it is time to move on and create many more killer guitar licks. Learn how to come up with tons of creative licks by watching this rock guitar licks video.

Learn how to add speed into your guitar playing in order to enhance your blues guitar licks by checking out this free guitar speed video.

About The Author:

Tom Hess is a professional recording artist, composer, and expert guitar instructor. He teaches and trains guitarists how to become great musicians in his online rock guitar lessons. Visit to receive additional free guitar playing resources and to read more guitar articles.

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