Are You Playing Blues Guitar Like a Singer?

[update May 14th 2019]

After listening to music for so many years, there is one thing I have realized when it comes down to feeling the emotion from a guitar performance.

Almost every time, the most passionate blues solos that make the hair on the back of my neck stand up are the ones that imitate the quality of the human voice.

If you really want to take your blues or slide guitar playing to the next level, then learning how to play with the feel and emotion of a singer is where you need to look to.


So how do you start playing vocal-like blues guitar that makes your audience stand up and listen?

I believe it first starts by listening to classic vocal melodies that really stand out from the pack.

No, I don’t mean Beyonce’s XO. :) She has a great voice no doubt and you can probably find some really cool licks in there, but this is a blues guitar site so first start with the Masters. :) This is where Beyonce learned her style from. Have you seen Cadillac Records?

You might think that learning these simple vocal patterns will not help you to play better blues solos, but YOU are wrong. All those speed licks you are playing WILL NOT mean a thing if you can’t communicate a melody to a listener.

FACT – The average listener will not be impressed by your blazing speed unless you have unbelievable chops. And even then once they’ve seen it, then it’s not very impressive anymore. Maybe kinda like a circus act.

The fastest licks in the world won’t mean a thing unless they are setup properly and executed in a manner which sounds great in the context of the song and has some memorable parts.

Why do most people love certain songs?

The lyrics, and the melody of the chorus.

Sure there are those who just love only the guitar in songs, but this is not the majority of listeners, and if you think this is the case then you are kidding yourself.

Even then, just take a look at the Allman Brothers. Why are they so popular? One of the main reasons is that they have GREAT SONGS with GREAT MELODIES!!

Most people want to hear a great chorus and a melody that they can remember. You should use this idea to your advantage with your guitar playing.

If you want your playing to be heard and enjoyed by the majority of people out there, wouldn’t you want to add this element to your playing? I can’t think of one reason why you wouldn’t.

Listen to any great guitar player, and you’ll hear lots of melody in their playing. They all have excellent rhythm, phrasing, and melodies within their chaotic solos.

Steve Vai
Van Halen
Derek Trucks
Warren Haynes
Eric Clapton
Dimebag Darrell
Tom Morello
John Frusciante
Albert King
Jimi Hendrix
Albert Collins
BB King
Wes Montgomery

and many other famous guitar players play vocal-like guitar licks as solos and guitar parts and have a very large following because of it.

Now back to the “How”.

To start playing vocal-like guitar licks, you need to start listening to the greatest vocal melodies of all time.

For me, this would be the melodies of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Solomon Burke, Beethoven, Ben E. King, Chopin, and Ray Charles are a few to get you started. But there are so many amazing vocalists that it’s impossible to list them all here.

More than 10 years ago I sat down with, “When A Man Loves A Woman” and learned all the main melodies using Open E Tuning Slide Guitar. I, later on, would learn many more and I believe this really shaped my slide guitar style.

By learning the vocal melodies of legendary vocalists, you will learn to think in a completely different way.

Singers naturally phrase different than guitar players, and their vocals make for some very tasty guitar licks.

Singers have to breathe in between phrases. Utilize this element in your playing. I’ve heard many a guitar solo where if the guitar were actually a singer, then they would be dead from suffocation. ;)

I urge you not to miss out on these awesome guitar licks that are waiting to be unlocked! This technique WILL set you apart from your average guitar player and you don’t want to be average, do you?


Make a commitment today to learn at least one vocal melody a week, and in the next year, you will have 52 melodies that shaped the world of music at your fingertips! This is powerful stuff that WILL make you stand out from the pack.

To learn more about vocal melodies, please check out my Slide Guitar Method 2 Open E Tuning.

John W Tuggle
John W Tuggle

I love teaching the blues and have created numerous training courses and lessons to learn how to play like BB King, Clapton, Duane Allman, and more. Get Started Now


  1. I appreciate your lessons as they hold a philosophy about things. Too often we just want to rush off and practice being able to play scales with lightning speed. I need some schoolin’ first.

  2. John –

    You are right on the money. Derek Trucks often comments on how his approach to playing slide is to emulate many great singers he’s listened to. He says that’s why he and Susan Tedeschi compliment each other so well (other than being married).

    On the speed issue, I am taken back to a conversation I had with with the late Freddie King. He used the phrase “getting inside the note” to describe the way he, B.B. King, and many other blues players played compared the the fast playing guitar gunslingers of the day. He said those players played all around the note and took too long to get to the meaning of what they wanted their playing to communicate.

    Take a look at Stevie Ray Vaughan on his “Live Alive” album which was recorded when his substance abuse issues were at their worst. I think it was his worst playing ever recorded. He was playing a million miles an hour and to me it sounds like all of the soul has been ripped away from him. However, listening to “In Step”, the last album before his untimely death, the soul and magic of SRV is back greater than ever. I had friends say at the time they thought he had lost the fire in his playing because he had “slowed down”. I think he was “inside the note” and was saying more with his playing than he ever had said before.

    And for the record, slowing down is hard. There are times I want to go fast. But then I remember Freddie’s words and force myself to then make the effort to get “inside the note”.

  3. This is dead on. Speed is a great tool, but it’s ability to effect emotions is very limited. There is so much that can go into why what someone is singing makes it is good when it is so simple.

  4. I found your comments after a search of ‘blues singer’s tone guitar’
    Thank you for your reassurance. I am a beginner of 9 months and struggling with my finger placements.
    I have just been practicing and tried to follow Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash’s tones with my acoustic. The famous singers from the past have left us all a legacy-Their success was due to a lifetime honing their voice. Your comments are invaluable to all guitarists who want to progress further

Comments are closed.