[Updated November 2019]
This is a question I have thought about a lot in the past and after thinking it over I came up with what I consider to be the Three Skills you MUST have to play great blues guitar.
This pretty much covers all the technical aspects of playing blues guitar such as vibrato, bending, speed, articulation and other technical areas. Now that we’ve gotten this out of the picture we can move on. You MUST have ability. I don’t care how much heart and soul you have, if you don’t have any technical ability it won’t matter. Without technique, you simply won’t be able to play what you want to communicate with your heart and soul.
So how do you get the ability?
It’s simple. Practice, practice, practice, and more practice. Once you have the ability, then you can move on to the other 2 areas which are just as important.
To me this can be very hard. What I mean by emotional connection is connecting your heart and soul with your hands. Even if you have ability, it doesn’t mean that you will be able to communicate to the audience the heart and soul of what is inside you.
You need to learn how to connect the feeling of your heart to what comes out of your fingers when playing guitar. This is not easy in my mind. You can’t be thinking about impressing the audience or showing off. You must remove all those thoughts from your head and start playing from your heart. You will now be able to translate the feelings of your heart to your fingers and an emotional connection can be made.
Have you ever had one of those nights where everything you play is great, and it’s like you’re not even trying? I have. Somehow things just flow out of you. It seems like you can do no wrong. Every time you play, it seems like all the emotions you carry are perfectly translated through your fingers like something else has taken over, and you’re just the vehicle for your spirit to control your ability. It’s quite an experience and is very hard to just re-create.
To me, it seems like you have to put yourself in the right frame of mind before you start playing to attain this and the more you play the easier it will be to get there. This skill can also be very difficult to master because if you start thinking too much about it, then it probably won’t happen for you. I think it can happen easier by arriving at a more peaceful place in your mind where you are very comfortable with yourself playing the music you love for people. If this can happen, then I think everything else will take care of itself.
Now that you have ability and can translate the emotion from your heart and soul to your fingers, I believe you must also have confidence to complete the triangle. I can tell you from experience that without confidence, you will not be able to really put on a great performance. I remember playing a gig where I definitely had the ability and felt like my mind was in the right space, but for some reason my confidence was shot.
I was playing pretty good I thought, but it seemed like I was very timid and had no confidence about what I was playing. It showed too. That made it even worse. What I’m trying to say is that you need to have it in your mind that you are going to play a great gig. I don’t mean you have to be cocky about it, but you do have to tell yourself what a great performance you’re about to put on in your head.
Think about what baseball players experience. Do you think great home run hitters go up to the plate saying, “I hope I don’t strike out.” NO! They go up there saying, “I’m going to hit this one out of the park! Bring it pitcher!” I think when hitters get into slumps, they do start thinking about striking out and getting out of the slump can be a very mental thing about building up their confidence again.
After thinking about this for a while, it occurred to me that all three of these skills are needed. You can’t successfully play the blues without each one of them.
Think about it.
If you have confidence and an emotional connection but no ability, then you won’t sound good. If you have ability and the emotional connection but no confidence, then you won’t sound good. If you have ability and confidence but no emotional connection, then you still won’t sound good.
No matter how you stack them, you need all three in my opinion.
So those are the three skills I believe are needed to play some great blues guitar.
What are yours?