How to Play Blues Guitar Like Eric Clapton

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Does playing the guitar like Slowhand himself sound appealing to you?  Or maybe you’ve been trying to recreate some of those Cream-era Clapton solos and just can’t seem to pull them off.

In this blog post,  I want to show you a bit about how to play blues guitar like Eric Clapton by utilizing the minor pentatonic scale.

Anyone that truly desires to play like this blues guitar legend, will no doubt have to learn the Minor Pentatonic scale.  This scale is the backbone to Slowhand’s  legendary electric blues guitar style.

Below is the first pattern of the minor pentatonic scale in the key of A.

pentatonic scale

Clapton uses this scale extensively to play many of his blues guitar solos,  and by adding a few elements of his style to your playing, you will be on your way to playing guitar just like Slowhand.

So what does he do to make this scale sound so good?  Well there are 3 things you can add to your playing that will help you to sound more like Clapton.

  1. Use triplets If you listen to him enough,  you will know that Clapton uses triplets extensive in his playing.  Triplets are where you play 3 notes per beat.  From his early days with Cream, to the his modern day solo style, Clapton will often throw in a barrage of notes that are grouped as triplets.
  2. Accent Notes To truly mimic his style another thing you can add to your playing, is accenting notes with the pick.  This requires you to hold the pick a little tighter than normal and really “dig in” to the note.  Combine this with triplets and you will definitely start sounding like the master.
  3. Heavy Vibrato There’s no doubting that his vibrato is truly awesome!  This is a big aspect of his style and what makes his solos take on a more vocal type quality.  You will need to start practicing your blues vibrato every day to get it to sound like his.  He also moves his whole hand up and down which results in a different sound than moving your wrist back and forth.  I use this type of vibrato extensively in my playing as well.

Watch me perform this lick in the video below.


What is your favorite album from Eric Clapton?

24 Nights is definitely one of my favorites, and I think it ranks up there as one of the best live albums ever recorded. What do you think?

I’ve released a full course on how to play in the Clapton Guitar Style. Check them out here.

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18 thoughts on “How to Play Blues Guitar Like Eric Clapton”

  1. I used to be a HUGE Clapton fan and sorted my record collection according to how the person related to Eric. So the first albums were the Yardbirds, then Cream, then the first solo records followed by Delaney and Bonnie then chronological order including albums that Clapton sat in on. So Stephen Bishop was even in there and the record sat closer to the start of the collection than say Skynyrd because Clapton didn’t play on any Skynyrd albums. I know, keeping records in this fashion is very High Fidelity – my girlfriend could never figure it out and would leave the records out for me to put away.

    I went and saw Clapton on his box set tour in 1988 (Mark Knopfler on rhythm guitar and Buckwheat Zydeco opening up!) and the show was incredible. Of course the down side of the show was that we had to leave work at about noon, drive 300 miles, go straight to the show, drive 300 miles home and then be at work at 8 am (which means I got about 30 minutes of sleep). The show was worth every painful hour of the drive and the work shift. The show was one of the best that I ever saw.

    Unfortunatly, Clapton lost me with From The Cradle and he hasn’t gotten me back yet. These days he just doesn’t do it for me and (to me) if feels like his fire is gone. I wish it wasn’t so but I do still listen to his early stuff.

    • Bill, you may have a point with this regarding his subsequent studio releases (exception Reptile which has some superb playing) after From the Cradle which is awesome in my opinion. But I’ve seen Clapton live about 15 times in the last 20 years and the best I’ve ever heard him play was May 2010 playing with Steve Winwood. If you’ve not seen him live in a while I recommend you try him again.. He’s not lost it. Regards Chris

  2. Well, I do like From the Cradle. I thought his guitar work was excellent on that album. It is true that he played different in the early days, but I think he still sounds good today, maybe not as good in his hey-day though.

  3. A true bluesman, Clapton is one of the most versatile musicians alive today. I do like a lot of his earlier stuff better, but I’d still go see him anytime, anywhere. Slowhand is still my all-time favorite album.

    Great podcasts, John…keep ’em coming!

  4. Hey man just found your podcast. Very interested in becoming a better player… I’ve been a really basic open chord guy for like 16 years (way too long to be at that level) So anyway I’m glad to have found you. I did get to watch Clapton during the Hard Rock Fest in London he’s still as amazing as ever! My favorite song is still “If I could change the world” just the story behind it…even though I perfer more of his blues sound from some reason that poppy tune always stands out in my mind.

    Keep up the good work man I’ll be watching!

  5. First of all, nice web site John! I also am a guitar instructor and I am going to be sending my students your way so they can learn on their own with your lessons on line. Very nicely done.

    Mr. Clapton (he’s earned my respect over the years) has a very diversified collection of material. As much as I was not a fan of some of his departures from his blues roots (like material from the 70s -‘I shot the Sheriff ‘etc…) I give him credit for stretching out and expanding to new sounds as well as being rather successful with them.

    I like a few others here on your blog am rather partial to ‘From the Cradle’ where he took his influential covers from bluesmen of old and did a great job of doing tribute to them. The songs have the Clapton signature which makes them his own even though they be covers. I think his choice of guests musicians, the over all production and his song choice was as good as it gets. Many of his versions actually top the originals which many times is a difficult task. Lowell Fulson’s Sinner’s Prayer is the one that comes to mind first.

    Thanks for this web site,
    Mr. Jack

  6. Hey John,

    Wow great site, I just came across your site on Itunes and subscribed. I have taught gutiar a few years ago and with the crazyness of life have stioped but still love to play and grow my skill. Am excited to see what you have to have and will probbly buy some of your resources.

    As far as Eric Clapton, wow tough question, well How about “Give Me Strength” or “My fathers eyes” I guess.

  7. Clapton has to be one of my favorite players. Not flashy but very expressive and tasty. From his electric lead playing to his bluesy acoustic playing. I personally like that skunky down home feel. So I would say Eric’s version of Milk Calf Blues by Robert Johnson has to be one of my favorites from Sessions for Robert J. True Blues and Clapton at his nastiest.

  8. Mine has to be Journeyman. He is all blues on that with some dynomite licks & solos. I also really enjoy his Unplugged album for other reasons. Thanks for the help and lessons. Cheers.

  9. Eric Clapton has to be my all-time favorite. There will never be another SRV with his endless depth, he was never searching for the next thought, he’s right up there. Tragically his life was cut far too short. I saw Clapton 3 times, Derek & the Dominos in about 72, solo tour in 87 and 2007 in LA. He keeps reinventing himself and is probably one of the cleanest most articulate player I’ve ever seen or heard. And look at all the different styles. If you haven’t seen the ” Making of the Robert Johnson Sessions ” DVD Get it now !!! No he’s not as fast as the Cream days, too many guitar players are blinded by speed. It’s content not quantity. His content is incredible……God Bless..Jim

  10. I´m from Uruguay, i have been playing guitar for 5 years. Like someone said i was totally blind with “speed and distorion” trying to play like bands of the 80´s. I have learned from Clapton, Muddy Waters or Peter Frampton, that you got to feel the music inside you, you have to let your feelings run trough the guitar, and i realized that playing “as fast as possible” i could not make it feel right although it sounded good. When i got the “Unplugged” from Clapton it totally changed my playing, i realized that from the start to the end he never played a single note that you can not identify, every note he plays is shiny and in the correct time. After that i get what i could from Clapton, and i learn from listening and playing over it. Pentatonics are my main scales now, sometimes i add “bluenotes” so it sounds different, i quit studying rare scales invented by you know who. I think Clapton has THE feeling, and that´s the most important thing in every musician. I also listen to Angus Young (AC/DC) or Peter Frampton and they have that kind of feeling too… in different ways. THE FEELING is everything, if you love what you do and what you play you got to let it sound trough the guitar. Slowdown and enjoy every note that´s the key i think.

  11. Blues is my all time favorite genre of music. Eric Clapton is the ref. book for blues. You have played Eric’s lick really nice. Your playing is awesome ! What is the cost of your course ?

  12. Hello John, love your playing, love your sounds, but: `Old Love` is truly in 4/4. The transcribed two bars of your `Old Love` Lick seen from the rhythmic point of view is confusing and there are a few mistakes. For Example: If you count out the first bar we got a notation in 6/4 Time. Further, your way of grouping the notes is not correct. For people who wants to learn bluesguitar playing at such advanced, `masterful` (and Eric is a master) level the notation must be totally correct.
    Greetings from Germany Bernie K.

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