Blues Guitar

Author: Michael Williams | Course Code: OGUIT-222

Guitarists who know the blues have a natural advantage over those that don't. No matter what style they chose to play – jazz, rock, classical – having a blues background provides guitarists with a foundation in form, control, feel and harmonies that can be used to advance their playing in any genre of music. Blues Guitar Workshop begins by teaching the 12-bar blues harmony, basic rhythm guitar technique, and the pentatonic and blues scale in the open position up the neck. You'll learn to incorporate some of the nuances of the masters into your playing - from doubling the bass over a shuffle in the style of Buddy Guy, to combining major and minor pentatonic scales in the style of B.B. King and T-Bone Walker. Through call and response exercises and playing in other grooves and tempos, you'll learn to pace your solos to create tension and release – a technique mastered by all the greatest guitarists. You'll learn to reuse the concepts and musical elements to expand your musical foundation and enhance your ability, whether you're trying to bring a blues sound to your playing or adding more depth and feel to any other style.

In this course you will:

  • Learn to play several styles of rhythm guitar, and solo over 8 and 12-bar progressions in E, G, and other keys, with varying tempos and grooves, including shuffles, straight eighth, and slow blues.
  • Play pentatonic and blues scales in 5 positions up the neck, and use those fingerings while soloing.
  • Play turnarounds, and use solo pacing and call and response techniques.
  • Play examples and progressions from several styles of blues, including Chicago blues, gospel blues, jazz blues, and minor blues.
  • Learn the techniques and licks of classic stylists, such as T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, B.B. King, Earl Hooker, and Magic Sam, whether you're trying to bring a blues sound to your playing, or interested in adding more depth to your own style.
  • Learn basic finger style and slide techniques.

Lesson 1: Playing the Blues in E

  • Why Play the Blues?
  • Typical Blues Song Forms
  • Rhythm Guitar in Blues March in E
  • E Minor Pentatonic and Blues Scales Open Position

Lesson 2: Blues in E—Varying the Feel, Minor Pentatonic Scales, and 8-Bar Blues

  • Varying the Feel
  • E Minor Pentatonic Scales, Six Positions
  • 8-Bar Blues Progressions
  • March in A

Lesson 3: Slow Blues with Sliding 9th Chords, Pentatonic Scales Part 2, and String Bends

  • Barre Chords and Low-End Rhythm Parts
  • Rhythm Hits
  • Slow Blues in G—Sliding 9ths
  • Shuffle in G: Low-End and Rhythmic Hits
  • A Minor and C Major Pentatonic Scales—5 Positions
  • Moveable Scale Fingerings Along the Neck
  • String Bents

Lesson 4: T-Bone Style Blues with Sliding 9th Chords, and Chicago Shuffles

  • Downtown and Uptown Shuffles with Sliding 9th Chords
  • T-Bone Style Slow Blues with Sliding 9th Chords
  • A Major and A Minor Pentatonic Scales—5 Positions
  • "Country Girl"—Buddy Guy/Jr. Wells Style, with Sliding 9th Variations

Lesson 5: Flat Tire/Jump Chords and Feel, with T-Bone Walker's Soloing Style and Influences

  • "Papa Ain't Salty," T-Bone Intro Chorus
  • Locking In with the Backbeat and Metronome
  • Locking In with the Bass
  • Rhythm Guitar—"Flat Tire"/Jump Chords and Feel
  • T-Bone's Influences on BB King, Clarence Holliman, and Others

Lesson 6: Minor Blues, Rhythm Guitar Variations, and Call Response Techniques

  • Minor Blues Progressions and "Thrillin'" Rhythm Part
  • Call/Response Techniques and B.B. King's Vocal Style Phrasing
  • A Blues Scales—5 Positions
  • A Blues Scales—Shifting between Positions
  • B.B. King Intro Chorus—"The Woman I Love"

Lesson 7: Playing in the Pocket, and Magic Sam Style Blues

  • Magic Sam's Intro Chorus to "Sweet Home Chicago"
  • Playing in the Pocket—Rushing/Dragging/Locking In Exercise
  • Blues in G: Rhythmic Hits, Part 2
  • Reinforcing Rhythmic Skills
  • Learning the Fingerboard

Lesson 8: Basic Slide Techniques and Open Tunings: Elmore James

  • Basic Slide Techniques: Open G Tuning
  • Setting Up Your Guitar
  • Choosing a Slide
  • Which Finger Do I Use for a Slide?
  • Slide Placement and Intonation
  • Elmore James Slide Style
  • Turnarounds: Robert Lockwood Jr., "Worried Life Blues"
  • C Pentatonic and C Major Scales—5 Positions

Lesson 9: Slide in G Tuning: Son House, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker Styles

  • More Slide Techniques: Open G Tuning
  • Son House Style: "Death Letter Blues"
  • Playing Melodies Along the Strings
  • Muddy Waters Style, "Rollin and Tumblin"
  • B Flat Blues: Walking Bass and Comping

Lesson 10: Blues Rock and Gospel Blues 

  • "San-Ho-Zay": Rhythm Part and Solo, as Played by Freddy King
  • Gospel Blues Progressions
  • Scales and Gospel Blues
  • Same Old Blues: Gospel Blues
  • Rhythm Guitar Shuffle in F

Lesson 11: Jazz Blues: Kenny Burrell, Comping Range, and Rhythm Guitar Along the Neck

  • "Chitlins con Carne: "Kenny Burrell Solo
  • "Don't Loose Your Cool"
  • Comping Range: Rhythm Chords in Four Regions of the Neck
  • Ear Training and Practice Techniques
  • Learning Solos from Other Instruments

Lesson 12: More Jazz Blues

  • Jazz Blues: Grant Green
  • Guide Tones
  • "Freddy Freeloader"
  • Improvising Over Dominant 7th Chords: "Danny Downloader"
  • Mixolydian Mode
  • Minor 7th Substitutions on Dominant 7th Chords

Michael Williams

Author & Instructor

Michael Williams has been active as a blues and jazz guitarist since 1987, performing extensively throughout the United States and Canada as a member of Grammy award winning James Cotton's blues band, and with many other artists, including David "Fathead" Newman, Mighty Sam McClain, the Bruce Katz Band, Sugar Ray Norcia, Darrell Nulisch, Toni Lynn Washington, Michelle Willson, Jerry Portnoy, the Love Dogs, blues piano virtuoso David Maxwell, and his own band, Michael Williams and Friends. Michael performed on James Cotton's album, 35th Anniversary Jam, which won a W.C. Handy Award and received a Grammy nomination for the Best Traditional Blues Album in 2003. He performed on Bruce Katz's 2004 release, entitled A Deeper Blue, and his playing, songwriting, and arranging are featured on Michelle Willson's album So Emotional, which earned a four-star review in DownBeat magazine. In 1999 he released an album, entitled Late Night Walk (Blue Tempo Records), which features ten original compositions with guest artists David "Fathead" Newman on tenor sax, Sugar Ray Norcia on vocals, and Bruce Katz on Hammond B3 organ and piano.

Michael is an associate professor in the Guitar department at Berklee College of Music and specializes in teaching a mix of blues and jazz styles. Originally from Northern California, he has written jingles for radio and television, and performed on extended tours throughout Europe with jazz and theater groups.


Completion of Guitar Chords 101 and Guitar Scales 101, or equivalent knowledge, is required.  Guitarists should have at least one year of playing experience and the ability to play some chords on the guitar. Guitar tablature and chord blocks, in addition to traditional notation, will be used throughout the course.

Software Requirements

  • Mac Web Browser: Chrome, Safari, or Firefox
  • PC Web Browser: Chrome, Internet Explorer, Edge, or Firefox
  • Flash Player (if on a laptop or desktop)

A recording tool is provided within the course that will allow students to record videos of themselves playing for assignment submission.  Alternatively, students can use a digital camera, smartphone, or tablet to record assignments.

Hardware Requirements

All Users 

  • For electric and acoustic electric guitars a basic amp chord with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • For acoustic guitars with no pickups a microphone with a 1/4 to 1/8 adapter for recording directly into the computer
  • A built-in microphone or an external microphone plugged directly into your computer (via built in ports or an external audio interface)

Mac Users 

  • OS X 10.7 or higher
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones 
  • Webcam

PC Users 

  • Windows Vista SP2 or higher
  • Intel Pentium 4 or higher
  • 1 GB RAM
  • 500 MB hard drive space
  • Sound card
  • Speakers or headphones
  • Webcam


Got a question? Contact our Academic Advisors by phone at 1-866-BERKLEE (U.S.), 1-617-747-2146 (INT'L), or by email at We can also answer basic questions in the comments below. Please note that all comments are public.

Next Term Starts January 9

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