The blues is one of my favorite genres on guitar, I teach it to students all the time. Why? Because it's easy and loads of fun. If you're at an intermediate level, you're already at a stage where you can play astonishing blues riffs and solos like BB himself if you know some basic blues guitar techniques.
And you know what, these blues techniques are mostly basic guitar techniques that you are probably familiar with already. If you can already play some of the more complicated songs in the guitar song lessons section of the site, you are at the stage where you might consider getting some blues guitar lessons, since you are already at the level where you could be playing the blues.
But enough rambling, here are the guitar techniques you'll need to master if you want to play blues:
- Bending to and from notes: Blues uses LOTS of string bending, you'll need to practice that a lot. It's tough on your fingertips at first, but it'll all be easier with time. When you're playing slow blues, you'll be bending up to the note you are aiming for a bit slowly, thus giving it the expressive feel that is very typical of blues.
- Shake the string: In other words, vibrato 🙂 Use it, and use it a lot when playing the blues. The vibrato might just be the single most expressive technique in your arsenal.
- Sliding: Blues guitarists don't just simply pluck a note, they sometimes slide into it. Sliding into notes is very typical in blues as well, and just adds character and a bluesy feel to the riff.
- Slurring: This is a technique that is utilized mostly in blues, and not in other genres. When slur a note, you bend it just slightly, right before plucking a new note. Slurs are actually one of the most characteristic sounds of blues, so using them is imperative.
- Hammering on and pulling off of notes: The hammer-on and pull-off is used very often in fast blues, so get used to it.
- Phrasing the blues: Blues players enjoy a sort of rhythmic liberty in the sense that they allow certain notes to be played off rhythm. For example, when a blues guitarist enters, he will typically start a half beat after the bar starts.
The techniques required for playing blues guitar are easy, the challenge is using them expressively. A vibrato is not just a vibrato in blues, it's an expression of your soul, along with all the other techniques above.
Here's a good tip if you want to start playing blues:
Start listening to as much blues guitar music as you can. Check out this post on the best blues guitarists in the world, download some of their albums, and just listen for how they use the blues techniques you are now familiar with.