Acoustic Blues Guitar Expressivity and Technique: Which Comes First?

acoustic-blues-guitar-expressivity-and-techniqueYou can read all the theory and history you want about playing acoustic blues guitar. It will certainly help you understand the differences in style among the subgenres of this type of music. It will likely give you some insight into how it emerged and was developed. It will inspire you, prompt you to listen to more music and, hopefully, invite you to hone your craft ever further. However, there’s nothing like acoustic blues guitar expressivity and technique. These are the two aspects to this genre which define it, set it apart, and also qualify it as something of a paradox. One can’t help but wonder which one came first: expressivity or technique? Today we explore both sides to this argument, without claiming to provide a definitive answer, but simply an overview of the debate. You get to choose your own side at the end.

Expressivity: Finding your own style

The great thing about acoustic blues is that it isn’t at all difficult to learn, from a technical point of view. Yes, mastering a few chords and practicing away at them will get you places right from the get-go. This musical style is based on simplicity and an analysis of some of its all-time greats, such as Eric Clapton or B.B. King will confirm this time and time again. And the beauty of it is that acoustic blues guitar expressivity and technique are just as important irrespective of whether you’re playing lead or rhythm guitar. Of course, there are some notable song exceptions to this rule, but, by and large, technique is not nearly as complex to master as one’s own personal style. The paradox, however, is that, as with all forms of art, you can’t make passes at a personal style as long as you don’t have at least some essential techniques down to pat.

Essential acoustic blues guitar techniques for newbies

While we’ve covered some of them individually before, it’s important to know what the most important techniques are. Since acoustic blues guitar expressivity and technique go hand in hand, the former will thrive if you take the necessary time to perfect the latter. Here are some techniques you need to know about:

  • Bent notes. Slowly raise the pitch of a note by stretching the guitar string. This is one of the most instantly recognizable hallmarks of the blues.
  • Vibrato. As its name of Latin origin suggests, this technique is all about adding vibration to your sound. Wiggle your left hand finger on a note and instantly make any chord progression sound all the more blues-y for it. Since a lot of acoustic blues guitar songs are played in medium tempo, with long notes, you’ll have ample opportunities to do so.
  • Slide on notes. Sure, acoustic blues guitar allows you to just hit the right chords and go home, but your music will sound all the more personal if you take the time to slide into a particular note. You can either slide on it from the note above or from the one below, much like a horn would do, or like a vocalist.

Acoustic blues guitar expressivity and technique are both essential

You can’t master expressivity if, for instance, you don’t understand the essential concepts of rhythm specific to acoustic blues guitar. Backphrase, also known as rubato, is one of the techniques that manage to make blues songs literally come to life – all you need to do is allow melodic notes to fall behind the beat. The leisurely vibe this adds to your playing will definitely stamp ‘acoustic blues personal style’ on it, so don’t hesitate to use it to your heart’s content.

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