Chicago Blues Guitar Lesson

Today I have a Chicago Blues Guitar lesson that many of my students love – it’s in the style of ‘Killing Floor’ by Howlin’ Wolf. But instead of just showing you a bunch of different licks and grooves I’ll focus on just one idea and then I’ll show you how to adapt this idea to different situations.

Lesson by Andi Saitenhieb.

Many guitarists learn licks and riffs by rote without understanding the How and Why of note choice, phrasing etc. The result is that they usually can play each particular lick only in that exact key, in that exact tempo, with that exact groove. Instead of learning hundreds of licks without knowing how to actually use them, it’s far better to know a few licks inside out and to understand the concepts behind them. If you can adapt your licks to different tempos, keys and styles (like blues shuffle, straight blues-rock feel or funky 16th blues) you’ll get a lot of milage out of the licks and grooves you learn!

Chicago Blues Rhythm Guitar in the style of ‘Killing Floor’ by Howlin’ Wolf

The rhythm guitar plays a low repetitive line that nowadays would be considered a bass line. When Muddy Waters and his band invented electric Chicago Blues in the early 50s this was a typical guitar part for one of the two guitarists. The upright bass – if present at all – would play a ‘country bass line’ (that is the root on beat ‘1’ and the fifth on beat ‘3’ with rests on beat ‘2’ and ‘4’). Later, when the Fender Precision Bass was invented, these low guitar lines were transferred to bass guitars.

Here is the most basic version of the ‘Killing Floor’ groove. This could be used in a Chicago Blues Guitar style with a straight feeling.

What happens here is that we start with the root of the underlying chord followed by the major third and we end on the fifth. Between the major third and the fifth we add two chromatic passing tones. (‘Chromatic’ is a fancy word for ‘in half steps’.)

Chicago Blues Guitar: Changing the key

If you want to play this riff in a different key, you can use a capo or try to get rid of the unfretted string to make the pattern movable. Off course, we have to change the fingering.

Chicago Blues Guitar: Changing the tempo.

Usually the slower the tempo of a song is the more notes you play and vice versa. Here is a popular variations of the bass line with eighth notes for slower tempos:

If the tempo is even slower, you could consider using 16th notes:

Play this as a 12 bar blues in the key of A and you can play along to ‘Killing Floor’ Howlin’ Wolf (CD ‘The Real Folk Blues’): || A | A | A | A || D | D | A | A || E | D | A | E ||

The E-pattern starts on the 7th fret of the A-string, not on the low E string.

Changing the groove / style – applying the ‘Killing Floor’-Groove to other songs

Now let’s try to change the riff to a shuffle feel.Here is a version where the bass line is expanded to a two bar phrase. Try to play this for a Chicago Blues with a shuffle feeling.

This example is in the style of ‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’ by The Animals (CD ‘The Complete Animals’) and by Eddie Cochran (CD ‘The BestOf’).

This example is in the style of ‘I Want To Be Loved’ by Muddy Waters (CD ‘Hard Again’) and ‘When The Lights Go Out’ by Jimmy Witherspoon (CD ‘The Complete Jimmy Witherspoon’).

Now try to invent a few more variations of this bass line. Try to adapt other bass lines and riffs to different keys, tempos and grooves (suggestion: Make it funky with some 16th notes!).

In the second part of this article we’ll take  a look at the lead guitar part.

If you want to learn more concepts like this you should consider taking 1-on-1 lessons with me (in Friedberg, Germany or via Skype). These lessons include tabs/scores, audio and video files and play along tracks that I send to you via email. It’s also worth checking out the download lessons available on my website

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Stay tuned!