Chicago Blues Guitar Lesson 2 – Lead Guitar

In the first installment of this Chicago Blues Guitar Lesson we took a closer look at the rhythm guitar. I showed you how to adapt parts to different situations (different tempos, keys and grooves / feels). Today we’ll do the same with the lead guitar part. As I wrote in the first part: It’s far better to understand concepts to be able to adapt your licks and grooves to different situations than to learn them by rote. You’ll get a lot of milage out of the licks and grooves you learn, overall you’ll be an better musician – and you’ll have a lot more fun!

Understanding the role of the Lead Guitar within a Chicago Blues Band

Just to get things straight: In Chicago Blues the term ‘Lead Guitar’ does not mean to noodle all the time! What it rather means is playing the higher one of two guitar parts. And usually these two guitar parts complement each other very well (that is the guitarists spent some time actually working out their parts). And both of them together create the background to really let the singer shine. In between the singing phrases the lead guitar can play fills (if there aren’t other soloists like saxophone or bluesharp). Actual guitar solos take up maybe between 10% and 20% of the time.

Imitating a horn section

This great Chicago Blues lead guitar part imitates a horn section. Try to mute the b-string with the middle finger of your fretting hand. This example is in the style of ‘Killing Floor’ by Howlin’ Wolf (CD ‘The Real Folk Blues’) and works together very well with Ex. 1 to 4 from my first Chicago Blues Guitar Lesson.

Changing the tempo

The slower the tempo the more notes you play and vice versa. Here is a great variation of that horn part with more notes for slower tempos:

Play this five frets higher for the D chord and seven frets higher for the E chord

Changing the key

Changing the key is no problem with this part as there are no open strings involved. Things will be a lot easier for you if you can locate the root of this guitar part! First of all we need to understand where these 2-note shapes come from. The upper shape is derived from the D7 chord shape and the lower shape is derived from a E chord shape. (The middle shape consists of the scale notes that are between these two shapes. This could be interpreted as being part of a F#m or a B7/9, but in reality these are just, well, ‘the scale notes that are between these two shapes’. 😉

Here are the complete chords. I have added the lower notes in in the tab to show the complete chord shapes.

Remember where the roots are to be able to play this great Chicago Blues lead guitar part in any key:

  • On the high E string of the lowest voicing.
  • On the D string right in the middle of the three voicings
  • On the B string if you turn the D7 shape into a D shape

Changing the Groove / Style of the Chicago Blues

Now we play a little more funky, but this could still be used by a Chicago Blues band. This time we use 3-note versions of the aforementioned chords, but the 2-note versions would work just as well. This example is similar to the verse groove of ‘Soul Man’ by The Blues Brothers (CD ‘Briefcase Full Of Blues’). We play in the key of E now, but you can transpose this to any key you like (the lowest chord has to be without open strings off course (see above).


Now we add in a chromatic passing chord on fret 8 (other than that it’s just the same idea again!) and we have the most played turnaround ever. This could be used for just about any Blues style, not just Chicago Blues.

Now that you now that these notes are derived from the 3-note chord shapes, how about inventing your own variations? You could play this turnaround with the notes on the g and b string or play triplets across the g, b and e string (upwardsor downwards) etc. Do it!

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

Stay tuned!