How To Play Awesome Blues Guitar Licks

By Tom Hess

Do you have a strong desire to play cool blues guitar licks but struggle to play them with great intensity because you can’t keep unused strings from ringing out? Truth is, most guitar players can’t do this and as a result are unable to play blues licks in a very musically expressive way. The key to solving this problem is understanding how to effectively mute any unused strings using both the picking hand AND fretting hand.

The most common situations that cause string noise include picking the strings with extra power, using heavy vibrato or using double stops. Unless you figure out how to eliminate extra string noise, your blues guitar playing will sound very unclean and your musical expression will suffer as a whole.

For the rest of this article you will be taken through the exact steps needed for cleaning up unwanted string noise in your blues guitar licks. Before beginning the exercise described in the steps below, watch this killer blues guitar licks video to hear what 100% clean blues licks sound like.

After you’ve finished the video above, grab your guitar and complete these steps to make your blues guitar licks sound truly mean (without sacrificing cleanliness or accuracy).

Step One: Quickly create a new blues guitar lick containing a maximum of 2-3 notes. To give you some ideas to get started with, look at the examples below:

Sample 1

Sample 2

Sample 3


It is very critical that you only create guitar licks with no more than three notes maximum. By using a limited number of notes, you will have no choice but to think creatively about achieving maximum expression in every note you play. This will help you become more musically expressive (increasing the quality of your licks). This is also important because it will help you focus on using proper muting technique to keep your phrases clean. Also observe how I did not notate the rhythm in the examples I provided for you. You are free to think creatively about the rhythms you use while playing these examples. Additionally, don't play all of these licks at once, choose ONE and practice it many times until it becomes second nature. As you play through your lick, make sure the last note you play ends with an ‘upstroke’. You will see the importance of this in the next step.

Step Two: Pay close attention while using an upstroke to play the last note of your blues lick to make sure it comes to rest on the adjacent lower string. This uses the ‘rest stroke’ technique demonstrated in the video above. It is a common mistake to let the pick to come away from the strings while doing this, so make sure this is not occurring for you. To avoid this, rest your hand on the strings using either palm muting or thumb muting in your picking hand (I highly recommend you use thumb muting in the same way it is used in the video demonstration). Take several minutes to practice this.

Step Three: Now, use the available fingers of your fretting hand and picking hand to mute the strings that could be vibrating as you are playing the lick. Not sure how to do this? Check out the images on this page with advice about eliminating unwanted guitar string noise. Again, work on this for a few minutes before moving on to the next step.

Step Four: Add as much intensity to your lick as possible by performing any combination of the following sub-steps:

  • Accent sustained notes using very heavy vibrato technique.
  • Use vibrato on both strings while playing with double stops.
  • Use as much power as you can in your picking hand by using A LOT of force to strike the strings.

As you play your guitar lick with a lot of intensity you will quickly understand the importance of the muting techniques you learned in the previous steps. If you are unable to play cleanly, go back and practice the second and third steps. As you are going through this process, don’t feel frustrated if you are unable to quickly play without creating unintentional string noise. By being patient and practicing you will master this and greatly enhance your lead guitar playing.

Step Five: Create several additional blues guitar licks or use the alternate examples I provided above and take them through the previous steps to make them as clean and intense as possible.

Create tons of additional guitar licks by watching the demonstration in this rock guitar licks video.

Make your blues licks more inspiring by playing faster after learning the ideas in this free guitar speed improvement video.

Author's Bio: 

About The Author:
Tom Hess is a professional touring musician, recording artist and online guitar teacher who teaches guitarists from all over the world in his online guitar lessons. On his website,, you can get additional free tips about guitar playing, guitar playing resources, mini courses and surveys.