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How to Play Blues Guitar Like Stevie Ray Vaughan

How to Play Blues Guitar Like Stevie Ray Vaughan


by Antony Reynaert


I remember when I started playing guitar, I started playing songs from my favorite rock bands like Metallica, Nirvana and Blink 182. After a while I turned away from playing those songs because I wanted to be able to improvise freely on my guitar. Around that time is when I started getting into blues guitar. I remember one night when I was watching a Stevie Ray Vaughan video on youtube that I tought to myself ‘Wow, I have to be able to learn to play like this guy.’ Luckily, a few months after that night, I met a great blues guitar teacher that got me into Stevie Ray Vaughan and his playing style. In this article I want to share what I have learned along the way. 


First lets look at some techniques involved in SRV’s signature style, in the video below you'll see me demonstrating the left hand muting technique, which we will delve into in a second.


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The Techniques





One of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s main inspirations was blues guitarist and singer Albert King.

It pays to learn a few Albert King techniques and licks before we delve into SRV’s style. Here is an example: Notice the use of the bending technique.

Bent vibrato


Alot of what marks Stevie Ray Vaughan’s unique style is the raw feeling he puts into every note. He is very good at pouring as much emotion as possible into every note. We are going to talk about how you can develop this attitude in your own playing in a minute, but first lets look at a vibrato technique that is very evocative. 

Bend the string up using all three fingers; your ring, middle and index fingers so that you have more control over the string. When the bend has reached it’s target note (in this case the E-note), add a medium-width vibrato to it. While you perform the vibrato, keep on hitting the string multiple times. With some practice you should be able to make your guitar weep like a little schoolgirl. 



Left Hand Muting Technique


Alot of what SRV is about is his raw power, which we’ll talk about below. To be able to play with aggressiveness in your playing, you should have a very good left hand muting technique. If you only play one note as loud as possible, you can add all the vibrato or other techniques in the world to it and it will still sound thin in comparison to when SRV plays the same note as loud as he can. If you want to be able to hit your guitar very hard, you have to practise muting the strings with the left hand.

Take for instance this D-note from above. If you only hit the G-string you will miss out on the potential of power that lies in hitting all the strings. On the right you’ll see this same note but with the other strings muted. You hit all the strings, but only the G-string produces a sound, while all the other strings sound dead. Use your thumb to mute the three low strings and the front of the fingers that press down on the strings to mute the first two strings. It takes alot of practice to cleanly mute all of the strings, but here are some exercises to get you started. 

The Licks


The above lick using the Am pentatonic scale is a great place to start exploring some signature SRV-licks. I purposely left out the rhythm indication because there are so many different ‘feels’ to play this with. Stevie would use alot of ‘rubato’ or ‘floating rhythm’ in his playing so the best way to get his sense of rhythm is by listening to his records. The Bb-note he uses on the first string (6th fret) is used as an out-of-key passing tone, adding ornamentation to this lick. The blue-note is also used on the third string (8th fret).


SRV is known for playing long lines with a lot of notes to them. The most common way in which this is done is expanding licks diagonally across the fretboard. In this second lick you’ll notice that we glued the first lick to an expanded pattern on the low strings.



The Tone


A lot of getting the SRV-tone has to do with playing with a hard grip. 

Don’t go easy on your fingers, hold the strings down hard. The same goes for your right hand, there are times that you need to pick very softly, but in my experience I found that many intermediate players play with a soft attack. So one should practice gripping the guitar and smashing the strings (ofcourse while using the proper left-hand muting technique to prevent unwanted string noise). As far as equipment goes, you can use any Fender tube-amp to plug your stratocaster into. For overdriven tones, just use a tube screamer pedal, like the Boss Bluesdriver. Especially when talking about Stevie Ray Vaughan, the saying ‘Tone is in your fingers’ holds alot of truth to it.


The Feeling


Blues came from poor people that had nothing to lose so there’s a lot of aggression and sexuality in this. If your are playing blues guitar, but you lack that ‘spark’, try listening to the dynamics SRV uses in his playing. See if you can strike the strings with as much power as he does, then try to  pick as lightly as you can. In blues guitar playing, dynamics are crucial. If you always play every note with the same amount of volume, then you might fall into the trap of not sounding as interesting as you might want.


Nobody says that you should really be able to copy the raw feeling that SRV holds in his playing and in my opinion, the world doesn’t need another SRV-copycat, but this style has so much sugar to it that you’re going to find alot of benefits exploring it and using parts of it in your own playing.



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