How to play blues like Jared James Nichols
The kinetic fingerstyle of Jared James Nichols has made him a modern blues colossus. Here’s how to make it your own.
Image: Eleanor Jane
As you can tell from our interview with the man himself, Jared James Nichols is not one to overcomplicate things when it comes to guitar playing. All he needs in order to conjure some of the world’s most incendiary blues-rock licks is a single-pickup Les Paul, a snarling amp and his mighty thumbs.
Smashing together elements of Jeff Beck and Zakk Wylde with a smattering of Leslie West thrown in for good measure, Nichols has stepped into the limelight in the past few years, and it’s no surprise that everybody from Joe Bonamassa to Joe Perry wants to jam with the 30-year-old Wisconsinite.
Here we’re going to teach you five licks that run the gamut of Nichols’ scorching blues style. All can be played with a pick if that’s more comfortable for you but for the full JJN experience, crank up the gain and dig in hard with your thumb and fingers.
These banjo roll-style licks are one of the hallmarks of Jared’s playing. This pattern is a repeated triplet phrase and it’s easy to get going once you lock into the rhythm. It’s taken from the E minor pentatonic scale, second position with the 3rd fret on the G being the B5, the famous ‘blue note’. If you’re going to play this fingerstyle, play the D string with your thumb and the pull-offs on the G with your index finger.
When it comes to riffs, Jared is all about groove. While this is a relatively simple pattern, nailing it requires emphasising the rhythm and feel. The rhythm is a combination of eighth notes on beats 1 and 3, and quarter notes on beats 2 and 4. To keep the groove intact, play it loosely without straying far from the beat.
Speedy pentatonic licks should be foundational principles for any blues-rocker. This one has some lovely pre-bends and swift descending runs. Use the E minor pentatonic, and throw in the B5, this time on the 15th fret on the G string. The first two beats are made up of an eighth note pre-bend and release, and two descending 16th notes. The final two beats are 16th-note runs down the scale.
Get your guitar faces ready because this riff will make you gurn. Using the E minor pentatonic, get high on the E string with shape two. The first three bars are played as straight eighth notes with a full-step bend on beats 1, 2 and 3. In between these beats, release the bend and play only the fretted note. Try to mute the string bend before releasing so that you don’t hear the release. The two bends in bar 2 are each a quarter-note long. Bend then slow up with lots of feel to make it sing.
Jared’s country influences form another important part of his style and he often makes use of descending minor sixths such as these in pentatonic runs. Push the starting note a little. Don’t worry if it feels rushed, that’s normal. Bar 2 features straight eighth notes but keep them staccato to lend the lick some urgency.
Try it yourself
Each lick in this lesson is based around the E minor pentatonic scale using the first and second shapes but feel free to move them around the fretboard to see how they work in different keys. Even if you’re primarily a pick player, give these licks a go using your fingers. It really helps with the overall feel and, who knows, maybe you’ll like it.
About the author
Leigh Fuge is a guitar teacher and professional musician from Swansea, UK. He has taught hundreds of students face to face and via the MGR Music platform. He has more than 10 years of experience working as a touring musician, session guitarist and teacher. Visit mgrmusic.com to find out about guitar tutors in your area.
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