How to play blues like Stevie Ray Vaughan
The Texan bluesman’s style is as influential as it unique. Here’s how to incorporate some SRV into your playing.
Image: Clayton Call / Redferns
The influence of Stevie Ray Vaughan on modern blues playing is almost impossible to overstate. Although his career only spanned seven short years before he tragically died in 1990, the Dallas native’s incendiary approach to the guitar changed the instrument forever.
SRV would become so influential that, in the decades since his passing, his choice of guitars, effects, amps and even strings have passed into guitar folklore and are now considered Holy Grails of tone. As with all superlative players, though, the real magic was in his fingers.
This lesson’s blues-style licks should be played with a triplet feel, which means you should interpret them as triplets even if they aren’t. For parts that have a triplet feel, count them as 1 a 2 a 3 a 4 a. When licks are shown as triplets, play them as such.
Now it’s time to pick up that Strat, slap on a set of 0.013s, plug in a Tube Screamer and head down to Austin to kick up a Texas Flood.
Here’s a rhythmic shuffle typical of SRV’s technique, and meant to be played with a triplet feel. Break the rhythm into two parts and you’ll have the fretted note on the beat and the muted note on the ‘a’ before the next. Stevie would apply this muted hit to a lot of his riffs to lend them a percussive feel. Play the fretted note on the downbeat and the muted note on an upbeat. Don’t worry about muting the strings flawlessly, it’s more of an attitude thing here. Dig in as you play.
This would make a terrific Texas blues-style opener. Stick to the 1 a 2 a 3 a 4 a triplet-style count across the first three bars. The slide from the 3rd to the 5th fret begins on the first beat and lands on the 5th fret, which you should re-pick, on the ‘a’ just after it.
Straight triplets were another trademark of SRV’s shuffle-heavy blues. This lick makes use of triplets for a speedy feel over a shuffling rhythm. At the start of the second bar, beat 1 is split into a 16th-note triplet and a single eighth note (the 3rd fret on the low E). This covers the same length of time as the eighth-note triplets throughout the rest of the lick.
Alongside the bend-laden pentatonic licks seen in bar 1, SRV also appended chordal playing to his lead work. The chord that lands over the first two beats of bar 2 is essentially an E major triad – the open E string, with the B note on the 12th fret of the B and the G♯ on the 13th of the G string. The second chord is an E7 (E, B, D, G♯) without the G♯ note (the major 3rd). We could call this chord an E7no3.
The final example is a fiery pentatonic blues lick that features multiple doublestops and some string bends. Look out for the descending run in bar 2, which features flurries on beats 3 and 4. These are played as 16th-note triplets followed by a single eighth note. Play the doublestop on the 12th fret of the D and G strings and do the hammer-on and pull-off on the G string with your third finger.
Try It Yourself
These licks are marvellous ways to channel SRV’s madcap brand of Texas blues. Don’t be afraid to showcase some attitude. Check out some live videos of Stevie’s playing and you’ll see that he was never gentle with his instrument. Dig in and have some fun.
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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