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How To Use Riffs And Licks To Create Pro Sounding Blues Guitar Solos

A great thing to learn to do on a guitar is to improvise. A great style of music to learn how to improvise with is the blues. The vast majority of guitar players you meet will be familiar with the blues and be capable of jamming it. This is why the blues is so popular. You can meet a fellow musician, and literally the next minute be jamming out on a blues of some kind.

I’ve been in this kind of situation many times before, and it is a very rewarding experience to be able to play a solo on the spot, over a blues, and have it sound awesome!

To improvise simply means to make things up on the spot. This sounds like a really difficult thing to do if you have not done it before, however you improvise all the time, just perhaps not with your guitar playing.

For example, you go to the shops and bump into someone you meet unexpectedly.

What do you do?

You speak to them of course. However, you aren’t going via a script right? That’d be a little ridiculous. Instead you improvise a conversation.


By using the vocabulary you have learned to this point in your life time. You aren’t improvising in a language you are unfamiliar with.

The same is true when improvising solos. You use the lead guitar vocabulary you have learned to date. Yes, you can improvise without much of a vocabulary, however you will be very limited in what you can do.

By lead guitar vocabulary, I am referring to the riffs and licks you know on guitar. You need to have a bunch of riffs and licks under your fingers to then go and improvise with.

How to incorporate blues riffs into your playing

In today’s article we will focus on a handful of blues riffs and how to go about getting them into your playing so you can improvise with them freely, in real time, without having to prepare anything first.

Before we do this, take a look at the following 12 bar blues progression in the key of C:


If you are going to be improvising with riffs, you want to make sure you are familiar with the chord progression you are going to be improvising over, in this case a 12 bar blues in C.

Take a moment to have a play thorough it to become familiar with the sound.

Common Blues Riffs

The following are 4 common, typical riffs in the key of C minor. I am using the first pentatonic scale pattern for each riff, with the exception of the 3rd riff where I use the upper part of pattern 2.

Here is pattern 1 pentatonic scale:


Blues Riff 1

This first riff starts with a full step bend at the 11th fret before descending the scale. You can hear me demonstrating and applying this riff in the video below.


Blues Riff 2

This next riff also starts with a bend, however at the 10th fret on the 3rd string of the pattern. This is one of the most common riffs associated with pattern 1 and can be heard in many solo’s, typically with variations applied. Listen to me demonstrate and apply this riff in the video below.


Blues Riff 3

The following riff utilises the top part of pattern 2 pentatonic scale. This is also extremely common, so much so that this part of pattern 2 is often referred to as an upper extension to pattern 1.


Again, you can hear me demonstrate and apply this riff in the video below.

Blues Riff 4


This final riff targets the lower section of pattern 1 pentatonic scale. Notice I use a note not directly in the pattern at the 8th fret on the 5th string. This is known as the blues note and is used all the time within pattern 1 pentatonic scale.

Watch the video below to see a demonstration of each riff as well as each being applied over a 12 blues in C. I will also improvise with these riffs, connecting them together as well as creating variations.


Once you have each riff above in your fingers, you want to play each in context over a blues as I do in the video above. Many people stop here and wonder why they have a hard time using the riffs they learn to create actual music. You need to next work on integrating each of the riffs together as well as create variations of them so you have more to work with.

This is a topic for another article, however you can start doing this yourself once you have these riffs down. Just jump in and start having fun with them, coming up with your own creations and applications of each.

Author Box:

Simon Candy is a musician and guitar instructor from Melbourne, Australia. Simon runs both his own guitar school teaching and training people in the styles of blues, rock, jazz, and fingerstyle, as well as teaching and coaching people all around the world with online instruction for acoustic guitar.

Jennifer BarlowComment