50 Blues Guitar Licks You Must Know by Jeff McErlain is a new offering from TrueFire.com designed for intermediate to advanced blues guitarists wanting to spice up their vocabulary with some of the tastiest and most traditional phrases in the idiom. The course is available in a variety of formats with prices starting at $19.00.from truefire.com.
Working through the 50 Blues Licks course is a bit like a attending wine-tasting with an expert sommelier. Instructor Jeff McErlain’s hand-picked repertoire of phrases challenges you to break out of that good old minor pentatonic box using techniques such as: tremolo picking, double-stops, sixths, octaves, chromaticism, and diminished lines, and more. It includes not only solo ideas, but grooves, turnarounds, and tasty comping ideas. Although there are some slick licks included, these licks are generally not the flashy technique-oriented phrases but richly expressive musical concepts that will lend a sense of depth and sophistication to your playing.
As Jeff demonstrates each lick he takes time calls attention to the specific nuances that really make the music happen. Details on specifically how to bend, slide, or vibrato are not left to chance. I appreciated this attention to detail, especially as it relates to quarter-step bends. I find that those little in-between bends are often difficult for students to dial in, but usually get glossed over by instructional materials. Here, Jeff does a great job of highlighting exactly when they occur and what they should sound like.
Jeff will often relate a bit of history on how a lick has been used over the years. For example, the very first lick is based on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone” blues. It’s a groovy riff to be sure, but Jeff reminds us that this riff has been recycled several times to become the basis for “Catfish Blues” and “Voodoo Chile” by Hendrix, “Still Alive and Well” by Johnny Winter, and even a section of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath. This really gives a sense of the blues as a living music that continues to evolve. I also think it also gives guitarists permission to start creating their own music using the motif as a springboard.
The course is available in several software and DVD formats. If you spend any time at all with a computer, the software format is definitely the way to go. It’s a nice package that goes way beyond what traditional instructional DVD’s can offer, but if you haven’t purchased a TrueFire course before it may take a bit of exploration to uncover all of the available features. In addition to the watching video, the “interactive video lesson player” interface gives you access to the backing tracks that Jeff uses to demonstrate each lick, music and tablature in PDF and Power Tab format for each lick, a tuner and metronome, and access to TrueFire’s online forum and jambox. Prices for the course range from $19.00 to $34.00 depending on you choice of format and delivery.
My only criticisms are not deal-breakers and mostly reflect my personal preferences. I do wish that the licks were indexed by style or key so that I could locate specific types of licks quickly. I would also have preferred to have all of the music available in a singe PDF booklet rather than having to call up each lick individually via the interface. I also found the presentation of the printed music to be a bit weak. I would have expected the use of Sibelius or Finale rather than the freeware Power Tab Editor for engraving. I also would have liked to see more footage of Jeff just playing. If that won’t encourage you to practice, nothing will! To make my point, here’s a look at Jeff performing at NGW’s 2009 McLean VA campus:
The course is a blast to work through and certainly serves as a great “rut-buster” for guitarists who are looking to take their blues playing to new places. Just choose any one of the 50 licks that interests you and then begin working on incorporating it into your playing. You can come for more back anytime. If you install the software version you don’t even have to take a DVD out of the case, just click on the icon and you’ll be riffing in seconds. Jeff does an inspiring job of demonstrating the licks and explaining their origins as well as breaking everything down into easy-to-understand concepts. I completely enjoyed working with the material and learning a few new tricks. I’ll definitely be recommending this course to many of my students, and you should check it out too.
Note to non-guitarists: This will make a fantastic holiday gift for the guitar player in your life!
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