Learn 8 progressive contemporary blues licks with this Josh Smith guitar masterclass

Anyone who has witnessed one of Josh Smith’s live performances comes away in awe of the man’s ability to fuse jazz, blues and country into one neat package - with a technical ability that has to be seen to be believed. 

Armed with a T-style guitar strung with a set of 13s, his playing is both fluid and seemingly effortless. Whatever your style of choice is, there’s something to learn in the following examples…

Example 1

The first two examples both came from the idea of taking melodic lines from the underlying accompaniment. Virtually all blues rhythm parts use the idea of momentarily moving a chord up a semitone on the fretboard for a bit of extra colour - so why not use that very same technique melodically?

Example 2

Another device extracted from basic rhythm-guitar lore, here Josh makes use of referencing the diminished chord, moving up a semitone from the D7. As he explains in the video, at the time he discovered this he didn’t know a diminished scale, but his teacher was able to show him a few ideas based around it that formed the basis for the sort of ‘outside playing’, employed by players like Robben Ford, later on.

Example 3

Continuing the theme of looking over the rhythm guitarist’s shoulder, here’s another melodic idea that springs from a common device in many popular songs. In a basic I-IV-V arrangement - it doesn’t necessarily have to be a blues - you often hear the IV chord going from major to minor (once you experiment with this change, you’ll hear it everywhere). So why not use it in your solo?

Example 4

Now we take a look at what the accompaniment can teach us about approaching the V chord. Here, Josh borrows another idea from the jazz world that entails placing a II minor (Bm7) chord before the V (E7) for a smooth-sounding chord change - and a great jazzy lick!

Example 5

We really opened Pandora’s Box by asking Josh to demonstrate how he fuses these jazz ideas into his blues playing! Citing players like Robben Ford, he delivers a full 12-bar tour de force outlining how a basic blues can be transformed into a far richer landscape by employing chromatic ideas and substitutions. Perhaps not for the faint-hearted, but working though it slowly will add some lines to your blues arsenal.

Example 6

A further example of how jazz can live on your blues fretboard, this time losing none of the aggression that can sometimes typify the music. Josh says, “It’s okay to mix it up…” before unleashing a mix of the dirty blues and edgy jazz which runs through his own guitar style.

Example 7

Another side to Josh’s playing is his distinct country influence, which made its way into his style by discovering the legendary Danny Gatton. It’s necessary to employ hybrid picking - pick and fingers - to make some of these licks work, but it’s a technique worth mastering if the end result is going to sound as fluent as this example.

Example 8

Having taken hybrid picking and some country-guitar influence into his playing, Josh says that it’s become a regular feature of his style and part of his own unique voice on the instrument. He demonstrates here how blues can sit shoulder to shoulder with country on the fretboard, adding up to a wild take on contemporary blues guitar!

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