How to play guitar like Stevie Ray Vaughan

(Image credit: Joe Giron/Corbis)

SRV is known for his tasteful blues rhythm playing and fiery lead style, and here, we're looking at both approaches. Our licks cover several ideas that can easily be transposed into other key signatures.

Speed is not the main focus for these ideas; Stevie's style is more about confident delivery and fluid phrasing. His approach to blues rhythm is often based around single-note riffs (as in Travis Walk), often introducing chord ideas (as in Cold Shot).

His fiery, aggressive lead style is found in everything from Scuttle Buttin' to Pride And Joy, but Stevie also had a funky side to his playing, as demonstrated in tracks like Couldn't Stand The Weather.

1. Rotary-effect arpeggio

This riff spells out the distinctive sound of a dominant 7th chord (A7), targeting the all-important root, 3rd, 5th and b7th notes.

Rotary-effect arpeggio tab (fullscreen)

2. Major/minor mix

This riff twists and turns through the key of E major, but notice that we've also included passing notes (such as G and Bb) from the E blues scale.

Major/minor mix tab (fullscreen)

3. Diad lead lick

This lick uses SRV's famous quarter-tone bend within a two-note chord technique. In bar 2, simply bend the second string slightly sharp, somewhere between the 8th and 9th frets. By itself, it'll sound out of tune, but in this bluesy context, it sounds fantastic.

Diad lead lick tab (fullscreen)

4. Blues phrasing

SRV had a strong appreciation for Albert King's lead playing, and here we see a similar phrasing style. Notice how we've repeated the opening phrase again at the end of bar 2, varying it by approaching the 10th fret from the 9th fret - an approach Stevie used regularly.

Blues phrasing tab (fullscreen)

5. Funky rhythm

This funky rhythm idea is based mainly around a C7 barre chord and other passing notes from the C minor pentatonic scale. The secret is keeping the momentum going in your pick hand with constant, seamless 16th notes. Practise at a slower tempo until you get a feel for the rhythm.

Funky rhythm tab (fullscreen)

Total Guitar

Total Guitar is Europe's best-selling guitar magazine.

Every month we feature interviews with the biggest names and hottest new acts in guitar land, plus Guest Lessons from the stars.

Finally, our Rocked & Rated section is the place to go for reviews, round-ups and help setting up your guitars and gear.