Justin Sandercoe of justin­gui­ lends GT his in­sight as one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful gui­tar teach­ers. This month: Mak­ing mu­sic his­tory maps.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS - Get more info and links to re­lated les­sons on all Justin’s GT ar­ti­cles at www.justin­gui­­mag

Justin Sandercoe, Scott Hen­der­son, Mitch Dal­ton, Jam Tracks, One-Minute Lick and more.

I’ve been lis­ten­ing to the blues since I first got a gui­tar and spent hun­dreds of hours try­ing to ab­sorb the licks and songs of Fred­die and BB King, Ste­vie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, Robben Ford and many more be­sides… but a ma­jor turn­ing point in my un­der­stand­ing of the blues was when I started to make my own ‘Blues His­tory Maps’ and it’s some­thing I highly rec­om­mend you also check out.

I was tour­ing with The Coun­ter­feit Stones and wanted to deepen my knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing of the blues (the rest of the guys were older and re­ally knew their stuff!) so I bought a blues his­tory book called The Devil’s Mu­sic: A His­tory Of The Blues, by Giles Oak­ley. As I read the book I would pick an artist or two and search for some al­bums in what­ever town I was and lis­ten to them as I read the re­lated chap­ters. To­day with Spo­tify or YouTube it’s a whole lot eas­ier to find the mu­sic in­stantly, but us­ing a book to of­fer guid­ance on what to lis­ten to re­ally helps.

There are many other books on the his­tory of the blues and, while I re­ally like Oak­ley’s tome, Deep Blues by Robert Palmer is also ex­cel­lent, as is The His­tory Of The Blues: The Roots, The Mu­sic, The Peo­ple by Fran­cis Davis. I’m sure there are many more. Dip into a few and find a style of writ­ing you find en­gag­ing, be­cause you don’t want to have to trudge through it; it needs to ex­cite you.

My un­der­stand­ing of blues grew in ways that would not have been pos­si­ble had I not been trac­ing the de­vel­op­ment of the lan­guage. I heard the in­flu­ence of trav­el­ling mu­si­cians and how a whole scene could change af­ter the ar­rival of a new one, and the move­ment of licks, phrases, chord pro­gres­sions and even chord shapes.

Once you have a kind of frame­work, things fall into place a lot bet­ter and you’ll find it eas­ier to lock in new things you learn. Watch­ing ‘Martin Scors­ese Presents’ ex­cel­lent blues film se­ries is made even richer when you know a bit of the his­tory. Learn­ing about the hard­ships of many of the blues pioneers and how they lived gave me a whole new level of re­spect for what they achieved – not sur­pris­ing that they ‘had the blues’ with the in­cred­i­ble prej­u­dice they faced.

I would rec­om­mend you make your own notes and get to know your Chicago blues from your Mem­phis blues and lis­ten for sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween West Coast and Texas blues. Get the names of the pioneers in each city and then read about where they trav­elled, how they lived.. and LIS­TEN. Read­ing on its own is great, but I think lis­ten­ing as you go (and even tak­ing notes) is the big deal. Check out the Bri­tish blues play­ers of the 60s, who they were lis­ten­ing to and trace it back – the lin­eage be­comes pretty ob­vi­ous some­times.

I took it a step fur­ther and spent most days tran­scrib­ing at least a bit of what I was lis­ten­ing to so I could bet­ter re­mem­ber the phases and lan­guage tools peo­ple were us­ing. It ex­panded my blues vo­cab­u­lary and also helped if I was on a ses­sion and wanted to do some­thing ‘in the style of’. It also helped see in­flu­ences of play­ers I liked; lis­ten to some early Al­bert King and you can clearly hear where Ste­vie Ray Vaughan got a load of his lick ideas. Or check out T-Bone Walker and then Chuck Berry and you’ll clearly hear where the rock and roller nicked his licks (and moves) from.

Lis­ten­ing and read­ing about the sub­ject will in­tro­duce all the im­por­tant blues play­ers you might not have en­coun­tered as a ca­sual lis­tener – the great Chess Records’ house mu­si­cian Wil­lie Dixon who not only played bass on many of the great­est Chicago blues records, but also wrote many of the great­est songs. It wasn’t un­til this re­search that I re­alised that it wasn’t Howlin’ Wolf’s play­ing that I loved. Wolf didn’t play gui­tar, it was the in­cred­i­ble Hu­bert Sum­lin. Things like that made me feel a bit ig­no­rant but we all have a lot to learn and this kind of study can create as many holes as it fills. The more you know, the more you re­alise you don’t know!

It was (and is) a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney and I re­ally can’t en­cour­age you enough to give it a go. It helped me re­alise that blues is a lan­guage that we can all speak and un­der­stand - if in­deed we take the time to learn it - and for sure this kind of mu­si­cal study will make you a bet­ter mu­si­cian. And it’s not just for blues; it works just as well for what­ever style tick­les your ears. Which re­minds me, I must find a great jazz his­tory book and get started with that. Happy trails!

i re­alised it wasn’t howlin’ wolf’s play­ing that i loved. wolf didn’t play gui­tar, it was hu­bert sum­lin

Re­search into blues lin­eage and ge­og­ra­phy gave Justin new in­sight

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