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Tech Session

Joe Bonamassa

Issue #4

Joe Bonamassa is the hottest thing to happen to Blues guitar in a long time. Danny Gill analyses Joe's style and shows you how to get to grips with his masterful Blues lead style.

Joe Bonamassa is a great blues player who is also influenced by guitarists outside of the blues genre such as Eric Johnson and John McLaughlin. It’s this mix of old school Blues feel and great technique that we’re going to try and capture in this lesson.

What we’re going to do is take an up-tempo 12 bar Blues in the key of G and solo over this 12 bar round one time. The licks will follow the basic structure of a 12 bar in G.

Lick 1: Played over bars 1-4. The bass is groovin’ on G

Lick 2: Played over bars 5,6. The bass is now playing C

Lick 3: Played over bars 7,8. The bass is back on G.

Lick 4: Played over bars 9,10. In bar 9 the bass plays D; in bar 10 the bass plays C.

Lick 5: Played over bars 11,12. The last 2 bars are known as the turnaround. Everyone who plays the Blues should have a few turnaround licks up their sleeve!

The thing that is intriguing about Blues soloing is the fact that there is no single scale that fits over all three chords.* In the key of G we’re soloing over G7,C7 and D7. Sounds simple but… things get complicated by the fact that we need to switch scales (licks, arpeggios,etc.) as the chords change.

This is what keeps Blues players coming back for more; the dichotomy between the simplicity of the chords and the challenge of sounding natural while navigating the terrain.

Lick 1

The first lick combines G major pentatonic along with G minor pentatonic. Either scale would work well on its own but Joe B. (and others) often combine these two scales to get that ‘bluesy’ sound. Generally speaking the major pentatonic gives a sweet sound a la BB King whereas the minor pentatonic is much more aggressive. Combining these two gives a good balance. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘hybrid pentatonic’ scale.

Lick 2

The second lick is a fast repetitive phrase outlining the notes of a C7 chord. The only note missing is the root note C.**

Lick 3

The third lick highlights a ‘mirroring’ technique where the same idea is repeated in different octaves. In this case we repeat in three octaves. The first two notes hammer on from the minor 3rd (Bb) to the major 3rd (B) This interplay between the 3rds is where the Blues lives and breathes.

Lick 4

The fourth lick is something Joe B may have gotten from a player like John McLaughlin. It is a descending sequence using the G dorian mode. Strictly speaking, G dorian works best over the C chord but it’s the Blues so (almost) anything goes.

Lick 5

The fifth and final lick is a turnaround idea using hammer-ons and pull offs. You’ll need to have fast fingers to pull this off but hey…it’s Joe B style

*the exception is if all of the chords are major triads (OK to use the major scale) or if all of the chords are minor triads (OK to use the minor scale). In the real world of playing Blues this is kind of boring and doesn’t happen very often.

**ironically it is often the root note that is the least important when arpeggiating. This is because the root is covered by the bass.

**ironically it is often the root note that is the least important when arpeggiating. This is because the root is covered by the bass.

Having got to grips with Joe Bonamassa's impressive lead style, Danny Gill dips into Joe's equally skilled rhythm playing.


Let's say you get invited to sit in with Joe B and his band for the night. Not only should you know how to play a few classic Rock songs (brush off those Zeppelin and ZZ Top riffs) you are also going to need to know an arsenal of Blues tunes. And what do you play 90% of the time when playing songs? Rhythm Guitar! The good news is that if you learn some rhythmic variations on a few Blues tunes, you can mix and match and voila…you know a lot of songs.

The most traditional Blues rhythm is the ’pinky rock’ riff made famous by Chuck Berry in Johnny B Goode, circa 1958. And while everyone should know how to play this rhythm, it’s exhausting! Don’t know how Chuck did it. Not too bad in a key with open strings such as A, but have you ever tried playing a five minute 12 bar blues in Bb using Chucks ol’ pinky rock riff?


Joe B’s rhythm style is Blues based with a mixture of his many influences: a bit of classic rock, a bit of old school Blues, a bit of ’modern’ chording and a bit of Country (finger picking, hybrid picking,etc).


In this lesson we’ll be looking at some ways in which we can spice up a traditional 12 bar Blues with some new rhythm ideas taking inspiration from Joe and his many influences. Follow along with the video as well as the transcription. Take it nice and slow and let the ideas absorb into your playing. One good idea can go a long way if you really let it sink in. Maybe the riff in bar one will lead somewhere great…if it does, let me know.


We’ll be in the key of G so the 3 basic chords are G, C and D. Because there is no rhythm guitar on the backing track we

are free to interpret the chord sounds in a number of different ways. We can play major, minor or dominant chords. OR…we can combine these sounds to create a ’hybrid’ which is what we will be doing today.


Some things to watch out for: I’m doing a lot of hybrid picking which means pick and fingers. For ex: in measure one after playing the low E string with the pick I grab the G string with my middle finger and pull off. The piece continues in a similar pattern; the pick plays the lower strings while the middle finger grabs the upper strings. Joe B often uses a combination of pick and fingers to get a warm sound. This hybrid technique is very common to blues and country.


listen to Eric Clapton (especially with the Bluesbreakers), Jeff Beck, Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray, Eric Johnson, John McLaughlin, Danny Gatton, Buddy Guy,etc.

Issue 4

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Peter Green / Ivar Bjørnson

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