Joanne Shaw Taylor lesson: what you can learn from one of the freshest players in blues

Joanne Shaw Taylor
(Image credit: Harry Herd/WireImage)

Joanne Shaw Taylor is a blues-rock guitarist, singer and songwriter from the UK. Like many of the great players we’ve explored in this column, Joanne was making a name for herself at just 16 years old. 

Dave Stewart of Euthrythmics invited her to join his supergroup after hearing her play, and now, seven albums into her career, she has earned the praise of Jimmy Cliff, Joe Bonamassa, Stevie Wonder and Annie Lennox, to name just a few.

Growing up in the West Midlands, Joanne came from a music loving family, her father having been a guitar enthusiast in his earlier years. Joanne started out with classical guitar lessons at school and quickly fell in love with playing the instrument. At round 13 years old her dad introduced her to the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan and she was instantly gripped by the blues bug.

Particularly drawn to the freedom within the blues genre, Joanne devoured as much of the music as she possibly could. Hailing from England’s Black Country, she frequently attended gigs at The Robin, a popular establishment for blues-rock focused bands with artists like Matt Schofield and other young musicians coming through around that time.

Joanne’s sound has a broad range of stylistic influences while maintaining a core blues guitar style and vocabulary. Her songwriting includes elements of rock, pop and soul, helping her to break away from the commonly favored I-IV-V chord progressions that are the backbone of much traditional blues music.

Her career has led her to work with some of the biggest names in modern blues guitar, sharing the stage with players like Eric Gales, having her albums produced by Joe Bonamassa and working with other top flight musicians including Josh Smith.

Joanne’s phrasing is wonderfully lyrical and she combines this with fast trills

Joanne has a refreshing approach to her blues style, and while she references much traditional blues vocabulary, is never afraid to branch out of the usual Major and Minor Pentatonic style phrases and employ entire scale runs, particularly drawing on the Natural Minor in Minor blues contexts. This is fairly unusual for blues players who often favor the Dorian tonality in Minor keys.

Joanne’s phrasing is wonderfully lyrical and she combines this with fast trills that often move back and forth between the 5th and b6 degrees. She also particularly loves the Minor 9th sound, and often resolves her bluesy phrases to the 9th. In our two studies this month we explore many of these approaches, firstly in a pop-rock type context and then over a Minor 6/8 ballad.

Get the tone

Amp settings: Gain 6, Bass 6, Middle 7, Treble 5, Reverb 4

Joanne loves the raunchy tone of the Fender Telecaster, but is equally at home on a Gibson Les Paul, and can regularly be seen playing both. Her tone is thick and saturated, so keep the gain fairly high on this one, with plenty of mids. Try plenty of drive if using the bridge pickup, but back it off a touch if you prefer the neck tone. Add reverb or delay to taste.

Example 1. Pop-rocker

This study focuses on Joanne’s use of trills, as well as triads found within the Pentatonic framework that give her lines a wonderfully lyrical quality.

Example 2. Minor 6/8 blues

This study focuses on Joanne’s use of the Minor 9th and the Natural Minor scale in conjunction with Pentatonic vocabulary to create lyrical sounding melodies.

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Phil Short

Phil Short is a sought-after guitarist from the UK. A stadium player, Phil is well known for his technically accomplished guitar style and has showcased his talent touring with Irish boyband Westlife. As well as touring, Phil has been a visiting lecturer at BIMM London since 2017, teaching performance, technique and improvisational skills to the next generation of guitarists. Phil is a monthly contributor for Guitar Techniques magazine, writing the blues column as well as video features on iconic rock legends.