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5 things we can learn from Gary Moore

Gary Moore is one of the most gifted and technically skilled guitarists in the history of the blues. He is also one of the most interesting. Moore took the traditional form of the blues and fused it with heavy rock, shred guitar, and glam rock. In a totally unique way, he combined the core elements of the blues with these very different genres.

In doing so, he helped to revive the blues during the 1980s and '90s. He garnered praise from fans who had little knowledge or allegiance to the genre, and helped set the stage for modern guitarists like Joe Bonamassa.

From his approach to playing, to the gear he used, to the techniques that helped him craft his signature style - there is so much that you can learn from Gary Moore. Studying Moore's technique and approach to playing will greatly improve your own playing and skills as a blues guitarist.

So without further ado, here are 5 key tips you can learn from Gary Moore:

• 1 •

Moore is celebrated in part for his brilliant technical skills and the speed with which he could navigate across the guitar. As I will explain in more detail below, speed is a key part of his style. And it is important if you want to learn to play like Gary Moore.

However, in my experience, when guitarists want to emulate Moore’s style, they often place a disproportionate amount of emphasis on their playing speed. And this can lead them to chase technique at the expense of some of the other key elements of their playing.

If you want to play like Gary Moore though, you can’t neglect nuance and feel.

Emotion was one of the characteristics that made Gary Moore such a great guitarist. He played every note with intense feeling and emotion. This is evident in all of his songs. But it is particularly prominent in songs like 'The Prophet', 'Still Got The Blues' and 'The Messiah Will Come Again'.

If you want to recreate the same feeling in your playing, exaggerate your focus on every single note that you play. Don't treat notes carelessly. Focus on them with real attention and try to express as much emotion as you can through your playing. Think about your pick attack, dynamics, vibrato and the way that you bend each note to extract as much from your playing as you can.

This will help you to get much more mileage from your musical vocabulary and will do a huge amount to improve your skills as a blues guitarist.

• 2 •

To help you in this process, keep things simple. Start by focusing on individual phrases, rather than on whole solos or improvisations. Moore was a big advocate of this approach, which he explains in this interview from around the 2.00 minute mark. I have quoted him here at length:

Take a simple phrase, and then learn it and go over it. Play it really slowly but really listen to what you are playing. Don’t just say “Oh right well there are the notes and I’ve got it now”. You have actually got to get into it and say - “how am I going to play it? How is this going to sound like me?... How is it going to sound like it is saying something?” Otherwise it is just notes. And anyone can play notes.

To execute this idea practically, I would recommend taking one of your ‘go-to’ phrases. Play it as you normally would, and then try to rework it by altering any of the following elements of your playing:

  • Phrasing
  • Dynamics
  • Vibrato style
  • Technique (whether you bend, or use hammer ons and pull offs etc.)

We all have our ‘go-to’ phrases. And if we are not careful, these can become stale and lead to somewhat repetitive and lifeless solos. However, by adopting the approach that Moore recommends above, you can create a wide number of variations based on these phrases.

To extract even more from this exercise, repeat it, but this time, adjust a single note within the phrase. Alter the starting note of the phrase, or the note on which you finish. When you do this, and you also adjust your phrasing and dynamics, you will be amazed at how much life you can breathe into even very simple phrases.

Not only will this help you to broaden your current repertoire, you will also begin to place greater emphasis on nuance, and on extracting as much from each note as you can. And this is an essential skill if you want to craft impactful blues guitar solos.

• 3 •

As noted above, speed is a key element of Gary Moore's playing. Moore is one of the fastest blues guitarists of all time and used fast licks a lot in his lead playing. In fact, it is very difficult to sound like Gary Moore without playing fast.

So if you want to learn from Gary Moore and emulate his playing, you need to be able to execute licks at speed. And crucially, you need to be able to do this without sacrificing accuracy. For although Moore was very fast, his playing was always very precise.

There are a lot of different exercises that you can work on to get faster, and I cover 8 of the exercises I use personally in this article here.  But one simple exercise to get quicker is to play chromatically up and down your neck in time with a metronome. This is as follows:

The idea here is to play 4 notes for each click of the metronome. Don't use any hammer ons or pull offs. Instead, pick each note individually. Work your way up the neck by moving up 1 fret every time you reach the high or low E string.

So, in the example above, after playing the 2nd fret on the low E, you would move up 1 fret, and start the pattern again from the 3rd fret. Go all the way up the neck until you hit the 15th fret. Then work your way back down the neck to the beginning.

Start at a tempo that is comfortable. You should be able to play all the way up and down the neck, keeping time with the metronome and playing all of the notes with precision. Once you can do that, up the tempo by 1 beat. Repeat the exercise again until you can play up and down the neck in time.

Include this exercise in your practice routine and over the course of weeks and months you will totally transform the tempo at which you can play.

You can also expand on and adapt the exercise above to improve the speed of your legato technique. Unlike Joe Bonamassa and Eric Johnson - some of the other notable blues rock guitarists that play very fast - Gary Moore uses a lot of hammer ons and pull offs in his solos. In fact it is quite rare for Moore to pick every note when playing fast.  His fretting hand is often moving very quickly, whilst his picking hand is less active.

Although this legato style of playing is easier on your picking hand, it poses a different challenge for your fretting hand. You need to have the strength and dexterity to fret each note without picking, and to do so whilst keeping time and playing at speed. The good news though, is that you can build your legato technique by simply making one adjustment to the exercise outlined above.

So instead of alternate picking every note, all you need to do is play each string once and use hammer ons and pull offs to fret the notes. This is what this exercise looks like in practice:

As with the previous exercise, the idea here is to play 4 notes for each click of the metronome. Here though you are not picking each note individually. You are picking once for every set of 4 notes. On the way from the bottom strings to the top, you use hammer ons. Then on the way down - from the top strings to the bottom - you use pull offs.

Like the previous exercise, work your way up the neck until you hit the 15th fret. Then work your way back down your neck to the beginning.

Start at a tempo that is comfortable and include the exercise in your practice routine until over time you can play it at a much faster tempo.

• 4 •

Even when Gary Moore does play fast, his solos never sound like a collection of fast licks. And this is because he always strikes an effective balance between playing at speed and playing with soul.

He did this largely through the construction of his solos. Very rarely does Moore play a series of fast licks one after the other. Instead he effectively combines slow, soulful licks with very fast pentatonic runs.

You can hear this a lot in Moore's playing, but some great examples of guitar solos where Moore constructs his solos in this way are as follows:

In each of these solos, Moore continually switches between slow, soulful bends and fiery and fast licks. This keeps his solos varied and interesting, and it is part of what makes him such a brilliant guitarist.

So, once you do start to include faster licks in your guitar solos - don’t forget to contrast them with slower and more melodic ideas. This will keep your solos interesting and prevent them from simply becoming a series of fast pentatonic runs stacked on top of one another.

• 5 •

Part of what makes Gary Moore such a brilliant blues guitarist is the way that he studied the genre and learnt from the early masters. His influences included blues guitarists as diverse as B.B. and Albert King, Albert Collins and Peter Green.

In fact both Albert King and Albert Collins played on Moore's album Still Got The Blues, and Gary Moore recorded Blues For Greeny- a whole album dedicated to his friend and mentor Peter Green.

Gary Moore studied these players and learnt from them. But crucially, he blended their techniques and style with his own, to develop a unique voice. As Moore said in his own words:

I started listening to all the blues guys, like B.B. King and Albert King. It still goes back to those guys, and I think my playing is a combination of all of those elements, but at some point it came together and became my own style.

That is a brilliant way to approach your own playing. You want to study and learn from as many different guitarists and musicians as possible.

Don't simply emulate them, but instead work to develop your own voice. Think about how you can combine all of the ideas you learn together, and blend them with your own natural approach and phrasing.

This is what Gary Moore did, and he developed an amazing style that was unique to him. It is not easy to do this, but focus on trying to make it happen. You will greatly improve as a musician and it will make your guitar playing journey much more enjoyable.


Well there we have it. 5 tips you can learn from Gary Moore. Of course this list is by no means exhaustive. Gary Moore was a masterful guitarist with a unique and nuanced style. And to distil his style into 5 points does not do justice to the depth of his skill.

I do hope however that the points here help you to get started channelling some of the key elements of Moore’s style. And in this way I hope that you can develop your own playing, whilst paying homage to one of the greatest blues rock guitarists of all time.

* * * * *

Aidan Bricker aka The Happy Bluesman www.happybluesman.com @happybluesman
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