It’s been a while since I posted anything specifically guitar-orientated, so this week I thought I’d share one of the things I get asked about all the time in my lessons… How to create a memorable sounding blues solo.
Often, the scale of choice for the blues is the good old minor pentatonic, and it’s true that some fantastic solos have been played using nothing but those trusty five notes. It is, however, possible to add some extra notes to what you’re playing. These notes will usually be derived from the chords you’re playing over. By using these chord notes, you will end up sounding more melodic. It’s also a great way of keeping the sound of the chord sequence in the listener’s mind if you have no rhythm guitarist in the band. You can solo like this over just a bass line, and the music will still seem to have the sense of direction and movement that the chords would usually provide if they were sitting under your solo.
A good starting point is to make sure you know what notes are in the chords which sit underneath your solo, and to be able to locate these notes on the fret board. In these examples, I will be using a standard 12 bar blues in the key of A as my backdrop. This means we’ll be dealing with the chords of A7 D7 and E7. Here are the notes found in each of these chords:
A7 = A + C# + E + G
D7 = D + F# + A + C
E7 = E + G# + B + D
And here is how to locate these notes within the context of the 1st position Am pentatonic scale.
Here are some examples of how you can use these notes. I’ve omitted the E7 examples, as all you need to do to get these is simply move the D7 licks up 2 frets.
First of all, here’s what it sounds like when you use a C# note over A7, on a lick that would otherwise end on C. Changing the C to a C# really makes the phrase sound more resolved, and “tied into” the chord. (Click on the TAB to hear it played).
And here is a D7 chord with the F# note used in exactly the same way. (Click on the TAB to hear it played).
One important feature of blues is the tension created by using dominant 7th chords like A7 D7 & E7. These chords sound a little uneasy when compared to straight major chords, and this is due to the dissonant sounding “tritone” interval (in “plain English” a tritone is a gap of 6 semitones between two notes) which each chord contains. In an A7 chord this tritone is created by the C# & G notes. In the D7 chord it is found between the F# & C notes, and in the E7, it exists between the G# & D notes.
We can utilise this tense sounding interval by creating licks which place the two relevant notes together. Here are some licks which do this. Once again, to get the E7 versions, just take the D7 licks up 2 frets. (Click on the TAB to hear each lick played).
A7 chord (C# & G notes)
D7 chord (F# & C notes)
Finally, here is a 12 bar solo which uses all of the techniques discussed. (Click on the TAB to hear it played).
12 Bar Blues Solo Using Notes From The Underlying Chords
And here is a backing track for you to try these ideas out for yourself.
Next week, I’ll be showing you how to add a little speed to proceedings. We’ll be looking at licks in the style of Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and some of my own concoctions. Until then… have fun! 🙂