Adding Some “Fire” To Your Blues Solos

Hello, loyal reader! As promised in the last instalment, this week’s blog is all about playing some fast licks in a 12 bar blues. The solo we’ll be looking at here is a one-take, warts ‘n all piece that I recorded especially for this lesson. I was aiming for a “Gary Moore-meets-Johnny Winter” feel with maybe a little Jeff Healey thrown in for good measure. It’s worth saying, though, that I didn’t consciously analyse any licks from these players – this is just how I play when I’m attempting to sound like these guys.

As far as scales & note choice go, it’s a bit of a smorgasbord really. Obviously there’s a fair dollop of the good old pentatonic scale (in this case both A minor & A major). Added to that we have a few “passing” notes, which are basically just “wrong” notes included for added colour. As per the last lesson, I’ve also used some notes from the underlying chords. Apart from the pentatonics, the only other scale I’m thinking around during this solo is the Dorian mode, which is the same as a minor pentatonic, but with the addition of a 9th & a 6th. In Am, this transforms the pentatonic from A C D E G into A B C D E F# G.

When it comes to learning these licks, you should use the slow examples as your benchmark. If anything in the TAB is unfamilar, please refer to the notation legend at the end of the lesson. Get your fingers comfortable with the pattern of movements involved. If you forget about speed, and concentrate of fluency, it will work much better than if you simply attempt to play as fast as possible. A good analogy is when you change a password for a website you visit quite often… to begin with every time you log in with the new password, it takes you a little time to do, and feels a bit odd. However as you get more & more familiar with the pattern of movements your fingers trace across the keys, it soon becomes second nature. That’s when you are able to rattle it off quickly without even thinking. Try and type it in fast before your fingers are used to it, and you make mistakes. The same is true of anything which involves moving your digits quickly and accurately from one place to another – including playing the guitar.

It’s important to stay relaxed when doing this, also. If you tense up, or (as some people do) hold their breath whilst playing, it’s like trying to drive with the brakes on. It’s just not going to work. Anyway, down to business. Click HERE to listen to the solo we’ll be dissecting.

And here is the first lick:


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Nothing out of the ordinary here, just a 1st position minor pentatonic lick with a couple of passing notes.

Here is the 2nd lick:


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Again, the minor pentatonic. The C-D# bend on the 2nd string is reminiscent of Albert King. Also, note the slight bends on the 13th fret C notes. Bending the minor 3rd towards the major third is common practice in blues soloing.

Lick No. 3


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

A mixture of minor pentatonic (with D# passing notes), a bit of Dorian mode & some notes from the underlying chords. The 1st line all happens over A7, and the 2nd line is over D7

Lick No. 4


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

The heart of this lick is the repetitive phrase indicated. The notes all come from A Dorian, with the addition of the B-C# bends which give us a strong A7 chord note. It finishes with a double stop phrase with a little chromatic movement.

Lick No. 5


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Another repetitive lick. Based entirely on the minor pentatonic. You can hear this very lick played by Gary Moore in Thin Lizzy’s “Waiting For an Alibi”.

Lick No.6


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

A little bit of blues legato playing, using the A Dorian mode with an additional D# passing note.


Lick No.7


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

A lick which uses a mixture of Am pentatonic and A major pentatonic notes. Again, note the slight bends on the minor third (C) up towards the major third (C#).

Lick No.8


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Another repetitive lick. These are very commonplace in blues, and the interesting thing here is that I’ve used the same shape twice to get different notes. The pattern of moves used between the 5th & 8th frets (notes G F# E & D) in the first part of the lick is duplicated between the 8th & 11th frets (notes D# D C & A) for the 2nd half. Try mapping out the notes to any lick you play and see if you can use the same “shape” elsewhere to get a phrase using different notes.

Lick No.9


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Beginning with a similar shape to that used in Lick No.8, this phrase descends the neck using pull-offs & slides. The final F# note is from the D7 chord which has just arrived by the time I get to the end of the lick.

Lick No.10


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

These are just a collection of notes from the underlying D7 chord.

Lick No. 11


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Yet another repetitive lick. The nine note “core” of this lick is made up of C B A G F# E D# D C. These are all notes from the A Dorian mode, with the exception of D# which is included as a passing note.

Lick No.12


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

This begins by targeting notes from the E7 chord, before descending using a mixture of Am pentatonic and A major pentatonic (two pretty safe scales in any blues in A). Then it goes to run which moves from F# to D to C, which are all from the D7 chord which has arrived by that point. It ends on a couple of notes from the A7 chord.

Lick No.13


|Full Speed| |Slowed Down|

Another minor pentatonic lick based on a reprise of the repetitive idea from Lick No.5.


And there you have it… some fiery sounding blues licks to add a little speed to your blues solos. Remember to TAKE IT SLOWLY & AIM FOR FLUENCY when learning these phrases. Be patient and you will notice, from one week to the next, that you’re getting more comfortable with them & the speed is creeping up gradually. It’s not going to happen overnight, but it WILL happen.

Click HERE for a backing track.

Next time, we’ll round off this little blues-fest by looking at some sophisticated Robben Ford style jazzy blues ideas. Until then… Have fun 🙂


John Robson Guitar Tuition

The John Robson Jazz Project


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