When I was in my early 20s I longed to hear a guitarist who combined the grit and fire of Stevie Ray Vaughan with the harmonic sophistication of Larry Carlton. Such a player duly came along in the shape of Robben Ford. I read about his album “Talk To Your Daughter” in a guitar magazine in 1988, but it took me a while to get hold of a copy. In those days, you bought your records from the local Woolworths, and beyond the usual top 40 drivel, the choice on offer was a bit sparse. But I digress…
What I love about his playing is that he plays jazz lines with a big overdriven guitar sound and bluesy phrasing. If you fancy adding some of that kind of thing to your vocabulary of licks, then I hope this guide will help. Let’s begin with the basics…
Most of the phrases that we perceive as sounding “jazzy” sound that way due to the inclusion of notes which sound dissonant or odd… “wrong” notes if you like. The best place to add these notes in is at the point where one chord is changing to another. This is why jazz players often refer to “playing over the changes”. You are basically playing notes which sound harsh and uncomfortable in order to increase the tension & excitement. When the chord change has completed, it is important that you resolve this tension by landing on a note which sounds sweet and harmonious over the new chord. Here’s an illustration…
So you can see that it’s a matter of placing your dissonant note choices on the “cusp” of the chord change. For most of the solo I’m using as an example I’ve stuck to the kind of blues ideas outlined in the previous two blog posts. It’s the jazzy sounding phrases we’re looking at today, and you can see below exactly where, in the chord sequence, I’ve placed each of the six licks we’ll be looking at.
So, lets take a listen to how these phrases sound. Click HERE to listen to the solo.
And here are the licks tabbed out and explained:
This lick occurs over the change from A7 to D7. Any time you have this chord change you can use the A “altered” scale. This scale can be viewed as being the Bb melodic minor scale starting on it’s 7th note (A Bb C C# Eb F G), but don’t worry about that for now. I don’t think in terms of that scale when I’m playing this kind of lick. What I am thinking of are the following notes: A C# & G (the “core” notes of an A7 chord), plus the extremely dissonant sounding Bb (a flat 9th of A7); C (a sharp 9th of A7) Eb (a flat 5th of A7) and F (a sharp 5th of A7). Simply by adding these notes into otherwise “ordinary” A7 type licks you will be playing the “altered” scale (sometimes known as the “superlocrian mode”). Here is a fingering for the scale:
This one happens over a Bm7 – E7 – A7 sequence. This is known in jargon-speak as a II-V-I progression, and the standard jazz way to tackle this type of thing is to use a melodic minor scale. I mentioned this scale briefly earlier, so here’s a bit of background…
Strictly speaking, the melodic minor scale uses different notes depending on whether you’re ascending or descending the scale. This is due to the vagaries of history and not something which you need to worry about. To all intents and purposes, we’ll be concentrating on the ascending version of the scale which is simply a common-or-garden major scale with a flattened 3rd note. To play over Bm7-E7-A7 use a B major scale (B C# D# E F# G# A#) but with the 3rd note (D#) flattened to D. This is a B melodic minor scale (B C# D E F# G# A#). When you arrive at the “destination” chord of A7, simply take the A# down to an A note and you’ll resolve the tension created by the melodic minor scale. Here is a fingering for the B melodic minor scale:
Another commonplace scale, and one which is favoured by Robben Ford, is the diminished scale. It can be used in much the same way as the altered scale we looked at earlier. Here I’m using it over the E7 to A7 chord change as we move into the 2nd time through the 12 bar chord sequence. A diminished scale is made up of alternating 2 fret/1fret steps which means it repeats itself every 3 frets on the neck. This is very useful, as you only really need one fingering for it which you then just move up/down in 3 fret stages. Here is the fingering I used:
A great way to add tension to any A7 – D7 chord change is to do what blues players already do instinctively… play 3 frets up. Most blues players are familiar with the idea of playing A minor pentatonic over an A7 chord. Am pentatonic is exactly the same as C major pentatonic so effectively, if you do this, you’re playing 3 frets higher than the A7 tonality. This is something that jazz players do to a greater degree by going up another 3 frets, then another 3 and so on until you arrive back at your “home” chord of A7. Here’s the cycle: A goes up 3 frets to C; C goes up 3 frets to Eb; Eb goes up 3 frets to Gb; Gb goes up 3 frets to A. This lick uses arpeggio based ideas from that cycle. It begins with a Gb arpeggio, then into an Eb7 based lick. I then move the shape up 3 frets and get an A major arpeggio going to a Gb7 lick which resolves onto a strong D note from the newly arrived D7 chord.
Again, another Bm7 – E7 – A7 sequence where I use the B melodic minor scale. Exactly the same principle as lick No.2
Another E7 – A7 chord change where I use the same diminished scale idea from Lick No.3.
Click HERE to get a backing track for the solo.
And there you have it… how to embellish your blues solos with a little Robben Ford-esque jazziness. Don’t be put off by the fact that there’s a lot of new concepts here. If you’ve got to the point where you’re playing a blues solo (however basic), then you’ve already learned how to…
- Strum chords
- Change from one chord to another
- Co-ordinate your left & right hands to pick accurately
- Hammer on from one note to another
- Pull off from one note to another
- Slide from one note to another
- Bend a string
- Remember where the “safe” places are to land on a “right” note (whether or not you think of this in terms of scales).
Each of these techniques was, at one time, a strange & new concept which took some practice to get right. I see novice guitarists in my lessons struggling with each of these things on a daily basis. Within a matter of months, they’ve usually mastered whatever it is they’re struggling with though, and often, the very fact that it even was a struggle is forgotten. My point is that experienced guitarists sometimes give up on a new concept, thinking that “I just can’t play like that”, or similar. However, if you cast your mind back to the first time you tackled going from an open G chord to C, you will no doubt remember thinking it was the most difficult thing in the world. The learning curve you were on then was a lot steeper than the one required to get to grips with what you’ve learned here, so just have faith that you CAN do it, and it WILL get easier. Above all keep plugging away and… HAVE FUN!
Until next time, by for now.