This is a long and involved lesson meant to give you a solid introduction to and understanding of the art of blues guitar playing. It would be impossible to over emphasize the importance that blues music has to a modern professional guitarist. Simply put, without blues there is no jazz, no rock ‘n roll, no funk music and certainly no hot guitar playing. I have quoted the great Muddy Waters many times before who famously sang, “The blues had a baby they call the baby rock ‘n roll.”
In this super lesson you will find important licks, clichés ideas training exercises and full-length solos. Hopefully you will also find an understanding of the blues and develop an interest in studying and becoming an expert in the blues style of music. It is impossible to be a professional working, or even competent guitarist without being a student of the style, without significant experience in playing and listening to the blues. Below is a recommended listening list of blues icons:
The Big Kahuna
In Hawaii, a Kahuna was some type of priest, wiseman, healer, magician, sorcerer or simply someone who was respected and accomplished in his important endeavors. There were many different types of kahuna but the most respected, the most powerful, the most magical of the kahuna are sometimes referred to in pop culture as the big kahuna -someone who could do magical and amazing things. The large and in charge boss man. Today the best surfer on a local beach or among a group of surfers is called the big kahuna because of his ability to take amazing, almost superhuman rides across the waves. In the art of blues guitar playing I think of the minor pentatonic scale, and it’s closely related cousin, the blues scale, as the big kahuna.
To be a competent lead guitarist you need to be very good at playing all kinds of music and hot licks right off the top of your head using the minor pentatonic scale. When you practice you should practice learning solos of the freats and making your own licks up, learning how to play the minor pentatonic scale their way and your way. Like a kahuna with magical powers, the minor pentatonic scale can do amazing, almost unbelievable things for your lead guitar playing and for your music in general if you just give it the chance. Just like a surfing legend who can do something fantastic with a plain old surfboard, a skilled guitarist can make the minor pentatonic scale sound like an absolute knockout.
As introduced in lessons 11 and 12 the minor pentatonic box pattern and its cliché bends are central to and essential in all modern guitar styles. The small bits of melodic and interesting material, the clichés, are easy to weave into interesting and full length solos; they’re the perfect construction materials. The 5 clichés and bending licks below are the gifts we have inherited from our blues forefathers.
Combining The Flat 3rd And Natural 3rd
Arguably, the defining sounds of rock, blues and most contemporary styles are achieved by combining and contrasting the flat 3rd and natural 3rd. The perfect blues or rock licks inolve using both of the notes in the same idea in inventive and intyeresting ways. My guitar teacher used to call it ‘playing with the third’ and the late, great bluesman Bob Brozman simply refered to the flat 3rd blues note as ‘your buddy’ because you can always count on it.
Playing with the major 3rd of a chord, C sharp in this case, is only for use in A or A7 soloing situations, major or dominant type songs. Never use the major 3rd with A minor as this natural 3rd severely clashes with the A minor sound!
6th Cliche: Big Bluesy Bend Of The 3rd
7th Cliche: Double Stop Hammer Ons
8th Cliche: Playing With The Third
9th Cliche: Minor 3rd Blue Note In A Major Setting
Here is a good rule of thumb lead guitar players: “If a chord has a nice sound or an interesting one, that chord ccan very easily be turned into a musical idea or nice guitar lick”. When you listen to the sweet sound of the A6 chord with its inherent melodic quality, it’s easy to imagine this chord as the basis for a sweet sounding melody or guitar lick. In the example below, I am using that good old reliable flat 3rd blues note to add melodic interest and a cool factor.
Full Length Blues Solo No. 1
This follows old school blues protocol by repeating the first 4 bars and then following those 8 bars with a strong ending, this is called ‘story – story – end of story’. Strictly in the 5th position, this example requires no out of position shifts or slides.
Full Length Blues Solo No. 2
Another favorite trick of accomplished bluesmen is repeating a nice little 4 bar hook 3 times in a row. This type of pattern oriented or sequential thinking is a great way to make a plain old minor pentatonic scale sound like real music. the phrase closes with a ‘one note per string’ approach which is another way to give new life to a tired old box pattern.
Full Length Solo No. 3
Staying in the key of A we are popping up to the 12th fret, because it adds a freshness and sense of excitement to an extended solo. This solo is very difficult and contains some real strong classic ideas. I would consider this solo difficult so make sure you heed the fingering indications shown in red numbers just above the traditional staff.
When you practice improvising, try to use as much of the neck as is possible, don’t stay locked in one position or in one pattern, its boring and always starts to sound amateurish at some point. the diagram at left shows the A minor pentatonic scale as it is played in position XII -not the 5th position.