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Beyond Classic Blues
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Blues Guitar Lessons: 12 Bar Key Center Soloing

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Now we've covered an awful lotta
ground in the last handful of lessons.
Turning the structure, the minor
pentatonic the bare bones box pattern.
Adding dynamics, the legato techniques,
bending, sliding,
vibrato, all different ways of
expressing that set of notes.
And yet, believe it or not,
you probably noticed we're still staying
within a very narrow part of the neck.
Essentially one octave with a couple of
notes on the bottom end added on just to
sorta complete the idea and
a couple of notes on the top.
All right?
So a very small amount of real estate but
we're packing each phrase within
that area with a lotta content.
And that again is really
what blues is all about.
It's not how much you play or
how far you go along the neck is what
you do with the phrases individually,
and how much content each note
carries comes down to the note.
All right, now we're gonna sorta
summarize this whole idea here by
coming back to the idea of how to organize
phrases in the 12-bar progression.
Now we know that the 12-bar consists
of three four-bar sections and
you've got two bars on the one chord and
then you answer that with another
two bars on the one chord.
Then you go to the four chord and
then back to the one chord and
then the five chord and back to the one
chord and the turn around and so on.
And we get the two plus two thing,
we've done that quite a bit.
When you're playing a solo
over a chord progression, and
the blues progression is
obviously more than one chord,
you've got two parallel ideas
happening at the same time.
One is the tonality, or the key, the key
center, and the other one is the harmony.
So if I'm in the key of A, and I'm playing
over the A chord, then the harmony and
the key center are the same.
When the harmony changes to the four
chord D, now the key center is A but
the harmony at the moment is different,
it's D.
And likewise when it goes to E, the five
chord, the key center is still A, but
the harmony is different.
So the essential concept of
soloing over chord changes,
this is true I don't care if you're
playing jazz over 100 chords or
you're playing blues over three chords,
same idea.
You're juggling two concepts at
the same time, tonality and harmony.
Now as we go along and
later on in the course, we'll talk about
playing over other changes or playing
more harmonically oriented phrases.
We'll look at different ways
of juggling those to things.
But for right now,
our concentration is on the key center.
And this is sorta
the down home blues idea,
is that you don't get too
distracted by the chord changes.
But you recognize them, but you're really
focusing primarily on the key center.
So the way that I can
incorporate chord changes,
the harmony into my phrasing, and
we've done this a little bit already,
is to just think about where
the root of the chord is.
So if I'm in the key of A,
I know A is the root and
it's also the center of the tonality.
my phrases tend to circle
around that note, right?
When the change goes to D, I've still
got the A as the center of my tonality.
But I can put a little extra emphasis on
the D, just on the downbeat
when the chord change happens.
If I hit that note and then just resume
my normal A key center type playing,
it sounds like I've kind of
addressed the chord change.
Same thing with the five chord.
All I've got to do is hit E and one way or
another, when that E chord lands,
and I'm playing changes.
So it's a way of balancing
the key center and the harmony.
Essentially our approach is key center.
We're thinking in the key of A,
we're playing in the key of A.
But we're aware of where we are in
the form and that helps to tell the story.
Now I'm gonna play you an example
of a two-bar solo that kinda
uses all of the stuff that
we've been talking about.
I should say a two-chorus solo.
The difference between
a one-chorus solo and
a two-chorus solo is that you don't
wanna tell the same story twice.
A one-chorus solo, we know that's a story,
and you got the lyrics, and
they tell their little tale.
And then the next course has a new idea.
Same thing when we solo.
I don't wanna just play the same solo
two times with a slight variation.
Why bother, right?
Just play one chorus and get out, right?
So if I tell a two-chorus story
I have to take it somewhere,
I have to add to the story.
And I can add to the story
by adding notes, but
we really don't have
that many notes to add.
We're using a very small part of the neck.
So I look elsewhere.
Instead of going wide, I'm gonna go deep,
and say how do I build intensity?
Well, I can use repetition.
This is something we really
haven't talked about that much.
But taking a single
Sorta working a set of notes over and
over again creates sort of a building
of tension, a building of energy.
And so without varying the melody all
the time and constantly moving through
the scale, I sorta focus and
I laid out a very consistent idea.
And by repeating it,
I make it feel more important.
It's like I'm saying, listen to this.
I want you to hear this idea right now.
By playing more notes, not moving up and
down the scale but playing.
In other words, filling the space, right?
At the beginning of a solo
leave lots of breathing room mm, yeah.
Okay, right, so I'm letting it air out,
and as a result, it feels kinda relaxed.
And each phrase is very distinct
as the the energy builds.
Constant triplets,
I'm laying down a much stronger,
energetic kinda phrasing.
I'm digging in harder, so
that's how I develop a sense of
direction in the solo, the first chorus.
And this is a typical structure for
a longer solo,
the first chorus is kinda relaxed and
The second chorus,
you start to build the density more,
you dig in a little bit harder.
And use more repetition.
So I'm gonna give you an example of that.
And this is something that
I'll write out for you so
you can refer to it as kind of a guide.
And then I want you to,
after this is all done,
I want you to send me a solo of
yourself playing two choruses of blues.
And you can use any rhythm track you like,
we've been working in A and
G most of the time.
Pick one and show me how you're
organizing your ideas and
how you're incorporating these techniques.
So that your playing is more expressive.
And you don't have to
think too hard about it.
Just use what you've built up so far, what
feels comfortable and within your control.
And make the most out of it,
because that's what it's really all about.
Okay, here we go.
All right,
that had
everything but
the kitchen
sink in there
in terms of
the bends,
the vibrato,
the slides,
the dynamics,
all the other
kind of legato
techniques and
so forth.
That's kind of the deal.
You put those ingredients together and
you're like a chef.
You say, well, I'll use a little bit
of this and a little bit of that,
I like this flavor more than that flavor.
And that's how you construct a style.
And the best way to sorta make it
gel quicker is to listen to players
that have a good sound, a good concept.
And you just steal their
licks straight out.
Just take them.
Copy them the best that you can.
In the process, you'll find probably like
every other player that's come before you
is that it's nearly impossible to copy
somebody else's sound identically.
But in the process of trying that's
how you discover your own sound.
Because the point is you get
down to the level of detail and
you realize that that's where the action
is the intimate qualities of touch.
So I look forward to hearing your solos.
Send me a two-chorus
solo that mixes up these
ideas in any way you feel is appropriate.
And, yeah, let me take a listen,
we'll talk.
All right, have fun with it.