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Blues Guitar Lessons: Pickup Phrases

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All right, we're gonna talk about
something that is central to the blues.
It's called pickup lines.
Not what you're thinking.
I've actually been using
pickup lines in my soloing.
Most of the time when
I'm giving you examples,
it's written into some of
the things you've been playing.
But it's another one of those
aspects of phrasing that's so
intuitive that it's easy to overlook.
And what a pickup phrase is, it's this.
It's preceding the down beat.
Like this, for example.
Let's say I'm gonna play a blues in G,
[SOUND] And I say, one, two, three.
Okay, how many times have you heard that?
You know,
BB King does that on every solo he takes.
So, what that is is a phrase
that rhythmically starts
before the downbeat of the bar.
So one, two, three, duh-duh-duh-duh-dah.
And the key to the whole idea is that
it's the last note that's the payoff,
that's the strong note.
So the pickup is the part of
the phrase that precedes the bar,
that sort of creates the anticipation,
and the last note,
not the first note, but
the last note is the payoff.
two, three.
Two, three.
Two, three.
And so on.
Those are all pickup phrases,
and again, they sound so
natural that in a sense, you could play
a whole solo with pickup phrases and
sound pretty good,
although it becomes very repetitive.
But we're gonna do exactly
that to give you the feel for
the idea, and
really ingrain it in your consciousness.
So, think of it in terms of
how it affects the music.
It's like a singer.
The lyrics of a blues song,
that's the setup.
da-da-ga-doo-boom, right?
Think of a drummer playing fills
That's where everybody puts a little
something to create that sense of
anticipation and then arrival,
the arrival is the down beat.
We do the same thing when we solo, and
the result is it makes the solo
phrasing sound completely natural.
And you don't even notice it.
And like a lot of techniques, if you
notice it, it's not being done well.
If you don't notice it,
you're doing a good job.
So we wanna integrate pickup
phrases into our playing.
Now, as I said, to help you do
that I wrote out a series of them,
arranged in a 12 bar shuffle.
With a quick change, we'll get
the maximum number of chords in there to
practice these pickups
as many ways as we can.
And these are of course playable
in any key, just move them up and
down the neck depending
on where you're going.
And that's all there is to say about that.
Let me play it for you, then we'll talk
about it and see how they're arranged and
what choices I'm making and
how you can sort of develop that idea.
Okay, here we go.
That's the idea of it.
It's just one chorus worth of phrases.
Now, as I said,
you play pickup phrases on every bar,
after a while it develops
a sing-song quality.
You don't want that.
You wanna use pickups to create a point
of emphasis within the solo, but
don't use it all the time.
The obvious place is at
the beginning of the solo and
then on the major chord changes,
the four chord and the five chord, and
I'll demonstrate how to integrate it in
a second, but just taking those ideas.
So it's one, two, three,
that's a classic,
one of the all-time classic
pickup lines that you'll hear.
Lots of blues guitar
players use that sound, so
going up the major chord and then
sliding into the octave there.
doubling up that high note on the second
Now I'm combining my knowledge
of chord tones with
the pickup line concept.
So the target that I'm setting for
myself is a chord tone on every chord.
On the one chord, what's my target?
The root.
Watch the target on the four chord.
Back to the one chord,
the target is the root.
The seventh,
back to the third of the, or the seventh,
rather, or the four chord.
Root of the one chord.
The third
of the five chord.
Third of the fourth chord.
Any number of choices would
achieve the same result.
So there's really two things going on.
There's the timing, dah-dah-bah-do-bang.
And there's the choice of notes,
and I want that last note to be
a good strong chord tone.
So the example will give you these
ideas that are pretty universal.
Hear them in all kinds of players,
all kinds of solos.
And then from that,
once you get the sound in your head,
you can start to develop that.
Now in the context of a 12 bar solo, I
wouldn't use them, as much as I said, but
they make the key point when you want it.
So let me give you a demonstration on
that same rhythm track of how I might use
pickup lines without over doing it.
Okay, here we go,
[SOUND] right off the top.
Set up
the four chord.
So I was
using them
all the way
through there,
I wasn't
using them
on every
single bar.
So basically opening the solo
and then just kind of let it air out.
Now, I know I'm gonna go for
a couple of choruses,
so I'm gonna leave plenty of room at
the front so I can fill in later, and
develop that sense of
energy going forward.
Then it goes to the four chord,
now here's the change back to the four
chord in bar five,
I make a big deal out of that
and then answer it with some sort of
a straight up phrase.
Here comes the five.
Used a similar phrase to what I
used on the pickup line example.
Now, I don't remember exactly what
I played, [LAUGH] to be honest with you,
in the rest of the solo.
But as you go through it and listen,
and I'll put together some notation for
you, you can see where the points are,
where the pickup line sets up that change.
So in particular,
the beginning of the solo,
the change to the four chord in bar five,
and the change to the five chord later on.
Those are the key points in the harmony.
So that's where you use pickup
lines to kinda make the emphasis
about where it is that you're gonna go.
So it's a combination of the rhythm and
the knowledge of chord tones.
Put those together and you come up
with a really cool, melodic idea.
All right, mess around with that.
And I wanna hear you play a solo
that incorporates pickup lines.
I want you to build that into your
phrasing and hear how you're using it.
So send me an example of that so
I can check it out.
All right, I'll see you later.