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Blues Guitar Lessons: Soloing On the Low Strings

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Now continuing with this idea of flavors
and textures, taking what we've
learned in one context and
maybe rethinking it or
applying it in a different context.
Let's talk about playing
in the lower octave.
Now in pattern number four,
one of the first things that we did
when we started to move around
the neck and learn the rest of
the shapes was to take the lower octave
and take phrases that feel comfortable.
[SOUND] Up in the higher range,
[SOUND] and
figure out how can I get that
same sound in the lower octave?
It's the same notes, the melodies are the
same, but the fingerings are different.
It feels much different under the hands,
and so
you have to kind of relearn the ideas.
But once you have them in your
ear it's much easier to do that.
You hear the relationships.
Now we're gonna take
that a step further and
just talk about playing low down,
as low as you can go.
One basic fact of life on the guitar is
that everybody plays on the high strings.
We love to get up high and bend that note.
Guitar players are notorious for
going up to the highest fret
possible as soon as possible.
But in Blues one of those mottos
is take your time, take your time.
And one way to build an idea, build a solo
over time is to work in the lower range.
And not only is it kind of
a contrast with the typical
high string soloing idea, but
it's also very ear-catching.
You get people's attention when
you throw a low note in there or
an entire low phrase.
Let me show you what I mean.
What we did in pattern number four was
the essential idea which is
Just saying what can I do down here
that will have the same sort of
sound in terms of the melodies
as I play up here.
But because it's low it'll sound
like a guy with a big voice.
You know,
it sort of has a different quality to it.
Well going a little further,
I can start to incorporate open strings.
And say, for example,
especially in the key of A,
this is a good test case for this.
[SOUND] It's the sound we might label
as the twang and
certain guitar players love that twang.
I mentioned sometime ago,
a guy named Duane Eddy.
Duane Eddy made his career around
playing on the low strings.
That was really his whole sound and
he wrote songs on the low strings.
And when you heard Duane Eddy you just
knew you were going to hear some twanging
down on the low end.
But more conventional blues guitar
player heroes also did the same thing.
Freddie King for example.
Now Freddie used a thumb pick and
a metal finger pick so
when he played anything in any
register it had a lot of bite.
And to sort of get some of the same
bite that Freddie used what I'm
going to do is go to my treble pickup.
now a word about tone.
Every guitar is different, but
here's sort of an idea to keep in mind.
When you play low on the neck,
low strings, low octaves, low frets.
You like a brighter sound
because it brings out
that quality a little bit more clearly
than if I'm on the neck position.
Now you can still hear it.
You know this is a pretty bright guitar to
begin with.
But when I go up high
if I'm on the bridge position here,
it could be really biting,
depending on the amp you have and
how loud you're playing.
Like an ice pick in the ear.
So as a general rule,
when I go up high,
I'll go to the neck area.
When I go down low,
that's when I'll use the bridge.
That's not a hard and fast rule, it's
just a general tendency to keep in mind.
If you watch videos of Stevie Ray Vaughan
you see him flicking that switch back and
forth quite a bit, and often when he
goes up high, he goes to the neck,
not to the bridge.
Which is sort of a little bit
counterintuitive because you think that's
louder, which it kind of is,
but it's also more piercing.
So without further ado let me play you
a little something over in A shuffle.
And show you some ideas for
playing on the low strings.
And I'm gonna make a little rule for
myself here,
I can't play above the fourth string.
That's the highest I can go and if I wanna
have a higher note I gotta go up the neck
and find that note on the fourth string or
the fifth string, somewhere up in here.
But I'm not gonna allow myself
to go up to the skinny strings.
Let's see what happens.
Now, I'm not playing
phrases that are outside my
realm as far as choices that I
would make in the higher octave.
But by playing them on the low strings,
two things happen.
One is the note just has more
inherent weight and when I snap it,
it just makes that note stand out more.
And secondly because,
like you, I don't play in the lower octave
as much as I play in the higher octave.
I have to think a little bit harder, and
when I'm thinking harder that makes
me more conscious of my choices.
I don't have the automatic sort of muscle
memory type of patterns that flow onto
your fingers where you can
play without even thinking.
I'm really thinking hard about it.
And one of the things
that I did down in there
I was trying to mix up the salty and
the sweet.
And it's just as applicable
down in the lower
octave as it is anywhere else on the neck.
So [SOUND] here's the sixth, right?
So I can play the sixth.
Now that has subliminally a little bit of
a kind of a sweet sound to it.
I wouldn't call it pretty,
but it's not nasty, right?
Whereas if I go for
the seventh, [SOUND] right?
It's a little bit harder edged.
So even between the sixth and the seventh,
I'm making choices about how
do I want this thing to sound.
When it goes to the four chord,
[SOUND] I'm thinking,
what phrases would sound good
over that change, you know?
I have the same melodic connections in
the lower octave that I have in
the upper octave when we know
that the [SOUND] the seventh of
the four chord [SOUND] is a half
step away from the [SOUND]
third of the one chord.
There is the seventh of the four chord in
an unfamiliar position but there it is.
There is the third of the one chord.
And so at every step along the way
as I go through the solo there,
I am thinking I am in my key center which
is A and I can just play the blues.
And run blues phrases and they're gonna
sound pretty good because that's the glue
that holds the whole thing together.
But I've also got my chords and
the chord tones give me more variety
in terms of melodic choices.
And so as I'm going along there,
I can see that okay, A is going to E and
where's a good E note and
bling, there it is!
Just as I did when I was playing solos
with chords on the upper strings,
I'm looking for connections.
And to me the interesting thing
about playing on the low strings
is it just puts your mind
in a different place,
it makes you concentrate and it gives
your phrasing a whole different quality.
So again, in the sort of the context
of flavors and textures.
This is something I would
throw in once in a while.
If I'm in a jam let's say and every other
guitar player gets up there in a row and
just like tears it up I know if I go down
to the low strings I'll sound different.
I might not sound better, but
I will definitely sound different.
And that's what you're looking for in
terms of the whole span of your playing,
is to be able to pull out
different varieties of sounds.
And not always have that one narrow
focus where I only play here and
I always play in this set of notes.
So think of this as another flavor,
another texture, and
I'd like you to send me
a solo in the lower register.
I wanna hear you play over
that 12 bar shuffle in A and
I don't wanna hear a single note
that goes above the fourth string.
And see what you can do with that.
It might be you're playing
a whole fresh new twist.
All right?
Have fun with it.
I look forward to hearing it.