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Blues Guitar Lessons: Open Position Soloing

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[MUSIC]
We've learned five ways to organize
the neck, or five patterns that
we can use to take this whole
span of sort of abstract looking lines and
frets, and
organize it so
that when you look at then neck you can
see patterns and
you can find melodies more easily.
That is a very good thing and
we are going to keep using that forever.
But at the same time if you are playing in
a standard pattern of course our number
one favorite pattern is
pattern number four.
Unless you have perfect pitch, it's
really hard to tell what key somebody's
playing in when they play those standard
phrases because they all sound the same
regardless of key, because the pattern is
the same, the fingering is the same and
slight changes in pitch don't
have a profound difference.
So G
[MUSIC]
yeah, it sounds about the same I guess.
B flat
[MUSIC]
yeah pretty much.
[MUSIC]
Well yeah, you know
[MUSIC]
Well it's up higher, but
it sounds about the same.
So, how do you create a distinctive sound
when you're in playing in certain keys?
And to me one of the best answers is
that you figure out what's different
about the key, not what's the same.
We know that the five
patterns are the same.
I can move them all around the neck and
it doesn't matter what key I'm in.
What's different,
what's distinctive, what stands out?
And this is especially
true in the two favorite
keys of down home blues,
which are E and A.
And everything that applies to E and A can
ultimately apply to every other key on
the neck, if you just put a capo on there
and turn an open string key, or turn
whatever key you're in into an open string
key, by clamping at the appropriate fret.
But we'll use E and A as our guinea pigs
for the time being, starting with E.
I play blues in E with you know
hundreds of people over the years and
the most common tendency among guitar
players is to immediately play blues in E,
okay, right to the 12th fret.
[MUSIC]
Yeah, sure enough, major comfort zone up
there, but you kinda miss the whole Meat,
the charm,
if you wanna call it that,
of the E sound, which is down here.
[MUSIC]
This is what made E attractive to the down
home guitar players back in the day,
who we're not really moving around the
neck much, and who had to have a big sound
because the guitar was kind of holding
the whole thing together at the time.
So you've got that
[MUSIC].
You've got all that stuff
going on down in there.
Now the melodies are essentially the same,
there's no reason why this is Salty and
up here you get sweet.
There's sweet sounds down in here too.
Right?
But the fingerings are different and
this is important.
Because to be comfortable in
open position you have to.
Rethink the fingering of it.
We are so use to using the first finger,
as kinda of the ledge that we
rest on when we play phrases.
It's always there.
It is very reliable.
But in open position, the first finger
really doesn't have all that much to do
because the nuts His acting
is the first thing though.
So when I play in open position I have to
think about how do I actually literally
finger the familiar sounds that I would
play in other positions without thinking.
So, key of E What's
the basic down home Blues
vocabulary [SOUND] there's my
Blue note [SOUND] the minor
third bent up just a hair, [SOUND] open
[MUSIC]
There's the seventh and
I can give it that blue note twist.
[MUSIC]
So third finger, open, third finger, open.
[MUSIC]
Now when I play the fourth and
bend it up a little bit to the flat five,
I'm using my second finger
backed up by my first finger.
[MUSIC]
My second finger is doing most of the work
on the inner strings.
[MUSIC]
And then back to my third finger and open.
So my first finger at this point is just
sort of dangling in the breeze waiting for
something to do.
Well, we'll come up with stuff but for
right now it's It's a third
finger second finger thing.
[MUSIC]
So that's a bit of a difference
because the finger that you rely on so
consistently up in here is
now out of the picture.
But it just takes a minute to
kind of reorient yourself and
figure out how to use those
other fingers in its place.
Now when we expand the tonality and
start to play some of the other sounds
that are available to us down in there
[MUSIC].
[MUSIC]
There's the second or the ninth, okay,
no problem there.
[MUSIC]
There's the seventh,
sixth, fifth.
There's the flat five if I wanna nail it.
Fourth.
Now the first finger finally gets a job,
the major third.
[MUSIC]
And
one of sort of the basic
sounds of down home blues
is playing that dominant seventh chord
[MUSIC].
And arpeggiating the notes, playing them
one at a time but not in ascending order,
mixing it up a little bit
[MUSIC].
Right, real down home sounds.
Major third, minor to major.
Familiar hammer on pull off move.
Open position is pretty easy
because you don't have to
even include your first finger,
the open string takes care of it.
All right, so very smooth and
easy to play.
[SOUND] There's the first finger
again playing that flat five.
[SOUND] Right.
[SOUND] Now,
the combination of the open strings and
the fretted strings is a very
distinctive part of the sound.
We covered this.
Earlier I gave you
an example of
[MUSIC]
right?
Talking about how in this case it's
a real Lightning Hopkins style.
[MUSIC]
There I'm dragging from the open
first string, third fret and fourth fret.
[MUSIC]
And then sliding down with the second
finger to get back in position.
So, I think if you've listened at all
to the, sort of the Down Home Blues
of Muddy Waters, the Down Home Blues
of Lightning Hopkins, and
people who have that kinda, they got one
foot on the farm and one foot in the city.
And the electric guitar is
kind of providing that link.
You can hear all these
phrases very clearly and
they have a very deep quality to them.
It's a called, Muddy called it the deep
blues Really working that low-down sound
and it's very moody when you leave the
open space around the notes and what not.
So let me play an example for you.
I'll play a 12-bar blues in the key of E.
And I'll put these open strings to work.
Now, just a word about the four chord, A.
We know that our down home A chord
[MUSIC]
is right there and
when I play that style of blues,
I'm gonna work around the chord chase
[MUSIC].
B
[MUSIC]
I can literally, finger the chord,
hold the chord down and
just pick the notes separately.
That's my melody over B seven.
I don't have to get fancy with a scale or
anything else.
At the same time I've got all the notes
available, all the colors that
I would play in any other position
when I play on the five cord.
there is a slightly different fingering.
Okay.
Let me give you an example of an open
string blues in E.
[music].
[MUSIC]
Everything
but the
kitchen
sink in
there.
Now, what I was thinking
as I was playing is,
I'm on my I chord,
I've got my basic idea, right?
[MUSIC]
Now, that idea in its own right
is a sort of a call and response.
Here's the call
[MUSIC]
Here's the response.
It's as if I'm playing the chord as
an answer as I did in the more a kinda,
remember uptown mixing horn section and
single note phrases.
[MUSIC]
You know.
Same idea, but in a down home style.
So, I've got my lick
[MUSIC]
If it's a good lick, play it again.
[MUSIC]
Here's my four chord and
I'm thinking A seven.
And I wanna make sure that I play
my pick up bo do ba do bang.
And the last note of the pickup
is a good strong chord tone.
Again that's the same as if I
was playing higher on the neck,
it's just using stylistic voicings
that are down in the open position.
[MUSIC]
More
stylistic stuff.
The [SOUND] little trill there
sort of spices it up a little bit.
And then
[MUSIC].
that's the Lightning Hopkins
[MUSIC]
right that was a trademark of his
[MUSIC].
Drag the pick upwards across
the first second and third strings.
This has that little rhythmic pop to it.
[MUSIC]
Now, for my five chord, I thought,
I'm just gonna play that chord.
I know it's gonna work.
[MUSIC]
And all I gotta do is play it rhythmically
and I sorta picked the notes separately
to give it a melodic contour.
And, then I forget what I did after that.
But.
[MUSIC]
A Chicago-style
turn around there.
And then.
[MUSIC]
Now there I
used the other end
of the A seven chord.
Instead of playing on the high end,
I used the lower.
[MUSIC]
And I improvised a bit there by reaching
over to play the 7th with my 4th finger.
That's another Lightnin Hopkins trademark.
Right?
He would always use that note.
Now it brings up an important point
which is when I say I'm improvising,
I'm not improvising.
I'm spontaneously reorganizing.
In other words, I'm not inventing any
ideas that I have never heard before, but
I'm putting them together spontaneously,
and
making decisions right at
the moment that it's gonna happen.
I mean, we're talking about less than
a second before that note happens,
I'm thinking, where do I go?
And because I've done it many many times,
I've got an option there I can use and
I'm pretty confident is going to work.
Until you have that vocabulary and
that consistency that you gain
through listening and playing and
just repeating it over and over again and
getting it from the front end of your
brain into the back end of your brain.
Then you get lost, you stumble,
you make mistakes and
the results are not
what you want it to be.
So, I'm not improvising,
I'm spontaneously reorganizing and
in the back of my mind I'm hearing a
LightnIn Hopkins I'm hearing muddy waters
and I'm pulling from those guys and
putting it together here on the spot.
That's where the real style comes from,
right?
So there's my A chord.
[MUSIC]
Five
chord again.
[MUSIC]
And end it with a real
down home last chord there.
That
[MUSIC].
Speaking of Lightning Hopkins He made,
I don't know how many records.
Hundreds, hundreds of records,
literally hundreds of records and
I bet 99% of them
[MUSIC]
he ended exactly like that.
[LAUGH] So often it's about the only way
anybody would know it's about the end
is he would just hit that lick
because he would just go off.
He didn't follow the rules.
Didn't color between the lines.
That's just an example
of down home blues in E,
but we're gonna talk it very
shortly coming up here.
About combining that sound with
the high end sound, and the result
is it can be spectacular, but if you
neglect that you neglect it at your peril.
You're losing the whole essence of that
down home guitar sound that made it so
exciting in the first place.So,
you definitely want to live down in
the low end of the neck for a while.
Get comfortable with it.
All right I'll see you.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Continuing our
discussion of open position.
If E is the home of the Down Home Blues,
then A is the second home
of the Down Home Blues.
And when we looked at pattern number
two up there way high up on the neck.
Remember that?
[MUSIC]
You remember that, right?
[LAUGH] That's [SOUND] the A shape.
[SOUND] In the key of
A it happens to be A.
When we move it down to the open position
we find a lot of the same features as E,
it's just moved over one string, right?
So if I play a lick in E,
[MUSIC]
I play the same lick in A by going from
the fourth string to the third string and
repeating the same exact pattern,
[MUSIC]
okay?
Now guitar players in
Down Home Blues will play in
the key of E and the key of A quite a bit.
And if you want to play in F or
B-flat you just slap that capo on there
and you get the same basic sound.
It's a very important kinda shapes and
configurations, phrases
that are part of the fundamental
DNA of blues guitar.
So let's look at using open strings and
the open position in the key of A.
We already know what the A chord looks
like because we've been using it
in the key of E, it's the four chord.
[SOUND] So there's nothing drastically
different about using the A chord
in the key of A as a one chord,
it's the same basic phrases.
[MUSIC]
See now that's the A version
of a lick that you heard me
play a bunch of times in E.
[MUSIC]
Right, so the fingering is different
because of the way
the strings are laid out but
otherwise it's exactly the same melody.
[MUSIC]
Right, so
sliding up on the second string
into the fifth, that's E.
[SOUND] And then G up on top,
I'm playing sorta a little
slice of the A7 chord there.
[SOUND] And then a stylistic
move where I pick and slide.
[SOUND] There's my root.
[MUSIC]
Again, the second finger and
the third finger will carry
most of the weight here.
Because the role of the first
finger is being occupied by
the nut instead of by the finger itself.
So [COUGH] I think phrasing
an A there's really nothing
drastically new to report there.
Here's the key difference if
you want to call it that,
in the key of A which is [SOUND].
When you go to the four chord
in A the four chord is D.
Okay.
[SOUND] We know about D and we played
[MUSIC]
the boogie shuffle in D and so forth.
When you play the Down Home Blues in A,
there's a common voicing for
D that's a little bit different.
You hear this from Robert Johnson
right on down the line.
And that's because D,
the root is on the fourth string and
you start to get into
a little higher range there.
This is already kinda getting into the
tenor world if you want to call it that.
So what players would do
especially when they're playing
their own accompaniment is to
[MUSIC]
play the third of the chord,
that's F-sharp down on the sixth string.
So you get this D over F sharp,
in music theory you would call that
an inverted chord,
it doesn't have the root in the bass.
First inversion,
it has the third in the bass, okay?
So it's just D with that
note on the bottom,
it's more the blues way of saying it.
You've got A.
[MUSIC]
Right?
So playing the chord and using
the chord itself as part of my melody,
that's very typical.
[MUSIC]
Using the lows strings,
the low register, the open strings,
we're bringing out different
colors on the guitar.
The five chord in the key of A is E,
we already know all about E.
So the real difference in the key of A is
just how you organize your phrases and
how you bring that four
chord into the picture.
So let me play you an example
of a Down Home Blues in A using
the open position and then we'll talk.
Okay, here we go.
[MUSIC]
Yeah,
that's
Down
Home,
right
there.
Same lick as like can play in E
[SOUND] and play the same lick in A.
Now the phrases that I use in there,
should sound familiar,
because they're in many cases
exactly what I was playing in E,
just moved over one string,
for all practical purposes.
So you've got
[MUSIC]
now I'm using the chord itself,
this is another aspect
of the Down Home style.
You never stray far from the chord.
It isn't like the melody
is a bunch of scales over
here sitting on top of
a chord that's over there.
The melody and
the harmony are totally intertwined.
And this is the concept that
we want to encourage no
matter what style of blues you play.
Even if you're playing high on the neck,
playing fast licks,
you're still thinking harmony.
You have to know where you
are in the chord progression,
the form, the rhythm and
how the melody interacts with the harmony.
So in Down Home Blues it's just exposed,
it's very open.
[SOUND] So here's my one chord A7,
here comes the D.
[SOUND] And I play just a standard
kinda a open string phrase there.
Walking into the low note,
the third there.
[MUSIC]
And just going back and forth and
creating a melody just by
manipulating the notes of the chord.
[MUSIC]
And walk back into the A notes.
[MUSIC]
Here's my E chord
[MUSIC]
Right sounds real big when you throw it in
there with that low E note in it.
[MUSIC]
And I can again finger the chord,
kinda use my fingers to find
spare notes around the chord,
Down Home style and I'm back home again.
[MUSIC]
That's the same phrase I played in E.
[MUSIC]
We use that lick in
the soloing with chords idea.
[MUSIC]
Right, it's all tied together and
then back to my D chord again.
And I can concentrate
more on the higher note.
[MUSIC]
And
I forget what I
did after that,
something.
[MUSIC]
Right,
some kind of a phrase along those lines.
I'll have this all laid out for you so
you can see what's going on in detail.
But I think you get the principle of it,
which is use the open strings,
use the low end of the neck.
Find where the roots are, build the melody
around the chord changes, right?
Don't abandon the chords,
don't think scales all the time,
because takes you away from
the essence of the whole blues sound,
which is, it's all integrated,
it's all tied together.
The call, the response, the harmony,
the melody It's all locked
up in one big bundle.
Now I want you to send me a solo where
you're playing down in the open position.
It can be in the key of E or
the key of A, your choice.
Show me how you're working those
ideas down there where you let go
of the standard movable pattern where
the fingerings are all the same.
And instead,
you're substituting open strings and
really emphasizing that rootsie
sound in the blues style, okay.
Look forward to hearing that.
[MUSIC]
[MUSIC]
Now we just looked at two of the most
typical ways of using open
strings when you solo and
that's the down home sound.
Low end of the neck, key of E, key of A.
But open strings apply in different ways
and not always the most obvious ways.
Here's the idea and again we're talking
about textures and flavors here.
Things that you can add to your playing.
You've got the essence of it and
now we're just talking about hey,
have you thought about this idea?
This might freshen it up a little bit.
And this is exactly how I
used this concept here.
The idea is integrating open strings
in other keys wherever you find them.
The key of E and the key of A,
it's obvious where the open strings are.
The root is sitting right down there.
It's a big note.
What about other keys?
Well one choice that might seem
almost as obvious is G, right.
Play a G chord.
And the G chord itself in open position
has a lot of open strings already in it.
So if I'm playing
a blues in G
[MUSIC]
Right, I've got
my open G string.
The third string there and
I can play phrases that sort of use
that open string as I would in E.
In E we're going like this.
[MUSIC]
In G right, now that doesn't mean that
I'm always using hybrid picking or
anything like that.
That's to illustrate the idea.
But here's the way that I look at it is,
when you have your movable positions,
your pattern number four,
pattern number five,
etc., the advantage is that all
keys are constructed the same.
It's very easy to transpose.
If I wanna play a solo in A and then,
move the ideas up to B-flat,
I'll I've gotta do is go up one fret.
If we played piano, it would be a, wow.
Three sharps to two flats and
black keys are all different and
you really rack your brains to see how
those phrases are gonna transpose, but
on the guitar it's just one fret,
big deal.
If you close your eyes you don't even
know what the difference is, right.
However, the downside of that is that,
if I'm playing in A and
I play the same licks in B flat they
really sound almost exactly the same.
So to bring out the color and
the personality of a key I look for
open string because that's often
the thing that will really separate
one key from another and kind of just
open up the tonality a little bit.
So in the key of G I've obviously got the
G string, the D string is part of the G
chord, the B string is part of the G chord
[MUSIC]
right, so
I would never think like from the day one,
thinking about playing over G.
I wouldn't have instantly
hit on the idea of going
[MUSIC].
You know using the open B string
while moving a melody against it.
It's like wow, now that you mention
it that kind of makes sense.
When I go to the four chord in G C, well
[MUSIC]
I've still got that open string that is
built into the chord voicing.
It's the fifth degree of the C chord.
And then the D chord.
Well, of course,
I've got the open D string.
[MUSIC]
So to take a solo in the key of G,
if I think about the open
strings I can create something
that has a distinctive sort of sound and
texture to it.
It's still
blues, but
I'm bringing
in another
quality, so
for example,
[MUSIC]
woo!
[LAUGH] Now, that's not what
I would call down home, but
it has down home elements
because of those open strings.
I'm thinking, G.
I use my G note and kind of,
[MUSIC]
use it as a drone.
The drone sound.
Is very down home, that's really
a deep sound in its own right.
So I'm moving my melody around and just
seeing how does that sound against the G.
[MUSIC]
Use hybrid picking or
just pick the notes on adjacent strings.
Here's my C chord
[MUSIC].
And I can use that G
as part of my C chord.
It's a legit chord tone
[MUSIC].
And of course on the D chord,
I've got my down home D with
the third of the bass and so on or I can
[MUSIC]
work off that D string and
at the end I just went wild
[MUSIC]
and just kept searching for a melody that
moved up the string while keeping
the G sort of in the middle there.
Not traditional blues by any stretch,
but it still has kind of that flavor.
And when you start to hear
the sound of the open strings and
see the relationships between
the chord tones and the open strings.
It just brings a different spin
into what would otherwise be
the standard pattern style of phrasing
that we've been working with so far.
Key of D I've got my open D string.
[MUSIC]
When I go to the G chord, wow,
well there's all those same
notes that I just messed with.
To see the five chord in
the key of D that's A.
[MUSIC]
So I can actually play some
pretty down home stuff in the key of D.
Key of B, B as in boy, you wouldn't
figure that as real down home blues key.
[MUSIC]
It turns out when I look inside the chord,
that the D, the open D string,
well that's the minor third of B.
I'm sort of getting out on
a theoretical limb here, but
[MUSIC]
right, anything to sort of bring
a different flavor into
it now in the key of B.
The four chord is E and
right away I've got all
my down home open string stuff in E.
Hendrix used that sound
on Red House right.
He played Red House in B or
he would tune his whole guitar down a half
step, and so you would hear it as being in
the key of B flat but his hand
would still be at the seventh fret.
And he'd be jamming.
[MUSIC]
Right?
And here comes that four chord,
that big E,
[MUSIC]
and he would use that low string and
those open strings to really
bring that flavor into it,
so he was very aware how to apply
the down home open string thing,
even in the key that normally you would
associate with an up the neck quality.
This can apply to other keys as well and
I'm not gonna go into every
possible permutation of it.
But what I do when I'm learning a song
that's in a key other than E and
A where it's so obvious.
I always look for that opportunity.
Where is there an open string in
there that I can sneak in that
will give it a little bit of that twang?
A little bit of that down home thing?
To think of that as a flavor,
a texture, a spin.
That gives your playing
a distinctive quality.
And wherever you can find it that's
what you want as a stylist, is to have
people say I know that guys right that's
his lick, that's got his name on it.
Right, so you're gonna be looking for
something you can put your imprint on.
All right,
have fun messing around with that and
we'll get back to practical realities.
[MUSIC]