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Blues Guitar Lessons: Stretching Out

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In this lesson I want to circle
back to a topic that we've talked
about in different places before.
That's playing longer solos.
When you play a two chorus solo,
you don't want to play the same solo
two times in a row, and
with just slightly different phrases,
because nobody's gonna get it, they'll
hear it as just the same solo twice.
I think it was Charlie Parker, I could be
wrong, but I think it was Charlie Parker
who said famously, if you play more than
three choruses you're just practicing.
[LAUGH] He was talking about jazz, bebop,
or guys would just play for a half
an hour, and super talented players,
they can make it interesting over time.
They keep you captivated, but
that's a very difficult thing to do.
And so as blues players are playing
choruses, and over the 12 bar
typical platform, and so
each time we're playing a 12 bar solo,
you want to think of it as a different
story, a different take on the same story.
What's the song about?
You're playing a song, you know?
Unless you're playing an instrumental jam,
you're playing a song and
the song has an attitude, it has lyrics,
it has a certain kind of
a feeling associated with it.
So you wanna build on that feeling and
make the solo sound like it makes sense.
It's an extension of what
the singer is singing.
Nothing is more distracting than
a singer singing some deep soulful
lyric about heartbreak and loss and
then the guitar player comes in and.
You know, it's like,
that's got nothing to do with it.
That's practicing you know that's
not really playing the song.
So, what's the song about?
What can you extract from the song
that you can use in your solo?
We looked at St. Louis Blues, and I hate
to see, there's a melody there, okay.
I'll steal some of that melody, and
I'll use that to build my solo.
As the solo progresses,
maybe you let go of that and
you start to think a little
bit more free form.
In broader terms about the feeling and
the attitude, and you say,
well, I kinda took a nasty approach there,
but let me soften it up a little bit and
show the other side of the coin.
Okay, these are sorta a bit touchy
feely way of thinking of it,
but they absolutely apply to
making your phrasing sound like
it conveys a message, and
it's got that blues quality.
Blues, if nothing else,
it's got to be heartfelt.
If it isn't it's just a mechanical
exercise of playing scales over
chords, big deal.
But if you feel it, and
you can express it, using your skills, and
be effective with it, that's when
people say, you know how to play.
Now if you're playing a longer solo,
one of the aspects and
this is slightly more technical,
it's ways of expressing
the emotion that's contained in the song,
is to use the contrast.
We've been exploring that
in the last few lessons.
Using the low end of the neck instead
of automatically going up to the fifth
fret or the 12th fret, and basing
everything around one fingering pattern.
So low and high.
Sparse and full, take your time.
Start with some open space and
then fill it in as the solo progresses.
Sweet and salty.
You're singing a song,
I might be singing to a young lady.
[SOUND] Not so young maybe.
Right, we wanna be sweet, all right.
We want her to pay attention and
say, yeah, yeah.
She doesn't pay attention.
Now I'm starting to get mad, you know.
So I can play both sides of the emotional
spectrum by using my note choices.
I know where my thirds and sixths are and
how they affect the emotional quality.
Playing quietly.
[SOUND] It's amazing how playing quiet
can have such a powerful effect.
We plug in, we turn up, and we think
we're gonna just kill by playing loud and
actually it just wears people out.
So if you play with dynamics, mix the loud
and the soft, that's when you get
your point across and people will
be drawn in and pay attention and
feel kind of relieved that they're able
to sort of lean forward for a minute.
[SOUND] The textures, single notes.
That's our basic vocabulary is
all single notes when we solo.
But what about those double stops?
All right.
Texture, single notes, double stops,
chords, it's thinking about how
to keep the flow of the melody interesting
by giving it a new twist each time,
so that it doesn't sound like,
well, you already said that.
I get it already,
why are you saying it again?
So, I don't wanna come up with a list of
things because this is all stuff that's
hard to hang onto but I'm recapping what
we've covered so far in this curriculum.
Which is,
you've got the fundamental vocabulary,
you've got a way of expressing a feeling.
You take the feeling of the song,
you transfer it over onto the guitar, and
say, how can I express
that feeling effectively?
And now we're gonna express it over time.
We're gonna go for
two choruses or even longer.
And so keeping it interesting means
thinking of okay, I already did that.
I'll do this instead.
That's why we wanna develop all
these different flavors and
textures in order to have different
attitudes and feelings at our disposal.
Now one, on a more technical note,
a way of crossing over from one chorus to
another, if I'm gonna tell the story for
two choruses,
then I can kind of ignore the turnaround
and let the tension build up.
You'll hear this all the time in great,
longer blues solos.
Where as the solo gets towards
the end of the first chorus,
the solo starts to repeat and build,
and when the band goes to the turn around,
the solo just keeps right on going and
then suddenly launch the second
chorus at a higher level.
Okay, again, I don't want to give you
a list of things and here's a do this,
do this, do this.
This will all come naturally over time,
but it's good to loop back and
become aware of all that we've
accomplished and how you can apply it.
Let me show you in the context
of a two chorus solo.
Let's go back to our familiar territory,
the key of A.
[SOUND] Shuffle in A,
let's make it 100 beats a minute.
[COUGH] I'll play a two chorus solo, and
I'm gonna bring some of
these ideas into it,
then we can talk briefly
after that's over.
All right, here we go.
Goodness gracious.
Now, that was [COUGH] improvised.
That was spontaneously organized.
But having just talked about all these
different things, think about this,
think about this, think about that,
I was trying to think about them.
And so I brought them into
the picture at various times.
So I started low.
All right,
sort of an unusual flavor in guitar terms.
Open strings, and
after I played that lick.
I thought, well,
I don't wanna play it down low again,
I'll start to drive the solo
in another direction.
So I played the same lick up an octave.
Now I can do that because I've learned the
relationship of the notes to the tonic and
I can see that.
It starts on the fifth and
goes to the sixth and all that.
This happens very quickly because of,
haven't done it for a long time.
there's the fifth to the sixth, right?
I got that same lick.
I actually jumped up the neck because
I wasn't sure where I was gonna go.
And I played it on the fifth and
fourth strings which is kinda
strange territory there.
That's pattern number
five in the key of A.
Not always a first choice, but
that's where I found myself so,
I had to improvise.
And then, once I knew where
the melody was, I thought, well,
I'll move it down here where
it's more comfortable.
And now we're coming up on the five chord.
Now, it goes to the turnaround,
and I'm gonna ignore the turnaround and.
Now, I've already forgotten what I played
in the second chorus but
I think it started off.
I think it started off with a double stop.
Does that sound familiar?
I stole that lick directly
from that solo in E, right,
the solo that you might have heard
Stevie Ray Vaughan play that he stole from
Freddie King that he stole from
Jimmy Rogers, right, and I said, right.
I'll use that lick.
Different context, but it still applies.
And then I thought,
I'll take it down Chicago way.
Double stops.
And then bring it on home.
Now there's, when you develop a
vocabulary, and a whole array of textures,
so many ways you can go,
it's literally infinite.
People have been playing blues for
100 years, more than 100 years,
how many thousands and hundreds of
thousands of choruses of 12 bar blues have
been played in that amount of time, and
yet every time you sit down to play it,
it's different because it's you and
it's here and it's now and
it's your experience,
your background, your skills.
That's what you bring to the party.
And so your voice adds something
to the whole conversation and
it will be different every time and
it'll change over time, your own career.
I play different now than I used to,
and I hear it different than I used to.
So that's part of the whole equation.
Is to take your tools and
you keep stepping back and
listening to yourself more as,
as if you're in the audience, and
you're not from here looking down at your
guitar, but you're out there listening,
and saying, is it getting to me?
Am I hearing it, right?
It makes a huge difference in how you
play, because you're now playing for
the listener, and not just for yourself.
All right.
Don't want to get too abstract there, but
I want you to play a two chorus solo,
listen to solos on records and
listen to the longer solos and
say, how did they get from the first
chorus to the second chorus?
What's the technique that the player uses
to build the energy as they transition?
And then send me a two chorus solo and
show me what you're thinking
when you play two choruses.
How do you build the ideas?
And I'll listen back and I might say, man,
you're just playing the same solo twice.
You gotta mix it up a little bit.
I'll give you some perspective on that.
But it's endless, you could play
three choruses, four choruses, but
like Charlie Parker said,
after a while you're just practicing.
So keep it concise, get to the point,
get in, get out, move on.
I'll see you next time.