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Beyond Classic Blues
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Blues Guitar Lessons: One Chord Solos

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Since the beginning of our curriculum
we've been talking about
playing over chords, and
how do you construct phrases
that fit the harmony, and
the focus has been almost always
on one chords or the four chords.
One chords are the five chords.
1, 4, 5, 12 bar structure,
stay within the form.
Well what happens when there is no form?
When you've got a one chord solo
that just goes on indeterminently.
In a sense you might think
that this is easier and
it's like playing slow blues and
when you slow it down it's easier.
Well we discovered, I think, to play
soul blues in incredibly challenging
because it exposes different parts
of your skills and your technique.
And you really,
really gotta be on your game.
One chord progressions
are somewhat like that.
In other words, you think,
well, it's one chord.
[SOUND] I don't have to sweat
the four chord and the five chord.
I don't have to think
about those chord tones.
However, playing a one chord
solo that actually makes sense,
in other words just isn't a bunch of
licks that you sit down like you're at
the music store and plug in and
just play as fast as you can.
You know that's nonsense.
Playing a one chord shuffle solo
over any groove for that matter.
That has some coherence to it means
that you have to create the form,
there's no change that's going to come up
that's going to tell you when the song is
over, or when the next part of
the form begins, it's all on you.
And so this is a challenge
to your ability to phrase.
Fortunately we have all the raw
materials we need to do that.
Since the beginning,
we've been talking about phrasing in terms
of two bar phrases, one bar and two bars.
And two bars is kind of the basic
currency of blues phrasing.
So, if I imagine just a groove
like let's say,
key of E would be a medium shuffle and
I think, okay.
How can I phrase over that
medium shuffle in a way
that sounds like I've
got a feeling for the form,
even though there's
no change coming up,
two, three,
two, three,
Now as you listen to that, if you've
been following these lessons all along,
you might have sorta trained your
ear to expect the four chord
that's suddenly come up after four bars.
And as I'm playing,
to be honest, I'm hearing it.
I can hear that four chord coming,
but I know it's not coming.
However, I'm phrasing as if I'm playing
the first four bars of that solo and
even though it doesn't go to
the change I've got a complete idea.
There's my phrases you know.
And as dumb as that sounds,
that's really what's going on is that
feeling of the call and the response.
The breath, the new call, the new response
and you've got that back and forth, but
there's no chord change that's defining
it and telling you when it's starting and
when it's ending.
So the challenge in playing
a one chord solo Is to keep
your ideas flowing rhythmically,
to keep breathing
and to keep building the energy and
creating a direction through dynamics,
your touch.
Where you're playing on the neck,
how dense the phrases are, repetition.
These are all the ideas we've been
talking about for quite a while now and
applying them when there is nobody
else telling you what to do.
It's all up to you.
So the challenge that I'm going
to put in front of you is to
play a 16 to a 32 bar one chord solo.
Got a rhythm track you can use and
you're gonna play a solo in the key of E,
I believe it is.
Shuffle, so
the rhythm feels very familiar.
The harmony we know that as E7.
You can play anywhere
on the neck you like.
I don't really care where you put it.
But the idea is to be coherent and to be
thinking about how you build your ideas
and can you do that without any external
kind of a force that's guiding you along.
I'll give you a demonstration here.
Let's see what this sounds like.
That was exhausting.
[SOUND] When you're keeping time and
sort of, trying to feel
how to build that energy up it takes
a lot of concentration, a lot of focus.
And every time you do it, you could do
it different, I would do it different,
for sure, but just to give you a clue,
this is, again,
I'm improvising, meaning I'm
spontaneously reorganizing ideas
that I've played many times before
to fit into this context right here.
So what I did at the beginning was I was
just thinking, okay this solo is going
to go on for a while so I don't want
to shoot everything off at the top and
then be kind of left standing around or
repeating myself so
I'll start really low and
leave a lot of space.
Now start filling in
with something like that.
Now, I can hear, and this is true,
even in a one-chord song,
that when you reach about eight bars in,
the drummer is almost inevitably gonna go
right, and
it helps mark the phrase
length is just intuitive.
When that happens, you kinda know
it's time to elevate, right?
And if the drummer then picks up the
energy, as the drummer did on this track,
then I can kinda feel like,
now we're starting to rock.
And I'm gonna fill in
the blanks a little bit more.
And what you play specifically,
the notes you play,
it really doesn't matter, you know.
You can do this a million different ways.
I'm playing nothing but E blues.
I'm using different techniques
that just sort of come to mind.
I think I used pedal tones
or words to that effect.
Now, I'm playing the same licks
we've been playing all the way along but
the tempo's a little faster.
I'm trying to build the energy more so
I'm playing the same licks but
I'm just playing them a little faster.
And you could say in a sense that that's
one of the big differences between
classic blues and blues rock,
is that blues rock guitar players listened
to classic blues and said man I like that.
I'm gonna use that lick, and I'm gonna
speed it up and I'm gonna fill it in and
sort of, create a continuous,
constant flow of energy as opposed to
the blues idea which is take a breath.
Play the phrase.
Take your time.
So, what I just played there was more
on the fringe of a blues rock approach
to playing traditional blues.
But that doesn't mean that traditional
blues players don't play with
super high energy.
And again, to go back to Albert Collins,
if you ever saw him play live he
would just take your head off, he would
play over one chord and destroy you.
And not by playing a lot of notes or
super fast, but
just by digging in with the repetition,
the intensity, the drive, and
that's really the ideal that we shoot for
in blues.
All right.
Having said all that,
the fundamental underlying
idea there is two bar phrases,
four bar phrases, building and
progressing and
feeling the form as a byproduct of
the way that you're phrasing in
a sense the band is following you.
So I want you to give me a solo
over that progression there.
That's 32 bars long,
you could do half of that.
That would be a respectable length.
But I want you to stretch out.
I want you to really throw
in everything you've got and
see can you be coherent over 32 bars,
that's a long time.
And give yourself enough room at the
beginning that you can build the energy.
And by the time you get to the very end
of it, you feel like yeah, I'm really,
I've said everything I got to say,
thank you very much and good night.
So send me that and
I look forward to seeing it.