Nailing the Changes Through Blues Guitar Solos - Part 1
Does your blues soloing lack the melodic lyricism of Eric Clapton or SRV, or perhaps you’d like to add some slippery, modern dissonance like John Scofield or Scott Henderson? These series of articles explore the various ways you can use the architecture of a chord sequence to really spice up your soloing vocabulary and add an air of sophistication and real authority to your playing, Nailing the Changes. All solos follow the conventional 12 bar blues format in A, arranged to get more colourful harmonically as we progress. There’s no funny business with the chords, just I, IV, and V. Any inherent ‘Bluesy’ or ‘Jazzy’ feel is a result of the notes selected against the underlying changes. Study the relationship carefully and all of these tones can be at your disposal.
Note selection when improvising can fall into the following two categories:
- Horizontal - Establish and stick to a common group of notes or a single scale that will work with a group of chords in a progression.
- Vertical - Treat each individual chord as a separate event, choosing relevant scales, chord tones or extensions from each change as and when it occurs.
Each approach has its merits, with ‘horizontal’ allowing the soloist to float through and over the changes. The ‘vertical’ method allows the improviser to create an incredibly strong and melodic connection with the harmony and with the use of a few intelligent tricks you can take the listener on a journey between beautiful ‘inside’ and funky, tense ‘outside playing’ but with complete control.
Solo One: Pentatonic
First up we’re going to explore our old friend, the minor pentatonic scale. The principle of mixing minor melody with major harmony goes right back to the very beginnings of blues music. The key to using pentatonic effectively is in establishing strong ‘target’ tones. Over A7, the strongest gravitational pull is to notes that relate to A7, Obviously A, C# (not present in our scale), E and G. Head for these notes and things will sound great. As the harmony changes to D7 then so do our gravitational reference points, becoming D, F# (again not present), A and C. For E7 (E, G#, B, D) we have E and D available within pentatonic. Map out the location of these notes within each position of pentatonic scale. This is the method that allows Clapton, Hendrix, SRV etc to select one scale (Horizontal) through an entire sequence but still articulate the chords beautifully.
A minor pentatonic (shape I) with all A root notes highlighted
A minor pentatonic (shape I) with all D target notes highlighted
A minor pentatonic (shape I) with all E target notes highlighted
A minor pentatonic - all areas