The Soloing Tripod

Having done this for a long time (over 30 years) I’ve come across a LOT of different pieces of advice on how to approach blues soloing…

“Just listen to the records and try to copy it…”

“You gotta learn the licks first…”

“Play your blues scales in every position every day for a year and then you’ll have it…”

Sound familiar? My guess is that, at some point, you’ve probably heard some similar advice.

Now, typically that advice (on a public forum or facebook post) is followed by the other side – it’s almost like the old “Less Filling… Tastes Great” debate (if you’re old enough to remember those commercials.)

And, as usual with most musical “arguments,” everyone is right… and everyone is wrong, or at least incomplete 🙂

Because in order to play effectively, you need 3 components, not just 1, so I call it the Soloing Tripod.

Soloing Leg 1 – Complete Solos

Learning some complete solos, especially early on, gives you a few things:

  1. A feeling of accomplishment – it’s great to be able to play 12 bars all the way through along with a track or a band and nail it.
  2. A place to start – that solo that you learned is what you’ll gravitate to when you improvise for the first time. Obviously, that makes it not improvising – but as I’ve said many times, improvising really isn’t (for a LONG time.)
  3. The start of a general feel for how solos go. It’s like a story form almost, and there’s really no way to learn it without playing some solos. It’s the same reason that writers read incessantly.

Soloing Leg 2 – Licks

As you work towards improvising (seemingly making it up as you go along) you’ll need some phrases. Think of it as your solo is your side of a conversation and you’re going to say what you need or want to say with it…

Well just like you’d use phrases in English (or your chosen language) you use phrases when you solo. If you’re a touch typer, you know that you don’t type one letter at a time, you type a word or a phrase at a time often… you want your soloing to be equally as effortless.

Also, learning licks gives you phrases that you can swap out with the licks in the solos you’ve learned from start to finish from the complete solos leg – so you can take those as a base to start from and mix up some of the licks here and there to make your own statement.

Soloing Leg 3 – Theory and Scales

Do you think that when you take a solo on a bandstand things always go right? If so you are so very, very wrong…

And when things go wrong, you’re going to have to improvise (pardon the pun) and that means being able to see where you are on the guitar, and knowing what your options are (what scales, what patterns) and this is the “brainwork” that goes into soloing.

If you get lost, you don’t just grab a lick because it might not be the right one for the current musical situation. If you’re playing over the IV chord and you grab your favorite major blues lick (I hear this a LOT when students get flustered) it’s going to sound bad…

And when you hear that off sound, you’ll get even more flustered and that’s usually a downward spiral. But if you can be confident in knowing what you know and what you can play “in theory,” you’ll have a better chance of keeping a cool head and getting back into the groove safely.

Now, of course, these “legs” are in no particular order, and you should keep them all equally long. You don’t want your soloing all “out of whack” now, do you?



  • Dave Dyson

    Reply Reply April 26, 2018

    I really appreciate all your information, great teaching really love the blues guitar unleashed 2 course l am only a third of the way through, with the emails and YouTube, your teaching on it, I get away from the course sometimes. It is taking me some time to learn lesson 12/1 but I want to get it all. Since I’ve been playing on and off for 58 years I knew the minor pentatonic and blues scales but knew nothing about the major blues scales l’m looking forward to learning and using them. I enjoyed the 2 fret and 3 fret rule and making the keys. I always wondered how they knew where to put the sharps and flats. I appreciate the emails I save them all. I also have rock guitar and the slide courses Thanks


  • Joe

    Reply Reply September 20, 2017

    How did I miss this email Griff you sure you didn’t study philosophy because that’s what that was in a way but I like the tripod Theory and I will use that thanks for sharing Griff sorry I’m late on the comment!Best wishes to you and your team!

  • Michael Chappell

    Reply Reply September 4, 2017

    Makes a lot of sense. Until now I have been giving up on learning solos completely until I learn the Licks and Phrases and Theory & Scales which I am doing all the time.

    Maybe I should go back to the BGU course 5 East Blues solos.. and do a refresher of BGU V 2.

    All good thanks Griff.

    Michael- Sydney- Australia 30 August 2017.

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  • J

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    Hey, I like your info.There is always more than one way to skin a cat.

  • Ed Mintun

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    What pun?

  • cowboy

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    thanks Griff…some good food for thought…I figure if I get 2 of the 3 legs anywhere near close, I’m in the ballpark…now more to think about…later.


  • Julian Wilson

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    Hi Griff,

    Just coming into serious blues studies with you now.
    I’m realising that Leg One was where I have been falling down but I’m improving rapidly now thanks to BGUv2

    Thanks – Eyesight to the almost blind buddy.


  • Brian Burke

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    Thanks, Griff. Really helpful. An idea to help with Leg 2: Listen to a backing track without your guitar in hand. And then say, with your voice, some phrase. Maybe something really corny and melodramatic. Hey, nobody’s listening. Like “why’d you do it again, baby?” And then, in key, say that with the guitar. It gives me direction on where to start the phrase and how many notes it will have. Just an idea from a struggling intermediate player.

  • Juan Perez Jr.

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    Love the different insight. Not having you near due to my living in New England, I have my instructor. Your blues solo course was my first intro to guitar playing. You will always be my long distant instructor. Thank you for all your knowledge.

  • Rick Apple

    Reply Reply August 30, 2017

    Love your blogs Griff. I’ve learned a lot from you

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