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:
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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?