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?

 


    22 replies to "The Soloing Tripod"

    • Pat Fitzhugh

      All great stuff, as usual. I have a tip to share (feel free to delete if it’s wrong). It applies to the 2nd leg of the soloing tripod. First, for background, I’ve been playing since age 6 (1971–first lesson), and never did any blues until about 3 years ago–I now consider it a targeted specialty, and I play hardly anything else. Since I’m not a singer, I am confined to doing subs (fill-in’s for guitarists performing gigs), add-ons (playing with different bands at blues fests, etc.), and a whole lot of session work. Ok, so much for that… what about the tip??

      It’s great to sit around all day or night playing with scales, target notes, bends, vibrato, slides, etc., and creating a bunch of licks that sound very cool. But, that’s where a lot of people stop. “Man, that sounds so cool; I’ll have to remember that.” That’s just the beginning; don’t stop there. That cool lick you just created is not yet ready to use in a musical scenario.

      Although it gets the adrenaline flowing and yields a sense of accomplishment, a cool lick is useless if you can’t apply it in true context (with a band, at tempo, and starting and ending the lick at precisely the right times). I don’t know the correct word for this, so I just call it “time-mapping your licks.”

      Play the lick while counting out loud. How many beats does it occupy? From there, keep doing it over and over until you can always play it in time and at tempo. Then, decide where the lick should be placed. Where should it end? Where, based on its timing, should it begin in order to end at precisely the right place? Would it have to start on the “1” beat? If so, that’s a train wreck; create a couple pick-up notes and play them to the (4-trip-let) rhythm just before the “1” beat–anything to start your masterpiece somewhere other than the 1 beat.

      Create a way to document all your cool licks–video them, write them down, whatever. Document not only the notes you are playing, but also the count and timing, and where in a song the lick would be suitable.

    • James Foster

      So, you’re saying I shouldn’t play the major 3rd over the IV chord? 😀

      • Griff

        Yes, that is exactly correct.

    • MoreFreedom

      Griff’s 4 note solo is what taught me to solo, and I’m surprised no one mentioned it. But it has a complete solo, it has licks (using only that fingering on 4 spots though it includes all 5 notes in the pentatonic scale since he uses a bend if I recall it correctly and he’s changed it), and it’s a real minimum of scale notes and fingerings.

      The lack of freedom in fingering and note choices seems to help teach your fingers to play the sounds in your head. It’s like the right discipline to learn to solo.

      • PAUL

        I AGREE ON THE 4 NOTE SOLO. THEN WHEN YOU BEEN PLAYING PROFESSINOALY FOR 63 YEARS, WHAT GRIFF HAS TUOGHT ME, IS HOW TO PLAY THE BLUES. OUR BAND OPEND FOR SO MANY FAMOUS GROUPS IN THE LATE 60’S INTO THE 1970’S. I KNEW DAVID GILMORE FROM PINK FLOYD. HE TOUGHT ME HOW TO DO THE SOLO IN THE SONG “MONEY”. SO I HAVE BEEN PLAYING RTHYUM AND LEAD GUITAR FOR MANY YEARS. THEN OLD AGE SETS IN AND YOUR FINGERS ARE AS FAST. THEN STIIL, GRIFF YOU HAVE AWAY WITH GETTING ME GOING AND GIVING ME MY CHOPS BACK. THANKS BROTHER. OR AS WE WOULD SAY IN THE 60’S, THANKS BABE! LOL !

    • David Greene

      Griff, when common sense advice mates with pro level skills, their baby is your customer base which will only grow over time. You are a unique talent, appreciated fully by everyone who has ever heard me play. They all owe you!!

    • DaveyJoe

      Good advice Griff.
      8/2/19

    • Alexander Aliganga

      I really like this lesson because it really gives me an idea of how to look at where I’m at with my soloing.
      really great information Griff, thanks a lot!
      Alexander

    • tony

      I just got one thing to say and I did not read the whole blog . Always go back to the root note and start to build Your solos from the cord notes . just cant go wrong .

    • Dave Dyson

      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

      Dave

    • Joe

      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

      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

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

    • Ed Mintun

      What pun?

    • cowboy

      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.

      cowboy

    • Julian Wilson

      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.

      Respect,
      Jules

    • Brian Burke

      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.

      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

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

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