Between The Licks
|Blues Licks From Blues Scales|
|Written by Bryan Helmig|
|Monday, 25 February 2008|
Using the blues scale to play your own improvised licks.
Every great bluesman has employed the blues scale whether they know it or not. When the inexperienced play the scale, it tends to sound like a scale and not a lick. This is unfortunate but with a little practice and direction it will be a thing of the past. For blues in general, musicians have historically used the same blues scale (derived from the key) over each and every chord change throughout the progression.
Stayed tuned for the most important part at the end of article because without that, you've got nothing.
For today, we'll only be playing in the key of A. But, the patterns and licks can be moved anywhere on the fret board and they will still work. Also, keep the shuffle feel in mind for each of the tabs.
Before you begin:
If you don't know your A blues scale by now, start here. Otherwise skip ahead.
Here is a blues scale in A in the first (or base) position:
The doubled notes on the E-string, 5th fret and B-string, 10th fret simply means these are the same notes in the scale.
The blues scale is a scale based on of a minor pentatonic scale with an added flat 5th (b5) or 'blue note'. The flat 5th is a color tone and should be played in passing. For the A blues scale the notes are: A, C, D, Eb, E, G. Or 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7.
We'll stick to this first position for simplicities' sake. You should be comfortable playing the above scale before moving on.
Just running up and down the scale sounds really boring, so throw in some variations. Don't be afraid to play the same note more than once. Repeating strings of notes can have a pleasing effect too. Here is a very simple example:
Notice the use of the blue note on the G-string, 8th fret.
Here is another simple one:
Those are just examples. You wouldn't use those in your debut blues solo would you? Of course not. That's because you need some rhythmic variation to keep things interesting.
Just paying the bills:
Playing alternate rhythms:
Music needs to breathe. Bluesmen often say they let their guitar do the talking, so it makes sense that the guitar should do the breathing too. Try hitting notes and letting them linger. Try hitting notes and cutting them off. Wait a second and start your next line in time. Play a couple notes faster and then slower.
Try this simple lick with some basic rhythmic variation:
Still very simple but much more interesting.
Here is a more complicated lick:
This is just some basic stuff here. While it sounds good compared to a scale run, it can sound even better. We're just missing some style. Style is the term I use to refer to bends, double stops and vibrato.
Playing with style:
If you listen to B.B. King, you start notice his vibrato and bend styles. If you listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan, you probably notice his double stops and wide bends. Both these guitarists play the blues but they retain different styles.
Below is an example of something B.B. King would play. Play it straight like a slow blues:
Notice the bends and vibrato.
Below is something more in line with what Stevie Ray Vaughan would play. Use a texas shuffle feel:
Notice the double stops (two notes at a time) at the end. Stevie Ray Vaughan would often use double stops just like above. All in all, double stops are a great way to fill out your licks.
The most popular note to bend is the 4th or D in this key. As you can see directly above, it is the first note bent. The minor 3rd or C in this key is also very effective and is the second bent note.
This should give you a basic idea of how to go about playing blues licks. String together a bunch of related and improvised licks and you'd be playing a solo. Even if you followed each of these pieces of advice, you are missing the most important part. Read on.
Call it what you want, but for the blues you absolutely need it. Every technique in the book is useless without heart. Period.
For example, find a video of your favorite bluesman playing live. Notice that when they're playing hot, they're squirming and shaking all over the place.
Some may say that because they lead an easy life, they have no right playing the blues. They're missing the point. The soul is always yearning for something beyond.
If there isn't a hole that you're trying to fill with the blues, find one.
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