Sunday, September 27, 2009

Blues Power

Q: I was reading your blues lesson on your site and am wondering: what do you think makes the Blues greats, great? I mean, what do they have that all the others don't?

A: Man, what a question! It is really hard to talk about Blues from a theoretic point of view but I'll give it a shot. First let's just talk about the few things you have to have:

1. A complete understanding of the chord changes when you solo - This means you really have to be able to hit the right chord tones as the chords come by, to the level that you can stop thinking about it and your fingers know the way. That is why simply playing the minor and/or major pentatonic scale over the progression doesn't guarantee you anything but a very mediocre solo although it is a start.

2. Knowledge of at least some of the traditional licks - You see, even playing the right scales and chord tones doesn't guarantee you a great solo either. There is a definite vocabulary and the only real way to be able play an effective solo is to learn the vocabulary from the best. You have to know where the licks work too: the I, IV, V and turnaround licks for example. If you copy from a wide variety of players, you'll be sure to not sound like any one player and eventually a little time with them under your fingers will lead to a natural evolution of the phrases and your own personality will start to emerge.

3. Good Blues Tone - I'm not saying your tone has to be just like everyone else's but there is a generally excepted tone that involves a certain amount of warmth and/or twang. Of course there is a wide variety of this tone, from Strats and Teles to Les Pauls, but you know it when you hear that Blues tone. You certainly are going to have a rough time milking it from a Roland Jazz Chorus amp.

4. Power - I'm not sure how to describe this, but let's just say the greats all have this power that just knocks you out. It isn't really a technical thing but just this overwhelming sense of strength. Take a look at the great Freddie King and see if you don't feel it:

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