Friday, February 24, 2012

Getting the Blues Together

Q: Been trying to learn a lot more of the Stevie Ray Vaughan blues style. Kind of plateaued. What would you recommend I do to be able to improvise like SRV and all of the Blues greats??

A: First of all, let me start with what we all do at first and how eventually we have to outgrow it. We generally start off by playing the minor pentatonic scale over the whole thing. I think this is OK when we start but you realize that this method won't work too well the first time you have to play the Blues for anything longer than ten minutes. I have to usually play two or three sets of the Blues on my Blues gig and let me tell you, your audience starts to get this glazed over look after a couple songs if you just keep regurgitating the same tired pentatonic scale licks.
A lot of guitarists will tell you that there isn't much to the Blues and that all you have to do is play the pentatonic scale but these guys generally can't hold an audience for ten or fifteen minutes. These are some important points:

1. Vocabulary: You have to learn the licks from the greats. And you have to categorize them by where they work. For example, over the "I" chord, the "IV" chord, the "V" chord and the turnaround. When I listen to Stevie, I hear Albert King more than anything else. I wouldn't suggest you only pick apart the licks from one person but from a wide selection of guitarists or you'll run the risk of sounding exactly like that one guitarist. People often say I sound a bit like Stevie but the truth is that I never copied him much. I sound a little like him because I was influenced by the same players as he was, namely Albert King and Jimi Hendrix. I like Albert King, Albert Collins, BB King and Robben Ford. They all phrase differently as well and all have different approaches to the way they improvise. 

2. Phrasing: Phrasing is basically where you play and don't play. By copying solos from top to bottom, you are not only learning vocabulary, you learn about phrasing and if you do it enough, you'll be able to do it naturally.

3. 3rds and 7ths: You'll find that a lot of the important licks are based around the 3rds and 7ths of the chords, this is especially true of the "I" and"IV" chords. Let's take a G blues for example. Play an F and B note (on the 2nd and 1st strings) simultaneously over the G7 chord. You are playing the 7th and 3rd of the chord. Now move these two notes down a half step to E and Bb over the C7 ("IV" chord). Now you've got the 3rds and 7th of this chord happening. You'll find this all over the place and it is a typical Blues trick.

4. Triplets: You have to make an effort to play triplets. This is especially true for the medium and fast tempos. For practice sake, see if you can play constant triplets without stopping. This isn't a great idea on a gig, but if you practice doing this, you can build up your stamina. 

5. Pay close attention to the turnarounds. Steve played through them a lot landing on the important chord tones but there are plenty of standard turnarounds that can get you through a lot.

6. This goes without saying but you have to copy as many solos as you can. You'll find that the best players, although play the minor pentatonic scale a lot are really paying close attention to chord tones, phrasing (And repeating themselves) and have a great sense of timing and rhythm.


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