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Slo Blues: Solos
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from David Hamburger’s Blues Alchemy
B.B. King sometimes gets pegged as “the major pentatonic guy,”
but on his definitive live recording, Live At The Regal, he demonstrates
his ability to weave together major and minor pentatonic
scales to maximize emotional impact. Great material, a crack band,
sensational vocals and an ecstatic crowd that hangs on B.B.’s
every word doesn’t hurt, either. Mixing and matching the two pentatonic
sounds lends each one far greater impact than either used
on its own.
Last month’s installment focused on slo blues rhythm, based on
the uptown blues stylings of B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Albert
King. Our solo lesson on the slo blues is similar in that it is also a
straight 12-bar blues with the I, IV, and V chords all being dominant.
Concentrate on mixing up the major and minor pentatonic scales,
by changing positions, to maximize impact.
Setting the Mood
There are two basic ideas at work here – first is tone and dynamics,
how you’re physically creating the sound. There are different
moments in this solo where you’re trying to play delicately, with a
touch of vibrato, and other parts where you’re playing more percussively,
or with a wider vibrato. Keep in mind this solo is very
much about how you play the notes, not just what notes you play.
The second idea is more tangible in terms of what notes you play;
moving between two positions, starting with the major pentatonic
position at the 5th fret and using that shape, then going up to the
minor pentatonic position at the 8th fret, essentially going back
and forth between the two, creating a kind of call and response.
As you continue through this solo, the main thing to focus on is
smoothly adding chords during the solo to create more depth and
texture. When playing the slo blues, and particularly if your only
accompaniment is bass and drums, there are a couple of pluses
about being able to add chords when you’re playing a solo. One is
filling things out when there is nobody playing rhythm behind you,
giving a fuller sound to the proceedings. The other is that it naturally
keeps you from noodling too much, because you need to be
somewhere at a specific time.
By adding the occasional chord, it gives your phrasing some natural
punctuation, too, helping with both the dynamic and textural
interest of the solo. As you proceed, notice when it alternates
between major and minor pentatonic positions and continue to be
mindful of the difference between the whole step bend and the
half step bend, depending upon whether you are on the I chord or
the IV chord.
For the chord voicings stick to the 9th chords, which are C9, F9,
then G9. There is a certain amount of half-stepping motion, and
also grabbing the high note, making a typical blues move: going
down a half-step below, then back to the chord, then going a halfstep
above, then back to the chord.
That about does it for this month. Spend some time exploring
all aspects of the slo blues, and see how it changes your solos.
Adding more dynamics and space into your lines will make you a
better listener, thus making you a better player. Next month, we’ll
spend time exploring some faster blues styles.
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