The 5 Blues Guitar Mistakes You Want To Avoid
Tommaso Zillio Ė musictheoryforguitar.com
Are your Blues solos all similar to each other? No matter what you try, you donít seem to be able to be original? Maybe you think your solos also lack ísoulí?
I had the same problems years ago, and most of the "old cats" I was playing with were only able to tell me some good-sounding but unhelpful advice as "just let it go", "donít follow the rules" (which ones? ), and always reminding me that "you canít learn from a book". Well, it took me years to overcome my playing issues, and looking back now I see how there WERE in fact some simple easily-solvable problems, and if somebody just told me about them I would have been able to solve them in very little time. You may be in the same situation as I were: learning by blind trial-and-error will most likely take you years as it took me. Iím sure you would prefer a more efficient method.
What I can see now is that there is a very small set of mistakes common to most Blues players who are not yet experts. The real issue here is that they do not sound like actual "mistakes" or "problems": your soloing still sounds "ok", just not great. In fact many beginner Blues players told me that some of these do "sound good to them", but then one should wonder why GREAT Blues player NEVER do them. Letís face it: being a Blues player does not excuse you from studying your instrument or educating your ear. And now that I have captured your sympathy with this last statement, letís have a look at some of the problems that prevent many Blues players from realizing their musical potential and that are not too difficult to solve.
1 Never playing the interval of a 4th
Most Blues player NEVER play the interval of a 4th because, if you are using mostly pentatonic patterns, to play this interval you need to perform a quite difficult movement called the "rolling motion". This technique allows you to play two consecutive notes on the same fret but on different strings. Now the problem is that if you never play the interval of a 4th, then a listener can definitely tell that there is something missing even if they may not be able to name exactly what is wrong.
There are two things you need to do in order to solve this problem:
1. Learn how to perform the rolling motion correctly. Since it is not easy to learn it form a written article, I have prepared for you a
free video on Blues guitar explaining the rolling motion.
2. Once you have learned the rolling motion, write some licks that use it. In general, if you donít implement a new technique in your playing as soon as possible by writing some musical ideas with it, then you will forget this new technique soon.
2 Out-of-tune bends
Probably the most common of all these issues is not bending to the correct pitch. The first thing to realize is that every time you bend a note, you should have a specific pitch in mind to which you want to bend. You should not simply bend "up" and hope for a good result. Yes, I know that what I just wrote here is obvious to many players, but it seems to be not so evident to the majority of them. An exception to this rule are the "smear bends": bends less than a semitone wide from the original pitch that are common in Blues - but then again these are the exception, not the rule.
Once you know that you have to have a target pitch when you bend, you then have to acquire the skills necessary in order to hit it every single time. The best thing to do is to work with a tuner and checking that your bends are precise. It is not an easy exercise, but if you keep trying you will soon develop a good sense of intonation.
3 Starting your phrases only on downbeats
The curious thing about this issue is that it is absolutely obvious to any listener, while itís very difficult to notice if you are the player. The problem here is that itís more natural for most players to start their phrases only on downbeats, so unless you are paying conscious attention to it you are most likely doing it. Of course, after a bit of training there is no need to pay it constant attention. Since in general listeners care more about rhythm than pitch (if you go out of time everybody notices, if you play a wrong note many donít notice) if all your phrases have the same rhythmic structure it sounds like you are just repeating yourself.
My solution to this works in 3 steps:
1. Improvise a solo starting all your phrases on upbeats. This is not easy to explain in written form so I recommend you watch the
video on Blues guitar mistakes I made to explain this exercise in an easy way. Few suggestions: keep your phrases simples, and donít worry too much if you are sounding too repetitive: this is just the first step.
2. Again, improvise a solo, but this time start one phrase on a downbeat, the next on an upbeat and so on. The idea here is to get accustomed in switching between the two with ease, so again keep your phrases simples and donít worry if it sounds all the same.
3. Finally, start your phrases freely on either the downbeat or the upbeat without following a rigid scheme. The idea now is to try to keep the listeners surprised and engaged: when they expect a downbeat give them an upbeat and vice versa. If you can master this simple exercise then you are on your way to become a great improviser!
4 Playing always on the same position on the fretboard
While there is nothing wrong in using the old familiar "box" pentatonic pattern (but see below), I notice that most players always start their solo there and never move from that position. As there is only so much you can do with a single pattern, tís no surprise that after a while all the solos start to sound the same, and in fact even a single solo will sound boring if you never move. This is because if you stay in the same pattern you are never changing register (i.e. you are always playing notes close to each other).
While before we stated that our ears are more sensitive to rhythm than pitch, but it is also true that our ears are more sensitive to register than pitch. This means that no matter how original are your phrases, if you play always in the same octave your solo will "not go anywhere".
The solution is simply to learn your scale patterns in a way that allows you to move freely on your fretboard. A simple way to get started is to play your favourite pattern in two positions 12 frets apart (if you are in A, the minor pentatonic will be at fret 5 and at fret 17), and alternate between them. Sure, it is quite a crude method, but this is just a quick fix. The complete solution is simple to learn all your scales properly.
5 Knowing only one scale
As a last item letís cover your scale choice. As stated above, most players rely on the minor pentatonic scale, or on the "Blues scale" (they are essentially the same thing). Sure, these scales are popular but if you rely only on them you are going to encounter some major problem. Let me just cite two of them:
1. On a standard Dominant Blues the pentatonic minor scale will have always at least one "wrong note" for each chord in the progression. In other words, the minor pentatonic itís an useful approximation to use at the beginning, but you should learn to use it properly and avoid the "wrong" notes contained in it. Not knowing (or worse, hearing) these "wrong" notes is one of the main reasons why your solo does not "fit" the chord progression.
2. The pentatonic/Blues scale is definitely overplayed. There are a number of other scales used by pro Blues players that allow them to sound different and still "Bluesy". Being limited to the pentatonic/Blues scale will just limit your ability of expressing yourself on the guitar.
Still have some questions?
Itís quite natural if you still have some questions, as it is not very easy to understand everything just by reading an online article. For his reason, I prepared for you a free
video on Blues guitar mistakes that you can watch for free just by clicking on the link. In the video I will go again through the 5 points above giving you playing examples and exercises you can use to overcome all these difficulties and finally become a great Blues player.
About the Author
Tommaso Zillio is a professional guitarist, teacher, and composer. Tommaso enjoys particularly writing about music theory for guitar, and how the applications of music theory can be a great tool for improvisation, composition and songwriting. You can visit Visit http://www.musictheoryforguitar.com to get free music theory tips, download free instructional eBook, and learn how to master theory in a useful, applicable way.