Guitar Lesson 1: Blues Improvisation with some advanced theory


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In the first podcast, Dan gives a wealth of excellent advice and demonstrations on how to solo and improvise over standard 12 Bar Blues changes.  We look at modes (especially the dorian, ionian and mixolydian), crossreferencing scales and note choices, including a discussion about the blues note.

In the second part of the podcast, Dan shares his knowledge about various tones and how to achieve these on different guitars.  Finally, we jam over a YouTube backing track – Quist – Freddie King E7 A7 B7

At the very beginning of the lesson, Dan talks about the pentatonic scales and why you ought to look at slightly different approaches, so that you add other scale ‘flavours’ into your improvisations and soloing.  At 5 Dan gives two licks around a pentatonic approach, including an interesting sequence first using 2 notes per string and then 3 notes alternating.

At 10 minutes there is a discussion around the uses of the blues note, including some ideas around taking the perfect fifth and bending to the blues note/tritone.  Dan explains about the use of some notes to build tension and how Guthrie Govan said that it is good to revert back to usual choices and offer some relief after the not so nice notes which are out of the box.

At 29 minutes there is a demonstration jam, in which Dan shows in his playing some of the ideas which we had discussed in the first half of the lesson.

After this at 34 minutes, we discuss other scale choices over the standard chord changes you find in a 12 bar blues, including the difference between using a three note per string pattern to a boxed one.  An explanation is given of how to use the mixolydian scales, relevant to each dominant chord and also using both the minor and major pentatonics concurrently.

At 43 minutes into the lesson, Dan explains what is meant by crossreferencing scales (or which major scale you should play over a particular chord to make a mode).

  1. For the E7 chord in the key of E, the E mixolydian scale is the same as the A major scale.
  2. For the A7 chord, the A mixolydian is the same as the D major scale or otherwise thought of as E dorian if this is more helpful.
  3. For the B7 chord, the B mixolydian is the same as the E major scale.  Most progressions do not remain static on this chord for long, however, limiting the soloing time in this mode.

At 47 minutes there is another demonstration jam to highlight what I have been taught so far.

At 52 minutes into the lesson, I get Dan onto the topic of tone – a subject which I am always trying to gain the benefit of Dan’s expertise and knowledge.  In a few of my previous lessons, I have been starting to understand the dynamics and subtleties of using my volume and tone controls on my Les Paul Studio and I was hoping to refresh this knowledge for blues tones.  In our discussion, we use the sound and tone which other players get as our reference point, starting with Gary Moore and Robben Ford, then Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton (both his ‘woman’ tone and also Crossroads) and touching upon Brian May.  Dan is playing his awesome Suhr Strat, which he puts through its paces from about 1 hour 7 minutes in to show me the wide range of tone which he can get using his pickup selection switch, volume and tone controls.

Finally, after a quick warmup for me, we take it in turns to improvise over the YouTube track by Quist (who I strongly recommend checking out for ideas and improvisation practice):

Quist: Freddie King in E

I think that no-one listening will struggle to hear the difference between Dan and my playing, but as I say in the podcast, I hope that you can learn not only from Dan’s superb playing, but also from my own mistakes.  It certainly helps me to be able to listen back to my own playing.

Finally, some encouraging last words to take away: “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, “over time you get better at covering over your mistakes”, the virtue of “happy accidents” and “be prepared to fail” – all illustrated with a great story about Ry Cooder finding a great new tuning by mistake.



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