Turning Practice Into Play #2 – “Quick Change Chromatic Blues”

There are all sorts of reasons to like the blues and all kinds of lessons that guitarists especially can learn from them. Playing the blues is a great way to develop a solid sense of timing and you can also use blues music as an excellent starting place for soloing and phrasing.

What’s sometimes overlooked is that it’s very easy to create “chord melody” finger style instrumental pieces out of a blues format. You’ve already done this with our last “Turning Practice into Play” lesson (the Drop D Happy Blues) and in this lesson you’ll have a new piece to add to your single-guitar instrumental music repertoire.

The song for this lesson, which I’m calling the Quick Change Chromatic Blues just to give it a name, is one I wrote specifically for the upcoming Complete Idiot’s Guide to Guitar. Like the Drop D Happy Blues, it’s designed to work on syncopation and timing in general. It’s both easier and harder than the first song in a couple of ways. Easier in that the bass is pretty much a single note (the root note of the given chord) throughout, but the melody provides ample opportunity to stretch and move the fingers about on the fretboard.

There are also some aspects of musicality to address – while the bass is pretty much the same throughout, there should be a bit of distinction between what we would think of as the song’s melody and what will pass as typical blues fills. More on that as we move along…

Let’s address a few basics first: the song is in E major and follows a twelve-bar blues format that most musicians refer to as the “quick change” blues. Typically a twelve-bar blues pattern in the key of E would use the following chords:

Measures 1 – 4: E

Measures 5 – 6: A

Measures 7 – 8: E

Measure 9: B

Measure 10: A

Measure 11: E

Measure 12: Turnaround (meaning getting back to the B so you can start the song again)

In a “quick change” blues, the second measure usually goes to the “IV” chord, which in the key of E would be A. Then the third and fourth measures are back on the “I” chord, which would be E in this example.

Let’s take a look at the first two measures and see how this will play out. Don’t forget that blues is played in swing eighths. If you’ve forgotten about how to do that, don’t worry! We’ve just created a new “mini-lesson help guide” here at Guitar Noise for just this purpose! Go here to get a quick refresher (complete with audio) on swing eighths rhythm.

And when you’re done with that, you can get back to focusing on this song:

Example 1

Let’s talk a moment here about notes, fingering, melodies and making use of open strings. The E note in the melody line at the end of the first measure can be played at many places along the neck of the guitar. There’s the open high E (first) string, obviously, but you can also play that particular note at the fifth fret of the B string, the ninth fret of the G string, the fourteenth fret of the D string and even the nineteenth fret of the A string if you’re so inclined. Which note is the “right one?”

A lot of that choice depends on you but part of it is simple logic. If you play the first three notes of the melody starting with the G note at the eighth fret of the B string (as shown in the above tablature) it just makes sense to start with your middle finger because then your ring finger and index finger are in perfect position to play the G# (ninth fret of the B) and B (seventh fret of the high E). But you’ve got a choice now as to where to play that E note we were just discussing.

Perhaps the most logical place to play it is at the ninth fret of the G string. Your fingers are, as mentioned, in a perfect place to do so. But I’ve chosen the open high E string for two purely personal reasons. First off, I like the way it sounds. Maybe I’m just an “open ringing strings” kind of guy (that may have a lot to do with starting out on an acoustic twelve-string guitar ages ago), who knows? Letting the note ring out and decay naturally, even while the new phrase of the second measure begins, is pleasing to my ears.

The second reason is a little more practical – using the open string means that I’ve bought myself a bit of time to shift my fingers down the neck for the next phrase of the song. I am not the world’s fastest guitarist by any stretch of the imagination and I like to give my fingers a head start whenever the opportunity presents itself.

And even though this is a reasonably simple song, there’s quite a bit going on here. Take the bass notes, for instance. Even though it’s probably the easiest bass line you could possibly come across, you want to think about just how you want to play it. You can hear on the MP3 in the last example that I use a bit of palm muting on the bass notes, keeping the bass fairly crisp and staccato, in contrast to letting the melody notes ring out. Again, this is my choice and your personal musical tastes may guide you to play it differently.

Turning our attention to the second measure, my original intent with this song was to have it serve as a practical use of the age-old “one finger one fret” exercises that we all used at some point in our playing history. If your index finger plays the first C note (fifth fret of the G string), then you can use your middle finger on C# (sixth fret), your ring finger on the F# (seventh fret of the B string) and your pinky on the G (eighth fret of the B). But again, that’s just one possible approach. You could, for instance, decide to use a series of short slides, sliding the index finger from the fifth fret to the sixth fret on the G and either your ring finger or middle finger to slide from the seventh to eighth fret of the B string. Hammer-ons are another possibility.

The third measure was designed to give beginning guitarists a bit of work on rolling the index finger:

Example 2

Begin the phrase the middle finger to fret the G (third fret of the high E) and use your ring finger for the G# at the fourth fret. Next you’ll hit the open high E string and let it ring out while you play the C# at the second fret of the B string. To do so, you’ll need to fret the note cleanly with the tip of your index finger. After you’ve done so, flatten out the index finger to get the F# at the second fret of the high E string. You can then either remove your index finger and pick the note of the open high E string or perform a pull-off with the index finger to sound the note.

To get the final note of this phrase, you can simply play it as notated or you can choose to use a slide or a hammer to move from the C# (second fret of the B string) to the D (third fret of the B).

Measures five and six involve bouncing your fingers across the first six frets of the two high strings:

Example 3

Here we’re once again making use of the open strings to move our fingers around. The first time you hit the open high E, shift your fingers so your index finger is positioned at the second fret. Doing so will make it easy to play the A (fifth fret of the high E) with your pinky.

Likewise, use the second strike of the open high E string as a chance to reposition your fingers so that your middle finger is poised over the third fret. This means your pinky will be able to nail the Bb at the sixth fret. Take advantage of the next-to-last hit of the open high E to shift back and you’ll have no trouble getting the F# at the second fret just before this phrase is over.

Be sure to take note that the first three notes of the fifth measure are triplets and not swing eighths. This means that you are supposed to play them evenly through the first beat of the measure. Don’t treat the first hammer-on (which could just as easily be played as a slide, if you prefer) as a grace note – give it its full rhythmic due.

Also be sure to notice that the third note of that triplet is tied, so it is in essence a full beat (the last third of the first beat and the first two-thirds of the second beat). Whenever you find yourself faces with a combination of triplets and swing eighths, be smart and count it out loud to yourself in order to get it right. Here’s how you would count out the fifth measure:

Counting Measure 5

I threw in a traditional blues riff to serve as a fill during the seventh and eighth measures:

Example 4

This is probably the trickiest part of the whole song, so if you can work your way through measure seven it’s pretty much smooth sailing from here. You may find using your ring finger for the initial D note (third fret of the B string) to be very helpful. Doing so puts your middle finger right over the second fret so you put it down on the A note (second fret of the G string), hit it and then slide up two frets to the B note. Now your index finger is at the third fret position, which is exactly where you want it to be. Be sure to keep your middle finger in place at the fourth fret of the G string when you hit that D note (index finger on the third fret of the B string) so that you are ready for the slide back down to the A at the second fret. Then you can simply remove the finger normally or perform a pull-off to get the note of the open G string.

Don’t pat yourself on the back just yet, though. You need to hit the open G once more and then immediately hammer your index finger on to the first fret to get the G# that starts the eighth measure. This open G is a true grace note. It’s almost like hitting the open G string was a mistake that you corrected as soon as you heard it.

Take these last two measures slowly and deliberately at first. Don’t even worry about the count as much as getting comfortable knowing how and what your fingers are supposed to do to perform this fill. Once you feel less anxious about how to play it, work on the fill at a very slow and even tempo, counting out the triplets (“one and ah two and ah three and ah four and ah”) as you do so. The hammer-on at the start of measure eight should all happen as you say “one.”

As you gain confidence in playing this riff at speed, back up two measures and play the entire phrase (measures five through eight) at a slow, steady beat and then gradually build up your speed again.

The final five measures may seem a little mundane compared to what you just went through, but hopefully there will be some interesting musical twists for you to enjoy:

Example 5
Example 5 continued

You want to start by fingering a B7 chord (x21202) but since you won’t be playing the B or high E strings, don’t even worry about putting any fingers there. After a brief four-string arpeggio, slide the B7 shape, all three fingers, one fret up the neck. Believe it or not, this is C7. With your picking hand, pinch the A and G strings with your thumb and middle finger, respectively, and use your index finger to pick the D string. Then slide the whole shape back to B7 and repeat the picking pattern.

And, having just taken a short break from the “all quarter notes all root notes all the time” bass line, you get right back into it in measure ten. The melody line uses only the notes at either the open B and high E string or the second fret of both those strings. Again, compared to what you’ve done up to this point, you should find this surprisingly easy and painless.

Measure eleven is an interesting demonstration of converging musical lines. The bass notes climb up from E to G# to A to A# and then B at the start of measure twelve while the melody notes move down from E to D (natural) to C# to C natural and then to B again. It’s the first time that the melody is all quarter notes so take care not to speed them up! Inertia can do that to you!

You might find it easiest to finger the second pair of notes in measure eleven – the G# in the bass and the D in the melody – with your middle finger and index finger, respectively. Then slide your index finger down to the second fret of the B string for the C# and use the open A string for the bass note. For the final pair of notes in that measure, use your middle finger for the A# note (first fret of the A string) in the bass and your ring finger for the C (first fret of the B string) in the melody. This allows you to slide the middle finger up to get the B note (second fret of the A string) and also puts you in position to fret the low three notes of the B7 chord again. A little planning certainly doesn’t hurt.

Let’s try out the whole thing and see how it goes, shall we?

Whole Song - 1
Whole Song - 1
Whole Song - 1
Whole Song - 1
Whole Song - 1
Whole Song - 1

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little blues number. You should feel free to experiment and work out your own melodies and fills and create solo guitar blues pieces of your own. It’s not all that hard if you remember to start out nice and easy. As you pick up more and more techniques and ideas, your songs will start to reflect your new skills, too.

As always, please feel free to post your questions and suggestions on the Guitar Noise Forum’s “Guitar Noise Lessons” page or email me directly at dhodgeguitar@aol.com.

Until our next lesson…