Putting the Rhythm in the Blues

If you are learning to play improvised blues solos on the guitar then you will very likely have read, or been told, that you should learn blues (or minor pentatonic) scale patterns and then “use these to jam along to a 12-bar blues rhythm track.”

Easier said than done though isn’t it? Don’t worry! There are many guitar players who fall into a rather frustrating gap between learning their scale patterns and finding themselves spontaneously able to play great-sounding blues solos!

Guitar teachers often find that they have to devote a considerable amount of lesson time to helping their students bridge this gap. I think there are actually several elements that need to be in place before this gap is successfully spanned and, although the mix of these elements will vary from student to student, I would list the following as being typical:

  • Confidence to enter wholeheartedly into the “˜trial and error’ process that improvising necessarily entails.
  • Development of good left/right hand coordination
  • Mastery of basic technique (bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibrato etc…)
  • A ‘library’ of well-rehearsed licks (both original and er…borrowed!)
  • An understanding of typical blues phrasing patterns (“˜call and response’ or “˜question and answer’ for example)
  • A good ear for tension and resolution as used in blues
  • An intuitive sense of blues phrasing and timing

The first item on my list, confidence,- will of course vary from one individual to another at the outset, but proactively focusing on the other items on the list will itself result in an increase in your level of confidence.

Good coordination, technique and a stock of licks comes from lots of practice, but the last three items on the list are probably best improved by simply listening to as much great blues guitar playing as you can.

Many years ago, I wrote a six-verse long Texas style blues instrumental specifically to help students bridge the gap between scales and solos.

This tune is designed to help you use the scale notes in simple phrases that resolve to the chords used in the twelve-bar sequence and to establish a feel for how the lead lines fit in with the chords (the “˜call and response’ pattern mentioned earlier).

The first verse, shown in detail in the video lessons below, starts by establishing a rhythmic pattern typical of the style most associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan and if you want to progress onto learning some of his tunes, this is a great primer!

These lessons are designed for beginners or near beginners, but I am sure that more experienced player will enjoy them too – they’ll just whiz through them quicker!

The trickiest part is the timing, shown here in standard notation:

Texas Blues Rhythm

Notice the one beat rest at the start. This is best dealt with by counting yourself in: 1 2 3 4 1 … and then playing the notes on beats: 2 & 3 & 4 & 1. In the “˜call and response’ pattern these notes are the “˜call’ and the response comes from the chords played on beats 2(&) 3& (4)& of the second bar.

This rhythmic pattern is repeated throughout the verse.

If that explanation leaves you wondering if this is a bit more complex than it claims – please check out the video lesson – hearing it will make a lot more sense than my attempts to convey the idea in text!

Hope you enjoy learning this – if you do, hop over to www.secretguitarteacher.com where you’ll find a whole course that goes over all six verses on videos and you can also download the tab and backing tracks.

Copyright © 2011 Nick Minnion, (used by permission)