Soloing Over Blues Progressions - A More Effective Approach
Most guitarists are taught to play minor pentatonic or the flat 5 blues
scale when soloing over a 1 4 5 blues progression.
While this "does the job" as far as creating that bluesy sound, there
is a far more effective and expressive way of playing through blues
changes. It can be the difference between playing an ordinary blues
solo and an extraordinary
blues solo that really pricks up ears!
It's certainly one of the key differences between the great blues
players and the mediocre.
But it's not
a difficult concept to master. The video below will show you what,
unfortunately, 90% of guitarists ignore in favour of playing the same
old pentatonic/blues scale pattern over all three chords. Don't be lazy!
Here's a nice, slow, 12 bar blues jam in A major
to help you practice the elements we've looked at.
A7 (1) / D7 (4) / E7
I - IV - I - I - IV - IV - I - I - V - IV - I - V
Help with soloing over blues progressions
To accompany the video at the top of this page, I've provided the scale
diagrams from the video, tips and tabs of my phrasing examples to help
cement what we learned.
Start by learning where the chord
tones are for each chord in the progression. So we're
the 1, 4 and 5 chords to begin with. Nine times out of ten,
these will be your strongest target notes through the chord changes.
Remember, the root (1)
note for each chord should be positioned at the appropriate fret for
the key in which you're playing. For example, in the key of A, the 1
chord root will be A,
the 4 chord root will be D
and the 5 chord root will be E.
You can learn more about how key determines the chords you play in
When playing blues, it's easiest to find the lowest root for your 1
chord pattern on the low
The 4 chord root (A string) always lies on the same fret as the 1
chord root (E string), just one string up!
The 5 chord root (A string) always lies two frets up from
the 4 chord root...
Next, embellish the 1 and 4 chord tones with minor pentatonic
built on the 1 chord position...
On the first instance of the 5 chord (typically the 9th bar in
12 bar blues), try the major
pentatonic pattern built on the 1 chord root, mixed with
the 5 chord tones...
On the second instance of the 5 chord (12th bar in 12 bar blues), or to
create more tension over a 5 chord, try using minor
pentatonic built on the 1 chord root, mixed with the 5
Simple blues chord change phrasing examples
Tabbed below are the examples I use in the video. If anything, they
just show you how using those chord target notes through each chord
change helps to underpin the melody...
First, arpeggios. We start by moving from the 1 to 4 chord (A7 to D7 in
this ex.), targeting the b7
chord tone of the 4 chord.
Click the tabs to hear them...
From the 4 chord back to 1, targeting the root
of the 1
Next, we move to the 5 chord from the 1 chord, targeting the major
3rd of the 5 chord...
Ok, let's embellish these arpeggios with the minor pentatonic patterns
from earlier, still using the chord tones as target notes through the
1 to 4 again. This time I target the root
of the 4
Soloing between the 1
chords during the first eight bars of a 12 bar blues progression...
The 9th bar 5 chord
leading through to the 12th bar turnaround...
So, the bottom line here is to use chord tones to keep your scale
phrases connected to the chord changes. Rather than playing "over" the
chords, you'll play "with" them.
That's not to say you must always land on a chord tone, but just knowing where they are,
in relation to the scale pattern, will give you that skeleton which you
can then flesh out with phrases from the scale.
More lessons on blues soloing below. Thanks for your time and patience.