12 Progressive Blues Soloing Guitar Lessons

12 Progressive Blues Soloing Guitar Lessons

Progressive Blues Power offers a complete, step-by-step approach to learning to play improvised solos in a modern blues and blues-rock style. These lessons — built upon the concept of developing one’s lick vocabulary — are presented in different keys, presented across dozens of fretboard positions for each individual key and showcased within the context of a great variety of styles and grooves. After absorbing these lessons, you will begin to speak the language of the blues and blues-rock more fluently and with greater precision and control. Can’t wait? Don’t!

Lick Vocabulary: Key of E 1st Position

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Now let’s begin developing our lick vocabulary in the key of E using the E blues scale. This is done by taking small elements of the scale and developing a variety of melodic and rhythmic inventions and permutations that will form the basis of your improvised solos and melodies. Each one of these little phrases can function as puzzle pieces that can be put together in an infinite number of ways in the development of one’s improvisational ability.

Though I consider this 1st position, in actuality I include second and third position licks to allow myself more melodic freedom while maintaining the same basic approach.

Slow Shuffle Groove: Rhythm Performance

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The shuffle is the most widely used, universally accepted and well-loved rhythm for blues and blues/rock guitar. Classic blues songs like Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” and “Baby What You Want Me to Do,” “Statesboro Blues,” “Sweet Home Chicago” and many, many others are based on this distinct, rocking rhythmic feel. The rhythm part shown here lays down the basics for how to play a solid, deceptively complex mid-tempo shuffle in the key of E.

Slow Shuffle Groove: Rhythm Breakdown

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I begin this pattern by focusing on the bottom two strings, using the open low E as the root note, with the fifth, B, the sixth, C# and the flatted seventh, D, sounded simultaneously on the A string while incorporating palm muting. Palm muting is accomplished by resting the edge of the pick-hand palm across all of the strings by the bridge saddles in order to attain a more percussive attack. In this part, I combine flatpicking and fingerpicking, known as hybrid picking, to achieve an interesting rhythm part.

Slow Shuffle Groove: Solo Performance

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Now let’s try playing a solo over that E shuffle rhythm part, focusing on the melodic ideas presented in Lick Vocabulary 1 and using the E blues scale as the basis for improvisation.

Slow Shuffle Groove: Solo Breakdown

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I begin the solo by moving up chromatically (one fret at a time) from the b5 (flatted fifth), Bb, to the fifth, B, which is played simultaneously with a b7 (flatted seventh), D. While sustaining both notes, I apply a wide vibrato by shaking the guitar neck with the fret hand. Keep the fret hand fingers firm to create a strong vibrato. Though this is an improvisation, my goal is to create memorable, melodic lines, so the very first riff I play becomes a theme that I revisit later in the solo in a few different ways. Notice also the way in which I incorporate open strings throughout to attain a full, ringing sound.

SRV/Hendrix Strumming

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Jimi Hendrix made an art out of playing rhythm in a single position with the thumb wrapped over the top of the fretboard, fretting the root note of the given chord. You will hear Hendrix use this approach on “Machine Gun,” ‘Freedom,” “Izabella,” “Dolly Dagger” and many other tracks. His great disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan became a master of this technique, elaborating on it on tracks like “Cold Shot,” “Superstition” and “Couldn’t Stand the Weather.” These examples are designed to get you up and running with this effective and powerful rhythm technique.

Boogie Groove: Performance

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Let’s now put some of this new fretboard knowledge to use in a couple of solo examples. This first solo excerpt is played over a typical hard-driving blues boogie in the key of A, a style pioneered by the great John Lee Hooker and modernized by ZZ Top on their timeless classic, “La Grange,” from Tres Hombres.

Boogie Groove: Breakdown

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I begin this solo with some quick double pull-offs on the G string, fretting with the index finger and pinkie. In bar 3, I alternate this pull-off shape between the G and D strings, superimposing a threes on twos feel as quarter note triplets, each played as an eighth note triplet, are played across beats one and two and then beats three and four. In bars 6-12, I use a fast tremolo picking technique wherein the pick hand thumb and middle finger are used to quickly alternate between the G and B strings.

Crossroads Groove: Performance

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Cream’s live version of the Robert Johnson classic, “Crossroads” (originally titled “Cross Road Blues”) is essential learning for every aspiring blues and blues/rock guitarist. This solo excerpt is played over a similar backing track, and on it my goal is to connect scale positions in a musical manner, starting in second position and then slowly progressing up the board.

Crossroads Groove: Breakdown

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This solo is kicked off with A major in second position, moving immediately into A minor pentatonic. I then shift up to 5th position for a classic Clapton-esque phrase, followed by a repeated phrase built from the fifth and flatted seventh that is vibrato-ed slowly and evenly. In bars 8 and 9, I use a threes on fours technique as a lick built from three 16th notes but is played as straight 16th notes. Through the whole chorus I progressively move up the board, incorporating many different scale positions in order to create a solo that tells a story and transmits musicality and emotion.

Slow Blues: Performance

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Here’s a slow 12-bar blues groove over which we can bring these many licks and scale positions into play. In this example, I begin low on the neck and then move progressively higher with the objective of creating tension and emotive musical improvisation.

Slow Blues: Breakdown

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This solo begins with the B minor pentatonic scale played in open position using open strings, moving immediately into a brief nod to the key of E over the E7 chord in bar 2, after which I switch to the B blues scale. In bars 2 and 3, my goal is to move from the high strings to the low strings in a seamless, legato manner by using many pull-offs, hammer-ons and trills. Bar 4 brings a quick shift up to 4th and then 7th position, with unison bends used in bars 4 and 5 as a means to connect these scale positions. Some of the phrasing here is complex, so analyze each beat slowly and carefully.


Surely this has inspired you and given you a taste of Andy’s approach and connection to the blues (and teaching)! You might be ready for the full course and with over 300 musical examples, Progressive Blues Power has packed more blues power into its curriculum than ever before and there’s enough material to keep you busy for a lifetime. It’s all transcribed, notated and all of the rhythm tracks are included for your practicing pleasure. Check it out!