Most blues players learn how to solo using the minor pentatonic scale over the entire progression. Thankfully that scale gets players up and running quickly and initially sounds great. But at some point, our ear tells us that there’s something missing from our solos. Something that all of the great blues players are doing that we’re not. Ultimately we discover the missing link… playing the changes!
Matt Schofield’s Playing the Changes edition of BluesSpeak is your fast track and rite of passage into the melodic, ear-pleasing world of ‘playing the changes’ when soloing over the blues!
”Of course, phrasing, rhythm, and technique are all important -- and all that will come in time with practice -- but the one thing that can really make a difference, and make it immediately, is learning how to “play the changes.” While learning the scales and harmony behind the blues are vital, it comes down to playing the right note, at the right time. And that's what we’ll focus here in this edition of Blues Speak.”
Matt organized this course into 5 sections, each stocked with lessons and performance studies. You’ll play your way through the course applying all of the approaches covered in each section. You’ll wrap up the course with six full-length performance studies in a variety of common blues feels and keys by which time… you will confidently be playing the changes!
”SECTION 1: Back to the Source ”To play the blues expressively and convincingly, it's vital to study the early pioneers. Not only did they invent the vocabulary and melodic path for all blues playing that followed, but they each also offer a very singular and distinct sound that we can draw upon. Their deceptively simple styles can endlessly inspire and inform our own musical ideas and offer a route to fresh sounds and techniques that we might not already utilize. In this section, we're going to look at 3 of my favorite players. These guys have influenced me massively, and just about anyone else who has played blues and rock guitar since! Their music and playing still provide a wealth of inspiration and ideas to draw from.”
Albert Collins ”One of my earliest and biggest inspirations, from Texas: The Iceman – Albert Collins! Albert's unique, inventive and exciting playing contains so much to be inspired by. In this lesson, we're going to focus on how his use of a unique tuning brought out the sound of the blues scale with the added 6th degree. This can lead us to a fresh sound in our own playing, and melodically tie the first two changes in the blues scale together very nicely, and start to bring out the sound of the IV chord.”
B.B. King ”B.B. King – the one and only King of the Blues! Blues guitar, rock guitar and anything related wouldn't sound the same if it wasn't for B.B. B.B. put it all together in the most beautiful way. As his playing evolved through the years, his sound and approach came to rely heavily upon the use of the major pentatonic and Mixolydian sounds. This lends a sweetness and sophistication, and leads us away from the same old minor pentatonic to the "B.B. box" position, which immediately grants us access to a much more melodic and colorful approach, and highlights the sound of the IV chord in the blues.”
Albert King ”The mighty Albert King: the master of string bending. Albert's approach seems deceptively simple at first, without a lot of jumping around the neck, but his mastery of bends requires a powerful and controlled technique. He used this to bring out the changes of the blues progression within his bends. There's an infinite number of micro-tones available inside a large string bend and nobody utilized all the possibilities more melodically than Albert!”
SECTION 2: Scales ”In this section, we're going to look at the scales I work from when playing over the blues changes. It's important to learn these scales across the entire neck (and have a good map on the guitar), but it's more important to learn how they sound so that you can use your ear to guide you to those sounds when you're improvising on a blues.”
Lessons and Performance Studies include: Options for the I Chord, Options for the IV Chord, Options for the V Chord, Scales & the Changes, Give It the Third Degree, Magic Major Pentatonic, and The Diminished Device
SECTION 3: Chord Tones ”Learning how chords are built, and how the degrees of the major scale relate to blues harmony is one of the most valuable things to learn. Investing in your knowledge of this will open up massive doors to new playing ideas and concepts. In this section, I'm going to explain how I view chords and how I use my understanding of how they're built to add a lot of color, melody, and expression in the context of the blues, and how they tie your playing together, from rhythm to lead.”
Lessons and Performance Studies include: It's All in the Spelling, Chords, and Melodic Flow, and Targeting Chord Tones
SECTION 4: Combined Approaches ”In this section, we're going to build on what we've learned from playing the changes over the traditional 3-chord 12-bar blues progression, and see how we can take those concepts and apply them to different changes we might encounter, including a II-V, and a raised V chord.”
Lessons and Performance Studies include: Navigating Changes, Putting It Together, Extracting vi ii V I Flavors, and Taking It to the Next Level
SECTION 5: Performance Studies ”OK, now the really fun part! Time to take everything we've been practicing and play some music! I'm going to have a blow over the different backing tracks and see what we can come up with by improvising creatively with the knowledge we've amassed! Everything is tabbed out for you, but have a go improvising yourself, and not only learn what I play. Have fun and explore your playing.”
B.B. Shuffle ”Nothing like a straight-ahead mid-tempo shuffle to play over! Here's a classic take on it in G. Let's keep B.B, the King of The Blues, in mind, and make it sweet and singing, and develop the complexity over the changes from there.”
12/8 Two-Five Extract ”I love playing over this progression, especially in the key of Bb. As long as you know the right notes to hit at the right time, you can make it as simple and tasteful, or as flash and jazzy as you choose. It's all about being able to make informed choices over each chord.”
Funky Collins ”We're going to get funky now with The Iceman, Albert Collins, in mind. It's a high energy track in D, which is a good Collins key! It's OK to play with a bit of abandon and some "swag" here! Just as well, trying to make those changes speak, focus on timing and phrasing to keep you playing tight and funky along with the track.”
Rhumbarin’ ”A little rhumba in the key of F, that finds it's way into a swinging shuffle at some point! It's good practice to play in more underutilized guitar keys, such as F, F#, Ab and C# - no only do they present you with unique sounds, it means you have command of the whole instrument across the fretboard. Here we're focusing on the pace and building on thematic ideas as the tracks progress.”
Lucy's Blues ”Time to get down and dirty on a drivin' 12/8 blues in A - one of my favorites to play over. We're very much keeping the mighty Albert King in mind here. Grab the big notes and go for it! Starting out with a very direct minor pentatonic approach and starting to bring out the changes as the track moves along.”
Siftin' Minor ”Our final jam gives us the chance to blow over this set of changes in G minor. There are many possible ways to approach this track, from a more straight-ahead minor blues vibe, to really work your way through the chords across the neck. With an up-tempo funky track like this, it's important to pace yourself and let the ideas unfold for the listener and not just fire it all off in the first chorus. Work your way up the neck until it's really screamin’!”
Matt will explain and demonstrate all of the key concepts and approaches along the way. You’ll get standard notation and tabs for all of the key examples and performances. Plus, you’ll be able to use TrueFire’s learning tool to sync the tab and notation to the video and can also loop or slow down the videos so that you can work with the lessons at your own pace. All of the backing tracks are included to work with on your own as well.
Grab your guitar and let's play the changes with Matt Schofield!