The other week I was lucky enough to see a performance of Ravel’s Bolero played by a solo tuba player. That tuba could only play one note at a time but the song sounded wonderful nevertheless.
One thing that struck me during the performance was the amount of repetition that occurs in the tune. It returns often to familiar melodies, repeating them many times throughout the piece. That repetition gave a feeling of wholeness, a feeling that it’s a single cohesive piece of music.
Now a lot of blues guitar solos I create seem to lack that cohesion. Which is a good reason to introduce more repetition into my blues playing. Maybe you could use some repeats too, so here are some ideas to make good use of repetition in blues guitar solos…
Repeat a Single Note
Us would-be blues guitarists are always in a hurry. Rushing to get to the next note in the scale, never taking time to appreciate the note we’re at.
Here’s an opportunity to slow down, spend some time with that note and get more out of it. You can play just one note several times over instead of running aimlessly up and down the scale.
The root note of the current chord is a good choice for repetition. Other notes that work well are the fifth, the third or the seventh (the chord tones). Here’s an example phrase that could be played over an A chord.
T-Bone Walker Unison Bends
The Texas blues master T-Bone Walker introduced a great way to repeat a note in a blues solo. It’s been used by countless other players since, most notably by Chuck Berry for whom it was a signature sound.
Play a note once by bending up to it from two frets below. Then follow up by playing the same note on an adjacent string (a unison). The example licks show common positions for this move found in the first position minor pentatonic or blues box.
In the first example the note on the third string is bent up from the 4th to the 5th scale degree before playing the same 5th on the second string. The second example shows a bend from the b7th to the root on the second string followed by the same root note on the first string. Note that you can also use a slide in place of those bends.
Motives and Sequencing
A motive is a short phrase that can be used as part of a lick or solo. Motives are easily repeated. You can also move motives around in the same key by starting the phrase on a different note each time. The example below shows one of these moving motives, which is called a sequence.
So far we’ve repeated single notes and short phrases. But as Ravel shows us you can take longer melodies and repeat them to great effect too. Choose a two or four bar lick as a “theme” and repeat it often during your blues guitar solo. For example you could use the same two or four bar lick over all the I chords of your blues solo.
Another way to do this is to take a one or two bar lick and use it as a beginning throughout your solo. Each time you play this “theme” lick you follow it up with a different ending for the next bar or two. This works great for call and response style solos.
Play It Again, Sam
Like Sam the pianist in the 1942 film Casablanca, don’t hesitate to play it again. Repetition is an important tool that will give better structure and more focus to your blues guitar solos.
To recap, you can:
1. Repeat a single note
2. Use unison bends, or slides to repeat a note
3. Repeat motives, or start them on different notes to create sequences
4. Use theme licks throughout your solo
And remember, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh, but repetition will make your solo fly.
Hear how repetition is used in Ravel’s Bolero performed by South-Korean guitarist Sungha Jung.