Do your blues guitar solos all end up sounding like you’re playing scales? If they do then you’re not alone, it’s a common problem. One reason you might have this problem is that you practice scales too much.
Do you practice scales too much?
What happens when you try to improvise a solo? Your mind is busy trying to keep track of many things…
- Listen to the backing track or the band and keep your place in the 12 bar blues progression
- Remember all those scale positions you practiced, where are they in the current key?
- Focus on how to perform a bend cleanly and to the right pitch – don’t want it to be flat or sharp
- Remember to add a nice vibrato on notes where there’s time to rest
- Part of your mind is thinking, oh my, gosh, this is it, it’s me soloing, what if I screw up? Will I look real stupid?
- What if my solo sounds a little flat? How can I get it to be more interesting?
- Why doesn’t my amp sound like I want it to? I really think I should get that pedal to tweak my sound…
And so on and so on. That’s a lot of things for your mind to keep track of.
So what happens when you’re in that situation? Your mind is so busy with all that other stuff that it doesn’t have time to spend on shaping an interesting series of notes for your solo. Your fingers are left to their own and often simply fall back into whatever their habits are, and the chances are a lot of their habit has been formed during scale practice. Walking up and down scales one note at a time, in eighths, triplets, maybe sixteenth notes.
Break out of the scales rut
You can make your solos sound more interesting by getting out of that “up and down the scale” rut.
A really easy way to break out of the rut is to play a few wide intervals here and there. You don’t have to play them on every note – that would be just as boring as walking the scale a note at a time – but you can sprinkle a few into your solo to give the listeners a bit of a surprise.
To make a habit of this take some of the time you spend walking the scales as fast as you can and practice some licks with wide intervals instead. There’s an example coming up in a minute so you’ll be able to see the kind of things you can try.
Another way to get into the habit of playing wide intervals is to use them to practice your scales. There’s no example of this, you simply play the scale notes you know already in different orders – jump across a string, even two, play the scale every second note, every third note, there are plenty of things to keep you busy and shake up your finger habits a little…
Example scale-wise lick transformed with wide intervals
OK, time for an example. Let’s start with a boring scale shaped lick in Bb major, exhibit A below.
There’s nothing really wrong with that lick, it just walks up the minor pentatonic scale and it even sounds quite nice. But if you keep walking up and down the scale like that all evening, your audience will be snoring with boredom in less than two songs.
So now let’s dress up that lick and try to keep the audience awake with a couple of tastefully placed wide intervals. Not too many, just one or two will transform this lick.
Here are some examples that show some options to add a wide interval or two to the basic lick above. As you’ll see, you have various options, there is not just one “right way” to do it.
Did you try those out? See how the wide interval thrown in creates a little surprise and livens up the lick? You can use that trick to create more variety in your blues guitar licks and break out of the scale trap.
Wide Interval Practice
To build your skill with this technique add some wide intervals to the blues scale positions you know. Pick a note within the position and practice skipping up two or three notes in the scale each time you play it. Now make up some licks of your own using that wide interval. Pick another note and do the same. Repeat this process until you are comfortable playing wide intervals from any note in the scale.
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