Soloing & Jamming - Basic Lead & Rhythm Improvisation

 

Welcome to Six String Country's general soloing and improvisation method.  When you have completed this course, our goal is for you to be comfortable improvising lead and rhythm guitar parts with other musicians.  Whether at a blues jam, in a garage with your band, or in a living room with your friends, playing music with others is one of the most fun and rewarding things we can do as musicians.  The program strikes a healthy balance of learning the theory and technique required to successfully improvise and studying the playing styles of guitar greats like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and more.

The assumption at the beginning of this method is that you have a basic understanding of the diatonic, pentatonic, and blues scale patterns, and that you have an understanding of basic chords and chord shapes.  Need to brush up?  No problem!  Check out our Guitar 101 program here.

This method is taught by SSC co-founder Tony Bakker and Nashville professional guitarists Eric Knutson. 
 


Pre-Method Homework

Playing Scales In Any Key

To set yourself up for success with this method, you will want to be very comfortable with the pentatonic scale.  We teach the scale in the key of G, but it will be important that you know how to play the pentatonic scale in every key, especially the key of C.  Take your time with this lesson before beginning the method and aim for complete understanding.  This is one of those essential "light bulbs" that needs to light up to be successful with soloing and improvisation.

Playing the Pentatonic Scale in Any Key

Major vs. Minor Pentatonic

As you interact with other musicians, you'll hear people talk about the major and minor pentatonic scales.  This can be a source of confusion as different people learn the numbering systems differently.  Often time, musicians are saying the same thing but saying it in a different way.  Take the time to understand the concepts in the videos and get comfortable with differences and similarities of the major and minor pentatonic.  We'll learn 3 accessible riffs (and 1 hard one!) along the way.

Major vs Minor Pentatonic: Riffs & Workshop

 


 

Lesson 1

12 Bar Blues

This is where we start folks.  The 12 bar blues progression is a specific, 12 measure set of chord changes that is one of the universal languages of music.  You may think you know it, but double check.  Blues improvisation is built on this, and if you are in a blues jam situation where everyone is playing the 12 bar blues and you are playing a different progression, you will regret not having spent enough time on this.  This needs to be memorized. 

12 Bar Blues Lesson

Blues 1 - 4 - 5 Progression Explained

To successfully improvise, we need to know what chords we are soloing over.  The blues rely heavily on the 1, 4, and 5 chords.  Eric explains why this important and what you need to know right now.  Don't overthink this yet.  It will make more sense as we get further down the rabbit hole.

1 - 4 - 5 Progression Explained

Bending Technique and the A Minor Pentatonic Scale

Make sure you are comfortable bending stings with the proper technique.  Then, click the next tab and see where Eric likes to bend notes in the A minor pentatonic scale.

Bending Technique & the A Minor Pentatonic

Blues: Basic Licks

Alright, time to have some fun!  Let's learn 4 basic blues riffs in the key of A blues and then play them with the jam along track.  As we learn songs and riffs throughout the method, learn them with the intention of putting the in your guitar "toolbox" and being able to pull them out later.  Just barely getting your fingers on a lick 1 time before moving on is a lot different than internalizing it.  The more work you put in mastering songs and riffs, the easier it will be to remember them when it is time to solo later in the method. 

Blues: Basic Licks


Lesson 2

Improvising 3 - 5 Note Solos

It's time to improvise, but don't worry... you got this.  Eric makes this interactive lesson very simple and starts by giving you only 3 notes to choose from.  Then, we'll expand to 5 notes.  You'll be surprised at what 5 notes can sounds like!

Improvising 3 - 5 Note Solos

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 2

Let's learn some more riffs.  This is a versatile riff that Tony will show you how to play all over the fretboards.  He admits ripping it off from The Georgia Satellites, although they'd probably be the first to admit they were borrowing from some of the greats as well!

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 2

Introduction to Improvising Solos

This is more of a conceptual lesson than a exercise lesson.  There are two takeaways we want you to be comfortable with.  

1. Skating Over the Top - If you know the pentatonic scale, knowing what key the song is in is enough to begin soloing.  At first, we don't need to address specific chord changes.  If a song is in the key of G, we can play the key of G pentatonic scale in any position and solo.  Once we realize this, we can do things like play the notes in a different order, use different rhythms, use slides, bends, vibrato and more to make the solo interesting and musical.

2. With a simple trick, we can use the same pentatonic scale to solo over blues progressions and achieve a "bluesy" sound.  If we are playing in E blues, for example, we want to play the E minor pentatonic instead of the E major pentatonic.  This is much simpler than it sounds.  You can take the E major pentatonic scale positions, move them up 3 frets, and you are now playing in E blues.  Another simple trick is to start the position 5 pentatonic box on the root of the blues key.  For E Blues, start the position 5 pentatonic box on an E note (fret zero or fret 12 on the low E string), and you are playing in E blues.  For A blues, start the position 5 pentatonic box on an A note (5th fret of the low E string).  Take this lesson top to bottom.  At this point, it's okay to just accept the short cuts without fully understanding the theory behind them.  That will become more and more clear as the method progresses.

Intro to Improvising Solos

Blues Jam in A

You are ready for your first blues song!  Eric has arranged a rippin', accessible tune that will give you a chance to try out some of these blues riffs with a band.  Dial up a tone with some gain, reverb, and delay, and let it rip!   Remember, the goal is to put these rhythm parts and lead riffs in our guitar "toolbox", so learn them well.

Blues Jam in A


Lesson 3

Pentatonic Positions with Bends

It's time to start incorporating the other positions of the pentatonic scale into our soloing.  This lesson will walk through all 5 positions and point out the notes that we typically use for bending.

Pentatonic Positions with Bends

Blues Riff Incorporating All Pentatonic Positions

This one short riff will touch all positions of the pentatonic scale and get us comfortable with transitioning fluidly between positions and keeping things musical.

Riff Using Pentatonic Positions

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 3

Vol. 3 build on Vol. 2 and incorporates some new variations to our 12 bar blues progression.

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 3

Smooth Blues in D

In Smooth Blues in D, Eric will teach you 8 riffs that fit together to form this great arrangement that can be played with the backing track.  These 8 riffs are taken directly from the pentatonic scale.  Up until now, we've been playing mainly out of the key of C pentatonic scale (or A minor pentatonic...  or A Blues... same thing).  Keep in mind that these scales are simply patterns on the fretboard.  We've learned them in C (or A minor... or A Blues) because that is a popular blues key, but we can shift the patterns up and down the fretboard and play them in every single key.  Don't get bogged down in this right now if that does not make sense.  It will all make sense by the end of the method!  Eric will walk you through each of the riffs and relate each one back to the pentatonic scale.  Have fun!

Smooth Blues in D


Lesson 4

Vibrato Basics

One of the signature techniques of blues guitar is the use of vibrato.  There are a lot of different options when learning how to apply vibrato appropriate for this genre, and Eric breaks them down in an understandable way.  Getting comfortable with vibrato is an important step in developing your own "voice" on the guitar.

Vibrato Basics

Ear Training: Chords

This is the first of a series of Ear Training lessons Eric will be taking you though.  Training our ears is essential to accomplishing the goals of this course: to be able to improvise music with other musicians.  Being able to recognize chord progressions by ear is a skill that is well worth the effort.  Eventually, we will use this skill to make informed decisions while improvising solos.  Take your time with this one, folks!

Intro to Ear Training: Chords

Ear Training: Melody

Similar to picking out chord progressions by ear, it's important to develop the ability to pick out melodies and riffs by ear.  After an introduction, Eric will will give you the chance to pick out 3 very simple melodies on the guitar by ear.  He'll slowly reveal what he is doing so that you can check your work along the way.

Intro to Ear Training: Melody

Key to the Highway

Now it's time to put those vibrato skills to good use and learn a full song arrangement of Key to the Highway in the style of B.B. King.  You'll learn the lead work, and you'll also learn some new tricks for accompaniment with Eric's rhythm part.

Key to the Highway Song Lesson


Lesson 5

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 4

In this final installment of the Blues: Basic Licks series, volume 4 will teach us the remaining endings to the different chord changes so that we can play a unique riff over each chord in the 12 bar blues progression. 

Blues: Basic Licks, Vol. 4

Ear Training: Melody, Vol. 2

In Ear Training: Melody, Vol. 2, Eric will take you through 4 new riffs in order of difficulty and give you a chance to figure them out by ear before slowly giving you clues along the way.

Ear Training: Melody, Vol. 2

Improvisation: Mode Mixture

This lesson will introduce an important concept for improvisation and specifically for blues improvisation.  Being able to switch between major and minor modes can take your soloing to the next level, making it more interesting and more musical.  Take some time with this one really try to internalize what Tony and Eric are saying here!

Improvising: Mode Mixture

Jimi Hendrix: 7 Blues Riffs

Already, let's take a look at one of the greats!  Eric has provided us with a custom arrangement of accessible riffs in the style of Jimi Hendrix.  Eric does a great job letting us digest this in bite-sized chunks, breaking the entire lesson out into 7 riffs.  It's all taught, tabbed, and ready to conquer!  

Jimi Hendrix: 7 Blues Riffs


Lesson 6

Ear Training: Chords, Vol. 2

This lesson builds on the first volume of chordal ear training and discusses how to identify a 2 chord and a 6 chord in a progression.  Remember: training our ears is essential to improving our improvisational skills!

Ear Training: Chords, Vol. 2

Slide Technique

If you play guitar long enough, you will run into a situation where you would like to use a slide.  Eric talks tunings, action, and hand technique for using a slide on the guitar.  Head to the lesson and start with the Technique video!

Slide Technique

Slide Blues Jam

Eric has arranged a 6 riff blues jam using the slide in open E tuning.  This accessible arrangement is a fun and rewarding way to get your fingers on some usable licks with the slide.

Slide Blues Jam


Lesson 7

Ear Training: Melody, Vol. 3

In this final lesson of our ear training series, Eric gives you a chance to figure out 3 blues riffs by ear before slowly revealing what he is playing. 

Ear Training: Melody, Vol. 3

CAGED Method Explained

If you haven't already heard another guitarist talk about the CAGED method, eventually, you probably will.  In this tutorial, Eric explains this popular way of organizing the guitar neck.  This can really help us understand the neck of the guitar, and mentally process how it all works together much more quickly.  This is a key component for improvisation.   Next, Eric relates the positions of the pentatonic scale back to the CAGED system.   Take your time with this one and internalize it.  Once it clicks in your mind, it will pay dividends down the road!

CAGED Method Explained

Acoustic Lead

Often times when we are jamming with our friends, you won't have your electric, amps, and pedals handy, which is why many impromptu jam sessions happen on the acoustic.  In this tutorial, we discuss the difficulties of soloing on the acoustic, along with some strategies that will set you up for success.  This lesson will also prep you for the song lesson coming up next.

Acoustic Lead

Eric Clapton Style Acoustic Blues

This tutorial presents some useful rhythm and lead lines in a full arrangement of an acoustic blues jam in the Eric Clapton style.  

Eric Clapton Style Acoustic Blues


Lesson 8

Improvising: Soloing Over Changes

What notes we play when we improvise solos depend on the chord progression.  For simple 1 - 4 - 5 blues progressions we can often pick the corresponding blues scale and skate over the top.  However, eventually we will run into more complex progressions that will prevent that approach from sounding good.  When this happens, we have to analyze the chords being used and be more intentional with our scale choices and phrasing.  Take your time on all 4 volumes of this lesson.  We start with more basic changes, and then end with the more complicated chord progression of Nobody Knows You When Your Down and Out.  For the purposes of this method, if you are comfortable skating over the top of the 12 bar blues, you are doing great.  Don't feel like you need to master the more complicated analyzation on-the-fly at this point, but if you can begin to understand it, that is a step in the right direction.

Improvising: Soloing Over Changes

Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out

Now that we've spend some time looking at the progression, let's get some solos that Eric wrote for the tune under our fingers.  This is more complicated than most basic blues songs.  Don't feel like you have to be able to improvise solos over this progression at this point.  However, if you come across something like this out there, you will have seen it before, and you are beginning to understand it.  The rhythm and lead in this arrangement are very accessible to get your fingers on.

Nobody Knows You When Your Down and Out


Conclusion and Blues Jam Simulation

Congratulations, you made it!  At this point, we hope you feel confident playing rhythm blues guitar for others while they solo.  We also hope you feel confident taking solos while other are playing basic blues rhythm for you.  You are ready to "skate over the top" of the 12 bar blues and solo with ease.  Hopefully, you are starting to think about what it means to play over each individual chord making up the progression.  

Head over to the final conclusion video and celebrate by trading solos with Eric in the blues jam simulation in A blues.  Don't let the fun end there!  We have many more blues lesson on SSC that will help you to continue to fill up your blues guitar toolbox.  Some highlights are listed below.

Conclusion and Blues Jam Simulation


 

Further Blues Studies

 

Stevie Ray Vaughan: 9 Blues Riffs

Crossroads - Various Blues Artists

It Hurts Me Too - Various Blues Artists

St. James Infirmary Blues - Acoustic Blues in the style of Doc Watson

House of the Rising Sun - Various Artists