The last thing you want your blues to sound like is a scale.
The blues is an art form of the soul. It expresses the deepest feeling of the human experience.
Scales, on the other hand, are a structure of the mind. They express the mathematic elegance of the universe expressed through sound. Both are good but they are not interchangeable. Even on simple guitar songs, you still want your playing to sound like music.
And while knowing some scales can certainly advance your blues playing, if your jamming sounds like scales, well, that’s a good first step but you have not yet reached your potential as a true blues player.
In this article I want to show you 3 quick tricks to break you out of the scale habit as soon as your fingers touch the strings. This will make even the simplest guitar songs sound amazing.
I’m assuming you already know at least one pentatonic scale. If you’re not quite up to that, that’s okay. Simply go learn one simple five note scale and practice it for a while. (Watch for my articles on pentatonics and the blues scale.) Then come back here and try these three tricks.
==> Trick #1
Choose one segment and twist and turn it. Take four notes from the pentatonic scale or any other mode you may be working with. Commit to those 4 notes only (for this practice session). Play them up and down, in order and out of order, and let your fingers dance on those four notes against a backing track. This will force you to be creative and to break out of the scale since you have to keep mixing it up.
==> Trick #2
Have a musical conversation. Play one of your four note licks, the one you like the best from trick # 1. Then reiterate it in octaves or elsewhere on the neck like a conversation. You can include slight variations in the call and response. This gives your music character and it becomes interesting to the listener. They feel as if they are listening to a conversation, not someone practicing scales.
==> Trick #3
Sing your solo quietly as you play. You probably would not sing a scale – especially on an easy guitar song – so don’t play one. Sing your lick as you feel it and let your hands mimic the melody that comes through your feelings rather than the scales that come through your mind.
If you are not skilled enough to do this on the fly, sing the lick first, then figure out the fingering for it. You will be creating your own signature licks in this way and breaking out of the scale rut in the most creative way. In fact, you may find that some of the notes in your new lick are not even in the scale you are working with. That’s ok. If they sound right to your ear, include them. This not only breaks you out of sounding like you’re practicing your pentatonics, it actually breaks you out of the scale itself. What is probably happening is that you are naturally mixing major and minor pentatonic and that is the best way to get the most authentic blues sound in your playing. So trust your heart and your ear and play what you feel.
Use these three tricks on a regular basis and I guarantee your blues soloing – even on simple guitar songs – will jump a level so fast that heads will turn when you play. This helps your jamming as well as your songwriting and it educates your fingers to start moving on their own to follow the music in your soul.
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