July 7, 2012

How I Learned to Play The Blues

For years, I would try to hear the solos in blues songs.   I just didn't hear them.   What I mean is, they didn't compute in my brain.  So I couldn't play them.
Elisabeth Cotton - a regular on my Ipod, check her out
To me they sounded like repetitive, simple pentatonic patterns but the language was foreign.  My typical voice is in the power-pop happy melodic solo.    Like the solo in this song:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfWEPu0w-7w
or this song, yes it is a keyboard and guitar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9gKyRmic20
or this song which is simply kick ass:  http://youtu.be/PrLcNWi94Wk
But I digress.  A couple of things happened to tell me how to play the blues.  First, I started playing ukulele. I blogged about the uke last year.  Don't laugh! (wags finger at you).   Ukulele breaks down all the chords into three or four notes.  The patterns of notes are the same as on the top strings of a guitar, though the key is different.   (huh? read this maybe it will explain better: http://www.ukuleles.com/SetupnCare/TenorTune.html)
Thus, ukulele has helped me memorize note positions in a way I hadn't thought about them before.  Ukulele has also helped me with learning some of the American Songbook classics like Gershwin's hits or Kern's.     I have a great ukulele vendor btw if you're in the market:
http://www.ukerepublic.com/
ANYWAY.   The second thing that happened is someone who is a great guitarist told me that blues solos are like sentences you speak.   If that was obvious to you, well it wasn't to me for whatever reason.  Pop solos are like sentences too, but the sentence in a pop solo, to me, is really making a melody that is a counter-part to the melody of the song it's in.  Whereas blues solos are speaking a paragraph about... well I don't know exactly but they have a beginning, peaks and valleys, and a denouement just like a novel.  
If these thoughts are helpful to you, here is a link that explores the subject in depth and I do mean in depth:
http://www.mikeneer.com/lapsteelin/category/improvising/
It's so in depth that it makes my face melt, but I try to understand it. 


Just The Way You Look Tonight
So, I got better and better at hearing, and playing, blues solos as I learned more of the language.  I do not have the same fondness for them as I do for my melodic pop solos, however.  For one thing blues solos are not something I write and memorize and play over and over because they make me happy.  My pop solos totally are that for me.  In fact I'll make up a song just to play the solo.  I'll never play the blues that often because it really isn't my thing.  But it's nice to not eff up the solos so much anymore in a jamming session. 


Definition of 'pop' to me: quintissentially The Beatles and every happy note that sprung from their influence.


BTW if you want to play some pop or blues or whatever I am often found at Highland Music on Saturdays.  Here's a Ticks song I did a solo on back in 1994.  



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