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5 Ways to Solo on a Blues

When you say blues, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A 12-bar blues, with the classic I - IV - V? While that’s technically correct, there are plenty more examples of the blues. Think of “Blues for Alice” by Charlie Parker, “Bessie’s Blues” by Chick Corea, “Walkin’” by Miles Davis, “Mr. PC” by John Coltrane, “Sandu” by Clifford Brown, or “Madame Toulouse” by Michael Brecker.


All of these examples are different in their own way—some are subtly different, others are noticeably so. But most of all, they’re still all blues. (Cue Miles Davis’ “All Blues” which, yes, is also blues).


So the important concept here is that you can approach the blues in so many different ways. But to make the most of this, it’s helpful to have certain concepts—or the language of the blues—under your fingers.


Today, we’re going to check out some of our material to teach you concepts and styles you can apply to the blues form.


Before we get started, make sure to check out the 27 Blues Etudes PDF package to get all of these exercises along with recordings of Chad LB playing along. It’s available in Concert, B-flat, E-flat, and bass clef. Make sure to check out our video on this topic as well.


Contents:


The Ultra Blues Scale

Where most musicians start when playing the blues is learning the blues scale. To be fair, this is a great way to start, and helps break you out of the standard pentatonic and major/minor sounds.


However, this scale is limited, because it leaves out several notes that can sound bluesy, too.


Instead, you can use what Chad LB likes to call the “ultra blues scale,” which is essentially a blues scale with an added major 3 and major 7.




This scale gives you a lot more chromaticism to work with, which can be helpful over more advanced blues progressions.


If you’re only soloing with the notes in a scale, it's important to think about rhythm and the pacing of your phrases. It’s also important to get flexible, playing different shapes with the scale so you can do more than just play straight up and down the scale.


Ultra Blues Etude

Now let’s check out an etude using the notes of the ultra blues scale.

Ultra blues scale etude

In this first shape, we’re going to start on the seventh and jump up to the minor third. Keep in mind, from chord to chord, we don’t need to worry about the different degrees, because we’re just thinking about degrees of the scale.


So in the first phrase we’re going to do more than run up and down the scale, we’re going to move the shape around, too. We’re jumping up, stepping down and jumping up again and really moving around the scale.


This continues into the second phrase, where there’s a bit more shape movement. You’ll also notice that we have a rhythmic rhyme at the end of the second and third phrases—which is just that we have the exact same rhythm used to make it cohesive.