Colouring The Blues

Simple Ways to Extend Blues Soloing
into slightly jazzier areas In 10 Stages

by Rob MacKillop

[None of this is copyright. It has all been around for years, and belongs to us all]

EDIT: For some mysterious reason, the sound files have disappeared.
Will record again later. But the text is still valid!

A Blues in the key of A:

A7 (4 Bars)

D7 (2 Bars) A7 (2 Bars)

E7 (1 Bar) D7 (1 Bar) A7 (1 Bar) E7 (1 Bar)

NB The recording is done with a Yamaha SA2200 through a Boss RC20 Loop Station into the clean channel of a small Marshall MG10CD, which I then recorded with a small Sony mic into Nero WaveEditor, where I added a touch of reverb. I only used the neck pickup for these examples. The looper is a great way to learn not just soloing, but accompaniments too. I have kept the tone clean and played simply, so that you can hear the sound of the notes against the chords as clearly as possible. These are not ‘real’ solos, in a sense, just illustrations of the sounds. Concentrate on each Stage, one at a time, but eventually try to incorporate bits of each, or two or three, into your solos.

Stage One

The Basic Pentatonic Minor Scale is VERY popular, used by countless premier-league Blues improvisers. It is easy to learn and can serve you for the rest of your life. Some great players use nothing else, so learn it well. Here it is with the Root on the 6th string. Notice the fifth fret on each string. The first note is on the Root of the key you are in. So, in the Key of A, place the 1st finger on the 5th fret. For the Key of G, move the whole pattern to the 3rd fret.

———————————————–5—8——
————————————–5—8—————
—————————–5—7————————
——————–5—7———————————
———–5—7——————————————
–5—8—————————————————

Here it is starting on the 5th string. There are a few other fingerings, but I’ll leave you to work them out.

————————————————12—15—
————————————13—15—————
————————12—14—————————
————-12—14————————————–
—12—15————————————————
————————————————————

Here is a recording of the first pattern played over a basic Blues in A. Notice that the scale remains the same no matter what the chord changes are. This is clearly a major advantage of this scale.

Here is a recording of the second pattern.


Stage 2

Still on a Blues in A…

The easiest way to extend your blues soloing into harmonically interesting areas is to play the same patterns above but starting on different notes, namely B and E.

Here is a recording of two choruses of a blues in A. The first chorus uses the Pentatonic pattern starting on the 6th string, but not on the A (5th fret) as above, but on the B (7th fret). The second chorus uses the second pattern above, this time on the E starting of the 5th string, 7th fret.


Stage 3

Still on a Blues in A…

Use Dominant 9th arpeggios for each chord. As with Stage 1 we have two patterns, but they must move their root as the chords change. One pattern will NOT work over all three chords.

On the A7 chord:

—————————————–5—7———
——————————–5—8——————
———————–4—6—————————
—————5—7———————————–
——-4—7——————————————-
—5 —————————————————

On the D7 chord:

———————————-5—8—————
————————-5—7————————
—————-5—7———————————
——-4—7——————————————
—5—————————————————
——————————————————-

Use the same pattern up two frets for the E7 chord.

Here is a recording using just these notes. Hear how the notes change for each chord.

Here is a recording of the same patterns without backing track in order to show how each chord is outlined purely by the arpeggios.


Stage 4

Still on a Blues in A

Use only the pattern for the D7 chord of Stage 3, but extend it to the 6th string. One pattern fits all three chords. This is another Pentatonic minor, but with a 6th in place of a flat 7.

———————————————–5—8————-
————————————–5—7———————-
—————————–5—7——————————-
——————–4—7—————————————-
———–5—7————————————————-
—5—8 ——————————————————–

Here is a recording using this pattern on a Blues in A.


Stage 5

Still on a Blues in A…

Add passing notes between the notes two-frets apart in all the above patterns. For example, if you have two notes, one on fret 5, the other on fret 7, place a passing note on fret 6.

Here is a recording of the first pattern, Pentatonic in A from 5th fret, 6th string, but with passing notes added. You can use these passing notes to the patterns of Stage 1 and Stage 2.

Here is a recording with passing notes added to the Dominant 9th aprpeggios of Stage 3.


Stage 6

Still on a Blues in A…

Lydian Dominant 7ths! Now we finally go ‘outside’. Add the 2nd and #4th notes to the Dominant 9th arpeggios.

On the A7 chord:

—————————————————————–5—7—
———————————————–4—5—7—8————
————————————–4—6——————————
————————-4—5—7————————————–
————4—6—7—————————————————
—5—7—————————————————————–

On the D7 chord:

———————————————-4—5—7————–
————————————-5—7—————————
————————4—5—7————————————
———–4—6—7————————————————-
—5—7————————————————————–
———————————————————————–

The same pattern up two frets for the E7 chord.

Here is a recording of the above three scales on a basic blues in A. It should be pointed out here that one wouldn’t normally play all three of these scales all the way through a blues, but I do so here for illustrative purposes.


Stage 7

Still on a Blues in A…

The Superlocrian Mode! Now we are firmly ‘outside’. It might take a while for your ears to become accustomed to this sound, but it is fairly common among jazz players.

On the A7 chord:

—————————————————————-5—6—8—9—
——————————————————-6—8———————
——————————————5—6—8——————————
—————————–5—7—8——————————————-
——————–6—8——————————————————–
—5—6—8—9 —————————————————————

On the D7 chord:

——————————————————–6—8———————
——————————————-6—7—9—————————–
——————————5—7—8——————————————
———————6—8——————————————————–
—5—6—8—9—————————————————————–
———————————————————————————–

On the E7 chord:

—————————————————-6—8————————
———————————-5—6—8—9———————————
————————-5—7—————————————————
————5—6—8————————————————————
—7—8————————————————————————-
———————————————————————————-

Here is a recording of a basic blues with the Superlocrian modes superimposed…I’ve kept to just playing the scales, to let you hear the basic sound of the scales against the chords.


Stage 8

Still on a Blues in A…

The sidestep trick. The Superlocrian Mode and the Lydian Dominant 7th are quite complex. Here is a trick to move easily between them.

On the A7 chord – use the Superlocrian from the 4th string:

———————————5—6—8————————————–
————————6—8—————————————————
———–5—6—8————————————————————
—7—8————————————————————————
———————————————————————————-
———————————————————————————-

On the D7 chord – use EXACTLY the same pattern but down one fret. This will give you the D Lydian Dominant 7th from the note G#.

For the E7 chord – use EXACTLY the same pattern again, this time one fret above where you played it for the A7 chord, from an A#.

Here is a recording using the three positions of the above scale over a simple Blues. Remember, these are not real solos – just a walk through the sound of the scales. Most people would not concentrate on one scale type throughout an entire solo…


Stage 9

Still on a Blues in A…

Lydian Dominant 13th arpeggios. Two simple patterns which quickly get to the essence of the Lydian Dominant sound.

On the A7 chord:

——————————————————————————
————————–4—7———————————————-
———————4——————————————————-
—————-5————————————————————-
——-4—7—————————————————————–
—5 ————————————————————————-

On the D7 chord:

————————-4—7——————————————–
——————–5—————————————————–
—————-5———————————————————
——-4—7————————————————————–
—5———————————————————————-
—————————————————————————

The same two frets higher for the E7 chord.

Here is a recording of the above arpeggios played over a simple Blues.


Stage 10

NOT a Blues in A! Transpose all the above to all the other keys! AND learn all the scales in other positions/patterns.


Stage 11

Forget all the above. Go listen to B.B. King, who can say more with three notes than most of us can say with three hundred.

Rob with Yamaha 335

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5 thoughts on “Colouring The Blues”

  1. Rob,
    This is an excellent little article. The most common issue for pentatonic players is repetition and sameness in soloing patterns. Pity your sound files disappeared

  2. Rob
    Many thanks for this very informative article on soloing. It will certainly help me in my attempts to play more interesting and varied solos than I am able to achieve at present using basic pentatonic scales. I just needed a pointer to show me how I might approach it and you have provided it! Thanks again – (Fully concur with your comment about BB King – every note he plays is meaningful, emotive and superbly executed)

  3. Great info Rob, I would love to hear the recordings.

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