Sounding Unique in the Blues Part 2

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Continuing on with how to add new life to your blues solos, here’s another approach that’s sure to turn heads. And all it takes is one new note.

In Part 1, I introduced the Mixolydian scale as the first step in moving away from using the typical blues scale over a blues in E. But as I noted, you will still sound safely in key, and this just creates a happier mood to contrast with the blues scale. However, by simply raising the 4th in the Mixolydian scale, you get the Lydian Dominant scale (1 2 3 #4 5 6 b7) as depicted in Measure 1, which will give your solos a more modern jazz spin.

Notice that there is only a one note difference compared to the Mixolydian scale, yet your solos now take on a completely different character far removed from the happy Mixolydian sound. Experiment using this scale over the rest of the chord progression by playing A Lydian Dominant over A7, and B Lydian Dominant over B7 as I’ve done in measures 2 to 4. Targeting the #4 frequently in your licks will emphasize the "angular" sound of the scale, but you can also use it subtly as a passing tone between the 3rd and 5th of each scale. If you work on seamlessly switching between the blues, Mixolydian, and Lydian Dominant scales during your solos, you'll find new ideas that prevent your playing from sounding too predictable. Tune in for part 3 in a future blog where I present another approach that will take your solos down a darker part of the woods. Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

Jekyll and Hyde Dom7 Chords

Monday, November 1, 2010


You might think of a dominant 7 chord as bluesy or funky, but inside its heart lurks an evil sounding tonality that can take your compositions to new places. Consider an F7 chord whose R, 3, 5, and b7 in that order are F, A, C, and Eb. Let's start with a simple inversion by changing the root to Eb. Now if you omit the fifth (C) you'll be left with only the 3rd (A) and 7th (Eb). This is basically an ominous b5 interval that can be considered as a D#(b5) chord (see the chord diagram in measure 1). The advantage of trimming down the F7 into just its 3rd and 7th, is that you still get the essential sound of the chord, but can now liberally imply other minor intervals around it. In fact, if you add all other possible flatted notes, you create the Locrian mode (1 b2 b3 4 b5 b6 b7) (measure 1). Your F7 has now transformed into its evil Hyde counter part – a D#(b5) chord that readily embraces the dark sounding Locrian scale.

Let's see this in action: measures 2 to 3 above demonstrate a typical happy I - V blues progression going from F7 to C7 with equally happy mixolydian licks running through them. However, instead of returning to F7 in measure 4, I substitute in the D#b5 chord and sneak in the Locrian scale. This helps my solo finish with a spooky touch and ultimately avoids predictability. Think of this substitution as a way of opening up darker sounding possibilities in any chord progressions you’ve composed that contain dominant chords. Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

The Evolving Guitar Student

Friday, October 1, 2010


I recently interviewed session guitarist, former GIT instructor, and current Director of Education at the Tokyo School of Music, Chris Juergensen, about how guitar students have changed from the 80s to the present. Read on as he shares the insight he's gained from over 20 years as a music educator.

H: What were your guitar students like at GIT?

C: When I started teaching at MI in the late eighties, music was going through what I often call the sports mode, and this went for all genres. Everything was super charged. Yngwie Malmsteen was at his zenith and Paul Gilbert was getting his start. Frank Gambale had just gotten the Chick Corea gig and was sweeping all over the place. You would hear “Giant Steps” being played everywhere even faster than the original and sometimes in odd time signatures. Even blues was hot and SRV was the focus. Basically, if you wanted to compete in the 80s, you really had to go to a school like MI to get your chops together. So there were a lot of great players at MI and the ensemble classes were a breeze for them. They were good at remembering the assigned songs, could play good solos, had decent time, and could communicate musically. They also had plenty of ensemble experience, so they knew how to dial up a guitar amp.

H: Did those highly technical students struggle with anything at all in school?

C: If there is anything negative to say about the 80s generation of players, it's that they weren't very good at coming up with parts and had bad hairdos. Even though music was going through this super technical stage and players were good ensemble players, they couldn't write worth a crap. It wasn't really a good time for music because when musicians focus on technique they generally stop focusing on music, so there were a lot of great players playing solos over lame tunes. The slightly older 70s generation like me, was much better at coming up with parts simply because the players we listened to like Page and Hendrix were good at parts. The 80s guys focused on technique and sort of snickered at the blues based 70s guys. They preferred to focus on bpms, which was, and still is, something strange to me.

H: So how does that differ with the guitar students that you teach today?

C: The internet age has brought about a whole new way to have fun with the guitar. Basically you can pick up licks and songs on Youtube, so I think today’s generation of players have way less experience playing with other musicians than the last generation of students. And this has really changed the way that we have to design curriculum and ensemble classes. Twenty years ago, I could assign the songs, write up the charts, hand out the audio, and the students could learn them and play them in class using good communication skills and a nice balanced tone and volume. The focus could really be on increasing the student’s repertoire and picking songs you knew would be of good use in the future, while focusing in on their weak points. I would also try to come up with songs that required technical challenges that would force the students to stretch a little each week. These days, I have had to simplify the music and work on really basic skills like using an amp, communicating endings and beginnings, switching channels, following form, etc. I actually have eliminated standards to some extent and have been writing simple, short songs in order to allow the students to learn these basic skills. Music education has really moved back to focusing on the basics.

H: What about their musical influences – what effect has the predominant forms of music on the radio, such as pop, hip hop, alternative rock and metal from the 90s to today had on the modern guitar student?

C: Considering that blues is non-existent, students today are less likely to simply book an ensemble room and jam out. When I started teaching at MI back in the eighties, most players had plenty of experience playing the blues and really didn’t feel the need to study it anymore. We were mostly trying to get away from it actually. I mean, why would you want to travel halfway across the world to study blues? I’m not saying that the blues is something that everyone could do convincingly, but at least most of us could fake it decent enough. Now the blues is pretty much gone so students are packed into the blues electives. Very few players can play something that sounds anything like the blues and because of that, there is really something lacking in a lot of younger players' solos and phrasing. So the blues is starting to look like more of a required course than an elective. On top of all this, modern music has moved away from technique and is based more on the song. Guitarists don’t even necessarily have to play solos, so we get a lot of students who don’t know scales or have chops.

H: But surely the guitar students you teach these days have something new to bring to the table?

C: Students are generally writing better than they have in the past. So maybe it is safe to say that there are more artistic types than virtuosos. And it certainly seems that there are more guitarists that can sing compared to a few decades ago, which is something positive I think.

Chris Juergensen continues to do sessions and teach in both Los Angeles and Tokyo, and has released 3 solo albums. In addition, he has published “The Infinite Guitar”, a music book on learning improvisation, which became a best seller on, and “The Empowered Musician”, a guide on building your career as a musician in today’s industry. Visit Chris at:

Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

Revenge of the Pentatonic Scale (Part 1)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


You can still discover new sounds from the pentatonic scale by using this simple substitution approach. Let's take a scenario guitarists often find themselves in - playing over an A minor groove. We all know that A minor pentatonic works beautifully over this (measure 1).

In a typical rock context, the A minor chord is treated as the vi chord, or relative minor, of C major. Now in the key of C major, the ii chord is D minor, which contains the notes D, F, A, and if you add the seventh, C, and fourth, G, you'll get a D minor pentatonic scale (measure 2). So now over an A minor chord, you have two pentatonic scales you can improvise from. Notice that one of the benefits of this is that just from a visual standpoint, any licks you play in A minor pentatonic can be repeated exactly 2 and a ½ steps up and still sound in key! Measures 3 and 4 demonstrate how I transpose a lick to create a different effect over the A minor chord. Experiment doing this with all your pentatonic licks. The reason the D minor pentatonic scale also works over the A minor chord is that it only adds a new note to A minor pentatonic, F, which is simply the chord's minor 6th. Tune in to future blogs where I discuss other minor pentatonic substitutions that will bring in more interesting note choices to your playing. Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

Sounding Unique in the Blues (Part 1)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


If you’re tired of using the blues scale over dominant chords, there are other soloing choices that will help you stand out from the crowd. In this blog, I will discuss one of the first and simplest ways you can begin to branch out from the blues scale – the use of a modal scale. Let’s start with an E7, which is the first chord in a 12 bar blues in the key of E. The most commonly used scale for soloing is the E blues scale (Measure 1). To evoke a happier more upbeat sound, you can employ the E Mixolydian mode (1 2 3 5 6 b7), as demonstrated in Measure 2.

This scale works over E7 because it includes the most important notes that define E7 – the 1, 3, 5 and b7. The presence of the major 3rd in the scale is why it sounds happier than the blues scale, and the major 6th further contributes to it’s brightness. In contrast, the blues scale has a minor 3rd, G, and no major 6th, creating a sadder/bluesier feeling. Measures 3 and 4 above demonstrate how I improvise a line drawing from both scales. Practice using A mixolydian for A7 and B mixolydian for B7 when soloing over a 12 bar blues in E. You’ll notice that although your note choices have increased, you are still playing pretty much “inside” the harmony. In future blogs, I will introduce other scales and concepts you can employ to sound more “out” and adventurous. Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

Playing the Ch-Ch-Changes (Part 1)

Thursday, July 1, 2010


If you already know some basic major and minor arpeggios, you can begin to solo over changes without having to know many scales. Below I demonstrate a simple lead line over some changes by visualizing common triads (R35), which I’ve indicated below each chord name. I'm sure you're familiar with these shapes - they may look simple but they will help you survive even the scariest of changes!

Notice how I hit the 3rd of every chord when it changes, going no further than a half step. To generate more interest and movement, I've also included the 7th of each chord in my improvised line. Both the 3rd and 7th chord tones make for very strong note choices so that the chord progression is heard by the listener even when you are soloing unaccompanied. In future blogs, I will demonstrate how to add other tones to major, minor and dominant chords to add more colour and sophistication. In the meantime, grab some standards and practice playing only the R35 of every chord at eighth notes. Then try including the 7th when you are comfortable. See if you can phrase your lines so that you hit the 3rd of every chord right when it changes and without moving further than a half step! Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!

Scale Smarts (Part 1)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Learning a new scale confidently across the neck doesn't need to take hours if you learn this efficient visualization technique. Let's take the Lydian Dominant scale (1 2 3 #4 5 b7) for example, which works over a G7#11 (Measure 1).

First, construct the scale in one octave spanning the 6th and 5th string (Measure 2). Memorizing the scale this way should be easy as it covers only 2 strings. Next, simply visualize the exact same pattern starting at the root note one octave higher (Measure 3). Then repeat this pattern again in the next octave (Measure 4). As you can see, you can cover a large part of the neck from the 3rd fret all the way to the 13th by just memorizing one 2 string pattern! This visualization approach is a great way to organize the fretboard in a simple way – as repeating octaves, like a keyboard player. Try it with other scales, including ones you already know. As an added benefit, this method forces you to improvise horizontally, so you’ll never complain about being stuck in boxes again! Do you want a song or solo transcribed / tabbed out for you? Contact me at for info - rates are competitive and delivery is quick!