5 Ways To Ruin Your Blues Guitar Solo

Are you frustrated about your Blues solos? You see other players at the jam sessions and they seem to sound much better than you? Your solo sounds like it's not "going anywhere"?

Ultimate Guitar
Are you frustrated about your Blues solos? You see other players at the jam sessions and they seem to sound much better than you? Your solo sounds like it's not "going anywhere"? You may have one or more of the problem above, and if you are like me you have tried and asked what to do to some of the more experienced player you know. What most "old cats" will tell you is that you should learn "how to break the rules" (but what rules anyway?) or that you simply have to "let it go". Forgive me for being blunt, but these are only good-sounding platitudes that are unlikely to be of any help to you. I have heard a lot of these from musicians who can't or won't explain you in detail what your musicianship is lacking. And hey, if your Blues solo do not sound great, this means that you are definitively missing something and you better discover it soon if you want to become a better player and leave your buddies with their jaw on the floor. Taking years to learn from trial-and-error and is not really an option you want to take. Well, in my experience most Blues players that are not yet accomplished tend to do all the same 5 mistakes until someone warns them. Every single one of these mistakes can prevent your solo from sounding great, and you may not even have noticed them yet! Or worse, you know that you are doing one of the things I list below, but you think it's ok because it sounds good to you, or it makes your life easier. Well, forgive me for saying that, but being a Blues player does not excuse you from studying your instrument. And now that I have captured your sympathy with this last statement, let's have a look at some of the problems that may prevent you and many other Blues players from realizing their musical potential.

1. Bending out of pitch

It may have happened to you that you hear someone improvising on stage and every now and then one or two notes sound out of tune. It's clearly not the guitar being out of tune, otherwise the whole solo will sound bad. What I just described is the most common symptom of a player that bends out of tune. Every time you bend a string you should bend up to a very specific pitch, and not simply bend "up". Sure, in the Blues style we also have the "smear" bends I.e. bends of less than a semitone from the original pitch, but these bends are the exception not the rule, and should definitely not used as an excuse for not working on the intonation of your bends. The easiest way to learn how to bend in tune is to use a tuner to check if you are hitting the target pitch precisely. Since the tuner is unforgiving you may not be able to do it the first time you try, but if you stick to it it will become second nature in little time.

2. Consistently avoiding the interval of a 4th

One difficult motion that beginner players consistently avoid is the so-called "rolling motion": using the same finger to play two consecutive notes on the same fret but different strings. This is one of the techniques used to play and interval of a 4th on the guitar (and the only way if you play on a pentatonic pattern), so unless you are familiar with it, you are avoiding it too. As the other ones, this problem is not immediately evident to the player, but believe me, if you never play the interval of a 4th, the people who listen to you are definitely noticing that something is missing, even if they cannot put a name on it. So what can we do about it? Two things: 1. The first one is to learn properly the rolling motion. As it is difficult to explain it in a written article, I have prepared a free Blues guitar video for you that explains how to perform this movement. 2. The second one is to actually invent some licks for you to use that actually use the rolling motion. If you fail to do that, then you will never use the rolling motion in a real solo. Use it or lose it!

3. Starting your phrases only on downbeats

The curious thing about this issue is that it is absolutely obvious to any listener, while it's very difficult to notice if you are the player. The problem here is that it's more natural for most players to start their phrases only on downbeats, so unless you are paying conscious attention to it you are most likely doing it. Of course, after a bit of training there is no need to pay it constant attention. Since in general listeners care more about rhythm than pitch (if you go out of time everybody notices, if you play a wrong note many don't notice) if all your phrases have the same rhythmic structure it sounds like you are just repeating yourself. My solution to this works in 3 steps: 1. Improvise a solo starting all your phrases on upbeats. This is not easy to explain in written form so I recommend you watch the video on Blues guitar mistakes I made to explain this exercise in an easy way. Few suggestions: keep your phrases simples, and don't worry too much if you are sounding too repetitive: this is just the first step. 2. Again, improvise a solo, but this time start one phrase on a downbeat, the next on an upbeat and so on. The idea here is to get accustomed in switching between the two with ease, so again keep your phrases simples and don't worry if it sounds all the same. 3. Finally, start your phrases freely on either the downbeat or the upbeat without following a rigid scheme. The idea now is to try to keep the listeners surprised and engaged: when they expect a downbeat give them an upbeat and vice versa. If you can master this simple exercise then you are on your way to become a great improviser!

4. Playing always on the same position on the fretboard

While there is nothing wrong in using the old familiar "box" pentatonic pattern (but see below), I notice that most players always start their solo there and never move from that position. As there is only so much you can do with a single pattern, t's no surprise that after a while all the solos start to sound the same, and in fact even a single solo will sound boring if you never move. This is because if you stay in the same pattern you are never changing register (i.e. you are always playing notes close to each other). While before we stated that our ears are more sensitive to rhythm than pitch, but it is also true that our ears are more sensitive to register than pitch. This means that no matter how original are your phrases, if you play always in the same octave your solo will "not go anywhere". The solution is simply to learn your scale patterns in a way that allows you to move freely on your fretboard. A simple way to get started is to play your favourite pattern in two positions 12 frets apart (if you are in A, the minor pentatonic will be at fret 5 and at fret 17), and alternate between them. Sure, it is quite a crude method, but this is just a quick fix. The complete solution is simple to learn all your scales properly.

5. Always playing the same pentatonic/blues scale

The most popular scale to use on a Blues is the minor pentatonic/Blues scale (they are essentially the same scale). Now, I like my pentatonic scale as much as any other guy, but this does not stops me from noticing a number of problems with using this scale all the time. Two of them are: 1. The minor pentatonic/Blues scale is definitely overplayed, so much that many players think that this is the only possible option. Well, this is of course not true, there are a number of other scales that sound great on a Blues while still keeping the "Bluesy" flavour. You want to know what these other scales are, so that you can choose among them and be free to express yourself in original ways. 2. The minor pentatonic/Blues scale is actually not the correct scale for a Blues chord progression, and I don't mean it in an "academic" way. Let me explain. No matter on what chord we are on the standard Blues progression, the minor pentatonic will always have at least one "wrong" note. Pro Blues players know that (either because they studied it or by ear) and avoid them. You may have heard that saying "it's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play"? Well, the meaning of it it's that you need to avoid these "wrong notes" otherwise your solo won't "glue" to the chord progression. Some things cannot be explained in writing... ... So I prepared a video for you where I present the mistakes we just talked about and show you how to work to overcome them. Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, it might be a good idea for you to have a look at this video on Blues guitar mistakes and make 100% sure that you are not making them too. Enjoy! About The Author: Tommaso Zillio is a prog rock guitarist and teacher with a passion for Music Theory applied to Guitar.

120 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Some of these are so obvious now that you said it. Looking forward to taking these into consideration the next time I practice!
    Paul Tauterouff
    I cannot believe that a mod attacked a contributor for asking for an email address in return for additional free content. I expect a certain amount of trolling on public forums like UG but never expected it from a mod.
    The mod's behavior isn't really trolling, though, which would be marginally more acceptable. It is pure, unadulterated disrespect. He obviously didn't think too long before posting it, which can happen from time to time even with mods I'm sure, but he made it ten times worse by being too ****ing stubborn to apologize.
    Mr moderator, you have no justification to talk the way you have. When last I checked, the definition of free meant 'without charge'. When were you asked to pay for anything? You weren't. The article is right here... he was only asking for your email address so that he could send you an optional add-on video to help you understand it better! Wow, after your response I bet he's wondering 'why bother'. This is the second time (at least) that I've seen this moderator rush in to trash talk someone who is doing their best to provide free resources for other players. I don't understand how someone who calls a contributor an 'utter scumbag' can be a mod on UG. BTW, did anyone else have a laugh at the sheer stupidity and hypocrisy in the way this moderator has spoken to a contributor for daring to ask for an email address, while the site he moderates has been monetising with extensive ads, paid tabs, sponsored news and reviews etc. over the last several years. While i'm on topic, I believe even the 'free forum' at UG requires an EMAIL ADDRESS. Guess that means it's not really free then eh? Hilarious.
    Oh... shit,dude,it didn't see it was YOUR lesson!!!! Sorry man! Since it IS YOUR OWN lesson,it deserves a 10.
    "I want all lessons to be free. I should not have to sign up for anything to have access to upper level players experience. In fact, I should be paid to view your video! How dare you require me to give you an email address to do that." Kind of like what I have to do to post anything in U.G., I have to give up an email address to register.
    However, your email address gives you a username, so that you can contribute articles, comment on posts, and participate in the forums, rather than have a list of: Anon8645: blah Anon9757: blah blah Anon5487: blah blah blah. There would be no coherency, no reason for private messages, as you'd have a different number every day. In this case, an account is necessary. However, no email address is needed to watch a video. This site still lets you look for tabs and read articles without being a member. There are probably thousands of users who aren't signed up, simply because all they want to do is get a tab. So why shouldn't the mod be annoyed when all he wants to do is watch a video rather than potentially be sunjugated to spam for god knows how long?
    James Scott
    What right does the mod, or anyone else for that matter, have to tell the owner of another website what content can be viewed with or without registration? "All he wants to do is watch a video?" As I pointed out above, a video takes hours to create. Not only is it very hard work, it's a large amount of time that could be spent doing other things. If someone thinks that an email address is the price he believes is a worthwhile recognition of the effort he made, then he has the right to ask for that, and to be treated with respect by the moderators of the site on which he posts an article which, video or no video, gives out some superb advice. If pressing the "unsubscribe" button is too much effort for you to watch a video, then that is your problem, not the author's.
    I signed into UG, something I don't normally do, to give this article a 10. Much more informative than most of the articles that make the front page.
    To the mod who posted first; that wasn't a very mod-like post. Your comment was extremely inappropriate and uncalled for imo. OT, I like the point about pitch bending. There are a lot of guitarists, especially young ones just starting out, that think bending is awesome and cool no matter how you do it. But if you are bending a note to a pitch which isn't ear pleasing and hold it there, people will notice.
    Aldo Chircop
    Very useful article and video! The concepts are fundamental and straight forward, but very valuable...it's easy to overlook simple concepts which in fact can significantly influence the results. As an aside, I'm only shocked at the moderator's behaviour and mentality. Totally unprofessional and shameful.
    James Scott
    Some really interesting points. The blues is not as simple as some people make out - otherwise we'd all sound like SRV.
    I just joined the forum yesterday and am not impressed. Why do you have a moderator that seems intent on driving the professional members away? "scumbag", really?
    Good article and good advice. The videos are helpful as well. I previously gave my email to see other stuff on the site which allowed me to see both the vids and I didn't have to pay one cent! So far no spam-only stuff in the inbox - just newsletters with bits of music information which sometimes offer decent music related products I can choose buy if I want. It's not any more difficult for me to pass them up than it is to pass up the endless barrage of advertisements UG proffers up when I visit the UG site... Thanks for sharing Tommaso and jam on!
    I took the time to read some of the comments and now I wanna kill myself. 5 minutes of my life that I will never get back. I should have just watched that video right away instead...
    This guy and his lessons are legit. He caught a lot of slack on here the first time he posted on here, but it's not a scam.
    Wow, how completely stupid, ignorant and pathetic some of the negative comments are here. It was a good article and good video. WTF is the problem? Seriously guys, grow the hell up
    btw, its not called "Bait and Switch", its called 'Upsell'. Its a technique that has been used by businesses for centuries. Did I mention that I am a PAYING member of UG? I have the app and UG plus. Let me know if this offends you and I will remove my subscriptions and that of all my students who also use your service (and to over 3000+ individuals who are in my own mailing list).
    Thanks Tommaso, good reminders and as always good stuff from you. Hey last time I saw you play live I was impressed with how you played through the chord changes, I think in this case was also a blues context. You obviously have "a great approach" towards playing the changes in blues and music in general. If you ever write on something like that I would be interested. Oh and by the way if I have to give you my email address.....I think I can unpucker my ass and give it to you. And that is MY sense of humor. Seriously....I don't mind the mail sign up stuff or whatever. Thanks for taking the time to put it together. BEST EDIT: Not sure why this posted here instead of at bottom...sorry duexe...btw....excellent point. I would think if UG cares about its business it better pay attention to its MODs.
    Brian Fish
    Thanks for another great article. I look forward to your posts. Always informative.
    Jumping through hoops = 'free' tablature when it requires you to buy an instrument to play them. Or 'free' guitar pro files which requires you to purchase the program to play them. Giving up an email too see a video is not even 1/100th of the inconvenience in comparison.
    Jeez, the dude just asked for people's email. I think the Interpol would already be here if he asked for money, lol. Helpful lesson, btw. EDIT: the dude runs a website about guitar, it's his work and he wants to promote it? What's so evil about that?
    Ich 666
    Im not even playing Blues, still I found those tips really helpful, going to watch the video now!
    This is one of the most ridiculous string of comments I have ever seen. Either register or don't register - it is pretty much standard fare for any kind of free anything on the web.
    My favourite part was where the mod attacked the author but left all the spam...
    Rebel Scum
    Can we now get an edit button so our mods don't lose the plot when posting, lol.
    Good practical advice, man. Thanks. Like a friend telling me I have a booger in my nose. I choose to say "thanks, man" and wipe. Personally I'm gonna practice nailing my bends.
    You've got some good points. However i deeply disasgree with the first mistake of bending out of pitch. Both bending over and playing microtonal bends can sound great when used properly. Otherwise good points
    Glad you liked the article. I pretty much do agree with you here, my point is that to use properly microtonal bends and out-of-pitch bends so that they sound musical you need to develop your ears. If one cannot bend in tune consistently, then I can guarantee you that he is not going to use microtonal bends properly. I left all this out of the article in order to make my point clearer: one needs to learn first how to control the intonation of the bend by bending in tune. Once you have the control, you can do what you want - but be sure you ACTUALLY DO have this kind of control.
    I know what you are saying, but you must have heard a guitarist who is bad at bends, yeah? That is one of the worst things to listen to on the face of the planet, in my opinion.
    This is an excellent article! There are no rules in blues is a strawman argument. That's like saying there are no rules to singing. This article points out those stylistic concerns that are not really written but some beginners who are new to the language of music may not pick up on them right away. It cultivates an awareness to show you what makes music sound tasteful and artistic. Bending to pitch and phrasing is something that applies to all genres. Once you get that down and you learn the rules, feel free to break them and insert your own interpretation. You need to get past the technical and tasteful musical considerations before you can start playing with feeling. Music is a mix of the logical left and creative/feeling right brain functions.
    Ok, just watched it. I don't see what the big fuss is about, 10 minutes of solid teaching are given and would already help with a couple of mistakes named by this article, and honestly I didn't mind giving an e-mail address for the rest. What's he gonna do with your e-mail address ? Stalk you and follow you home to make you pay for lessons ? As far as I'm concerned, I use 3 different e-mail addresses, with 2 that I rarely use, the spams don't even bother me anymore. Thank you for the lesson, you seem like a fun teacher too.
    Hey man, I loved the lesson and I'm currently subscribed to the helpful emails on your website. Don't listen to these guys that are insulting and preying on you, You're fantastic at teaching and I've learned a lot from you
    This article should be required reading for many of the garage-band guitarists I have heard. They use the same pentatonic scale in the same position too often.
    He mentioned in the article that there are other scales that can be used in the blues that still give the "bluesy" sound? What are some of these scales?
    I would imagine they are the Pentatonic Major, Mixolydian, Dorian scales. I tend to mix them all together and hit the major 3rd or 7ths when needed. If you havent looked at Claptons(cream) "Crossroads" solos you should. They mix the Major and minor pentatonics scales. Also hit the 2nd note and half bend it.
    Thanks a lot for the reply. I just have one question. When is it appropriate to switch from let's say A minor pentatonic to A major pentatonic?