Cream of Eric Clapton

Jon Bishop looks at the solo­ing style of blues-rock vir­tu­oso Eric Clapton, one of the most in­flu­en­tial and best-loved guitar play­ers of his gen­er­a­tion. This les­son is de­signed to un­lock many of those ‘early Eric’ solo­ing se­crets.

Guitar Techniques - - Play: Rock -

Eric clapton’s blues­break­ers de­but is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant mile­stones in pop­u­lar mu­sic. On this one al­bum, he seemed to lay down the blue­print for a style of play­ing that in­flu­enced gui­tarists from Mick Ron­son to Van Halen, from Brian May to Gary Moore, and from Marc Bolan to Eric John­son.

Many, though, say his two-year stint with Cream ce­mented a play­ing style with su­perb string bend­ing and vi­brato that was fluid, creative, tech­ni­cally im­pres­sive, and as son­i­cally per­fect as a guitar tone could be.

So it’s this era we’ll be look­ing at here. We’ll iden­tify many of Eric’s key tech­niques and solo­ing in­no­va­tions from that time, so you can in­cor­po­rate these now-clas­sic ideas into your ev­ery­day lick bag. And so that you can try out your new EC-flavoured solo­ing ideas, we have two back­ing tracks com­plete with tabbed-out so­los. The first track fea­tures 10 ex­am­ples that iso­late a spe­cific el­e­ment of

Eric Clapton’s fin­ger vi­brato and string­bend­ing tech­nique was very much at the heart of his late-60s style.

the Clapton style. Each ex­am­ple is sep­a­rated by a two-bar drum fill, so you can change your pickup and ef­fects set­tings. The sec­ond track puts these ideas into con­text in an all-out, Cream-style blues-rock jam. Both tracks are in A, and the chord pro­gres­sion is a 12-bar Dom­i­nant blues, so there will be plenty of scope to try out a va­ri­ety of new ideas. We’re us­ing the quick-change 12-bar for­mat, so the pro­gres­sion looks like this:

A7 | D7 | A7 | A7| D7 | D7 | A7 |A7 | E7 | D7 | A7 | E7

We can also re­fer to each of the three chords in the blues as a Ro­man nu­meral. A7 is the I chord, D7 the IV and E7 is the V chord. This sys­tem al­lows us to la­bel the ideas that fit each of the three chords and then eas­ily trans­fer them to other sit­u­a­tions, such as play­ing in a dif­fer­ent key. You’ll no­tice from the ex­am­ples that Clapton is a mas­ter of mix­ing the Ma­jor and the Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic scales in just the right places to fit the chords.

You can play a quite ac­cept­able solo us­ing just A Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic (A, C,D, E, G), but Eric of­ten plays A Ma­jor Pen­ta­tonic (A, B, C#, E, F#) over the A7 (I chord). The 3rd of A7 (C#) is par­tic­u­larly de­scrip­tive, and de­scribes the tonal­ity of the A7 chord well. Some­times, Clapton hints at this by bend­ing the C in Am Pen­ta­tonic slightly sharp in a blues ‘curl’.

The A Mi­nor Pen­ta­tonic works nicely over the D7 and E7 chords. This switch­ing be­tween the two Pen­ta­tonic scales helps the lead phrases to fit in with the un­der­ly­ing chords, and adds an ex­tra level of so­phis­ti­ca­tion to the sound. Af­ter you’ve played through the ex­am­ples, try play­ing your own EC-style solo us­ing some of the tech­niques and con­cepts show­cased. Many thanks to Pete Ri­ley for per­form­ing and record­ing the drums. As ever, have fun, and see you next time.

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