Carl Verheyen Masterclass
In part three of our exclusive video series with Carl Verheyen, this astonishingly good musician shows Milton Mermikides unique aspects to his playing.
Bb7 / / / Eb7 / Bb7 / F7 Eb7 Bb7 F7 Carl listened to the track partially and then delivered an incredibly polished, inventive and melodic solo in one take. It is in fact a masterclass in stylistically broad blues playing, fretboard mastery, technique, rhythmic invention and the amount of mileage that is possible over just one chord type - in this case dominant 7th. In our session with Carl he spoke of his long term habit over his 40-year playing career of writing down every lick and phrase that caught his ear, and now has ‘stacks’ of books of his own material. However, rather than simply mechanically delivering this set of phrases, Carl has developed a flexibility with this material and effortlessly transposes, edits, rhythmically adapts, and recombines these phrases in an intuitive and creative manner.
There’s so much to learn from this solo but here’s a rundown of its key features. Carl’s playing is largely built on semiquavers throughout this solo. At 112bpm, constant quavers would be a little sedate, but semiquavers go by at quite a lick. Carl – rather than running up and down scales – relies on his huge vocabulary of melodic material to create musically coherent and satisfying phrases. Improvisation requires preparation!
The solo is mostly on a single melodic line, but this is varied with the use of country-style over-ringing phrases (bar 4), as well as the use of hybrid-picked double-stops (bars 22-23). This variety adds textural interest to the solo.
In GT241 we presented an article on four levels of blues playing, which described various degrees of harmonic engagement with a blues progression. In short these are: 1) use of minor Blues throughout; 2) mixture of minor and major Pentatonic; 3) the use of Mixolydian (with passing tones) for each of the chords (Bb Mixolydian for Bb7, Eb Mixolydian for Eb7 etc.) and 4) The use of Altered scales on each of the dominant chords, which outline the key function of the chord but with more dissonant auxiliary notes. This solo demonstrates all of these levels beautifully, and is mainly characterised by what, in that particular feature, we would call level 3 and 4 playing. You can develop this level of blues playing by ensuring that you are able to play the vocabulary in any key, so that one phrase can be used over each of the three chords. By absorbing several phrases they can be combined to form a basis to create an ever increasing number of spontaneous solos
Carl has a laid-back feel to his playing, but he is in no way a lazy player; there are many active position shifts and string skipping (bar 16), repeated riffs are always subtly altered (bars 41-43) and he’ll flick the pickup selector from neck to bridge position for a short phrase - even just one note (bar 8) - just to create more ‘bite’ and timbral variety.
There’s some really challenging technical demands here (all the more impressive given this was improvised in one take), but even if some are beyond you for the time being, the concepts and vocabulary here will make any study with this solo useful, and should act as a foundation to build your own blues solos and general improvisational vocabulary.
You can develop this level of blues playing by ensuring you can play the vocabulary in any key.