blues Headlines: sixes & sevens
Richard Barrett is on a mission to make you a better blues player – with full audio examples and backing tracks
Though The pentatonic/blues scale has been used to create some of the most memorable solos and riffs of all time in its purest form, it would be a particularly incurious player who didn’t drift outside these boundaries from time to time.
When we look back to when this type of guitar playing was a new and radical idea (via the recordings of Freddie King, Albert King, BB King, and so on), we hear a surprising amount of diversification from what has become known as the ‘blues scale’… Some of this can be attributed to unusual technical approaches; for instance, Freddie King played with a finger and thumbpick – bound to encourage different phrasing to that of a dedicated alternate picker such as Steve Morse. Albert King used an unusual C minor open tuning and played ‘upside down’ with the thinnest string where the thickest would normally be.
But there’s no need to go to these extremes to come up with new soloing ideas. For the examples, I’ve gone for a funky, almost Little Feat-style backing and targeted the 6th (as we are in the key of E, this is C#) in various ways. It’s surprising how many of the greats start or finish a phrase on the 6th. Certainly Eric Clapton, though he may have picked this up from Freddie King or Albert Collins, who also featured it a lot. Sometimes the 6th falls comfortably within the pentatonic shapes on the fretboard, but at other times, it’s a short stretch or slide away. There’s no need to get deep into music theory to broaden your horizons – I’m pretty certain many of the players mentioned here wouldn’t converse enthusiastically about scales, though it can’t be denied that a little knowledge can help speed up the process of discovery. Hope you enjoy these ideas and see you next time!
Albert King played upside down with the high E string at the top