When it comes to practicing your lead guitar playing, I am a big advocate of learning the solos of your favourite guitarists. There are two reasons for this:
Firstly, it is a lot of fun.
I was inspired to learn the guitar after hearing players like Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour (to name just a few!)
In my experience, most guitarists start learning the instrument because they love guitar driven music.
So, whilst your long term aim as a player might not be to build up a repertoire of different songs, learning some of the songs and solos that initially inspired you is both enjoyable and motivating.
The second and significant reason, is that learning solos is one of the best ways of improving your lead guitar playing.
One of the challenges faced by almost all guitarists that I coach is not ‘knowing enough licks’. They struggle to create new licks and phrases, and as a result, their improvisations can sound quite repetitive and stale.
When I talk to these guitarists in more detail, it often turns out that they have spent little to no time learning solos. This is problematic, because in this position you have no reference material that you can draw upon.
It is like trying to write a book without ever having read one, or cook a meal without ever having followed a recipe.
Of course, you can still create your own ideas from this position.
To reach the point where you are crafting interesting ideas however, will take you much longer. Not only this, but the process of experimentation required to get there is also likely to be quite frustrating.
Learning solos helps you to circumvent this frustration. You can see how other people create interesting and effective ideas, which in turn serves two purposes.
Firstly, it builds up a repertoire of material you can use in the future.
For example, if you know how to play the exact licks that Jimi Hendrix plays in ‘Hey Joe‘, then you can always fall back on those when improvising.
Unless you are playing these licks whilst jamming over ‘Hey Joe’ you can do this without the original source material being obvious.
More importantly though, this approach provides you with a framework that you can build upon and adapt. This becomes particularly powerful when you learn solos from a variety of different players.
You start to piece together the different ideas and styles of these players. When combined with your own style and default mode of playing, the result is something totally new and exciting.
There is a strong history in the blues of guitarists taking this approach.
If you look at a guitarist like Stevie Ray Vaughan for example, you can draw strong connections between his style and that of Albert King and Jimi Hendrix – Vaughan’s biggest influences.
Vaughan targets the intense and muscular bending style of King, and structures his phrases in a very similar way. Yet his playing is more aggressive than King’s because he also borrows heavily from Hendrix.
Yet whilst these influences might be clear in Vaughan’s playing, he is deservedly celebrated in his own right as one of the greatest blues guitarists of all time. This is because he combines these influences with other elements, as well as with his own unique style.
As John Mayer put it so succinctly when inducting Stevie Ray Vaughan into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2015:
(Vaughan) seamlessly melded the supernatural vibe of Jimi Hendrix, the intensity of Albert King, the best of British, Texas and Chicago Blues and the class and sharp shooter precision of his older brother Jimmie. Stevie is the ultimate guitar heroJohn Mayer
Learning the solos of your favourite players allows you to create the same interesting mix in your playing.
It will make you a much better guitarist and will provide you with new and stimulating material that you can include in your practice routine.
Unlike the majority of courses inside The Blues Club, I will add new lessons in here over time. At the time of writing, Comfortably Numb is the only solo in this course. However this will change over the coming months, as I continue to cover new solos.
When there are multiple solos in this course, you don’t need to work through them in order. Rather, you can work through those that most appeal to you.
My only recommendation is that you focus on one solo at a time. In this way you can get the most out of each and you don’t risk spreading yourself too thin.
Each solo or ‘mini course’ is split into at least 4 parts (potentially more if there are multiple solos in the same song). These parts are as follows:
In the first part of each mini course, I run through the musical context over which the solos are played.
I talk through the key of the song, its chord progression, and any other elements which have an impact on the construction and style of the guitar solo(s) we are studying.
This will help you to understand the scale and techniques choices in the original solo, and which choices are appropriate when improvising in the same musical context.
In the second part of each mini course I look at gear.
I break this down into 3 different parts; the gear that the guitarist used in the original, the gear I used in the Happy Bluesman Studio, and some different options for you to consider at home.
This will help you to recreate the tone of the original solo and also increase the likelihood of soloing and improvising in the same style.
In the third section, I play through the solo(s) on which we are focusing. Here you will find the tab for the solo, along with a written breakdown of the key techniques and ideas that are being used.
In this way you can learn the solo, whilst also developing an understanding of how it works and which techniques make it so effective.
This in turn will deepen your understanding of music and help you implement similar ideas in your own playing.
In the final part of each course I look at improvisation. Here I play an improvised solo over the song in the style of the original.
As in the previous lesson(s), I breakdown the techniques and approaches that I am using, so that you can apply similar ideas in your own solos.
You will also find the full tab for the improvisation and a backing track that you can use to jam over and practice your own improvisations.
My one ask when going through this material, is that you do so slowly and with a focus on learning the concepts and techniques from each solo so that you can implement similiar ideas in your own playing.
It is so tempting to rush through material like this, learn a few licks and then move on. However doing this runs counter to the purpose of these lessons.
You might learn some licks or even a full solo, but if you stop there, you will have no mechanism for applying those ideas in a broader musical context.
Learn the concepts, techniques and how you can apply them outside of the individual musical context you are studying. This will do a huge amount to improve your playing and make you a much more developed blues guitarist.
So, whilst it might be difficult, try to resist the urge to rush through these solos.
Unlike all of the other courses inside the Blues Club, these mini courses do not have extensive video lessons, so take your time to read through the text and get to grips with the concepts and ideas.
Now with that final caveat out of the way, whenever you are ready to do so, dive in! Head over to any of the solos and get started 😁
See you over there!