Tightrope – Main Solo
Now that we have covered the musical context in Tightrope and how you can dial in some of those killer Stevie Ray Vaughan tones, we can turn our attention to the main solo.
This is actually one of my all time favourite Stevie Ray Vaughan solos. In my opinion it embodies Vaughan’s style – highlighting the key elements of his playing which make it so effective.
It is for this reason that I have chosen the solo for this course. Breaking it down at a granular level will help you to understand why the solo is so effective, and how you can recreate a similar feel in your own playing.
Crucially, going through this process will allow you to learn from this solo – even if it is currently beyond your technical limits. As you can see from the video play through above, the solo is fast and technically demanding.
It took me many years of playing and practice to be able to play solos like this one. So if you are earlier in your playing journey, or if you aren’t yet able to play as fast as the solo demands – don’t worry!
Firstly, with time and consistent practice, you will get to that technical level.
In the meantime – there is still a lot you can learn from this solo and apply in your own playing, to add some of that SRV magic to your improvisations.
As such, I will discuss the key technical challenges that the solo presents, as well as the learning opportunities that you can take away and apply in your own playing.
So with that in mind, let’s get into it!
Tightrope – Solo I
The tab for the main solo that I play in the video above is as follows:
In Eb tuning and at the 98 beats per minute (BPM) at which the solo is played, this is how the isolated and clean guitar part sounds:
I do make some small changes to the original that Vaughan played.
These are all relatively minor alterations, and all of them relate to the faster descending licks or repeated sections. As such, they don’t alter the flow or character of the solo.
Technical focus points
Without question, this is a technically demanding guitar solo.
Like most of Vaughan’s lead playing, the solo is fast and this is the first and most obvious technical challenge. To be able to play this solo you have to be able to play at speed, which for most guitarists is the first and most significant challenge with this kind of material.
This challenge is exacerbated by the fact that Vaughan’s playing is not just fast, but also precise. Vaughan’s playing is never loose or sloppy; every note rings out precisely and cleanly.
This – combined with the fact that Vaughan is playing with a relatively clean tone, means that you have to be able to play fast and with precision.
As such, if you want to be able to play Tightrope at its original tempo, you will need to be able to play quite quickly and do so without your technique breaking down.
If this is an area of your playing with which you are currently struggling, then in this article here I run through a variety of exercises that can help to build your technique and playing speed.
For many years of my guitar playing career I was a very slow player. In fact I attempted to learn this solo a number of times, but gave up because it was too fast.
Consistently working through the exercises outlined in the article above for just a couple of months helped me to push my technique to a whole different level. So if you are looking to play in the style of SRV and tackle this material, make those exercises a priority.
As you do so, and as you work up to faster paces, just make sure that you are continuing to play with precision. This is vital if you want to sound like SRV, and it will do a lot to make you a more skilful blues guitarist.
The speed at which Vaughan solos tends to be the main focus point for those studying his playing. However in my opinion an equal if not greater challenge is trying to sustain the intensity of Vaughan’s style.
Vaughan played with all out intensity, almost all of the time. His vibrato is powerful, he uses a heavy pick attack and packs every single phrase with a huge density of different techniques.
Not only this, but the overall pace of the solo is such that you have very little time in between each phrase to enjoy any kind of respite.
In short, you can’t just go through the motions with a solo like this one. You have to really commit to the style and target these elements in your playing to capture the feel of this solo.
This combination of speed, intensity of articulation and density of notes and technique is very tiring as a player. It requires a lot of strength and stamina, both of which take time and practice to develop.
Running through the speed exercises linked above can help to develop this strength and stamina. Additionally, I think it can be helpful to recognise this challenge for what it is – a physical one.
So, in the same way you (hopefully!) wouldn’t try to run a marathon for your first ever training run, be sensible about how you ramp up the intensity of your playing.
If playing with a heavy vibrato style and aggressive pick attack is new to you, practice and work on these ideas in a slower musical context. Push yourself to the point where you begin to tire, then rest and focus on something else or finish your practice routine.
As you start to get more comfortable digging in and playing in this way in a slow blues context, you can then begin to ramp up the pace and target the same ideas over a faster track.
In my opinion, recreating Vaughan’s stinging bending and vibrato style is very challenging. So if you would like a little help on this front, head over to this lesson where I break down Vaughan’s vibrato style in granular detail.
The additional challenge in this solo – and in all of Vaughan’s lead playing – is replicating his rhythmic accuracy. Vaughan is the master of ‘playing in the pocket’. He is always locked into the groove of the song and his timing is always on point.
To play with rhythmic accuracy is challenging. To do so in a way that creates a groove and feel is even more difficult, and Vaughan is able to do both.
The good news, is that you can quickly and markedly improve your sense of timing. In this article here I outline 7 different exercises that you can incorporate in your practice routine.
So if you are working to improve this element of your playing, start targeting these exercises and you will soon establish a much stronger sense of rhythm.
When you then come to practice Tightrope, my key piece of advice is to ensure that you continue to focus on rhythm, even when playing quickly.
When you encounter a solo or an extended passage of fast notes, it is very easy to treat the section as one to be played as quickly as possible. You see all of the notes and work to play through them as quickly as you can.
Yet the rhythmic value of the notes throughout Tightrope are not the same. So even if you are playing near to your technical limit, don’t lose sight of your rhythmic accuracy. It is essential if you want to sound like Stevie Ray Vaughan, and it will make everything that you play sound better.
String skipping / Hybrid picking
In my opinion, the section shown in bars 11-13 above is one of the most challenging in the solo. This is because you have to hit a series of repeated bends and then grab a single note on the high E string. You need to do all of this with total rhythmic accuracy and at speed.
To manage this practically, you need to either skip across the strings quickly and pick out the notes of the G and E strings or use hybrid picking.
When I have watched Vaughan playing live, he does not use hybrid picking. Instead he moves across the strings quickly, using his pick to play the notes on each string.
Personally, I have always favoured hybrid picking to play this section. There is a lot happening in the fretting hand in these bars, and if you choose to skip between the G and E strings, then it increases the burden on the right hand too.
Conversely, using hybrid picking allows you to hit the notes on both strings in quite an easy and economical movement. Of course, you have to feel comfortable with hybrid picking as a concept and it can feel awkward and challenging at first.
If you haven’t yet tried hybrid picking, then I would recommend heading over to this quick win lesson on the topic here.
The bonus of learning hybrid picking is that it will help you to create a distinct SRV vibe in your solos. Vaughan often uses hybrid picking to play two notes on different strings at the same time. He does this in his slower songs, like ‘Lenny‘, ‘Riviera Paradise‘ and ‘Tin Pan Alley‘.
One great example however comes from Vaughan’s cover version of Buddy Guy’s ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb‘. This is what the opening of the solo looks like:
Tuned down to Eb and a the 125 BPM at which the song is played, this section sounds like this:
Played in the key of E (tuned down to Eb), Vaughan here is picking out different notes from the minor pentatonic scale.
So if you are interested in creating similar ideas in your playing, it is worth learning hybrid picking.
Whichever approach you adopt however, this passage is challenging. So take your time to work through it and ensure that you are either string skipping or hybrid picking cleanly and rhythmically.
One of the reasons that I love to teach this solo is that it contains many of the key elements that define Stevie Ray Vaughan’s style.
By breaking these down and studying them, you can target them consciously in your own playing – to craft killer improvisations and add a bit of that SRV magic to your solos.
Here are the key learning points that you can take from ‘Tightrope’ and use to develop as a blues guitarist:
Many of the guitarists that I work with on a 1-2-1 basis have an aversion to repetition. Especially when they are in the beginning of their playing journey, they view it as a sign that they have a limited musical vocabulary.
Yet repetition is an essential part of effective blues guitar.
Just look at the number of sections of repetition in this solo. In a variety of places Vaughan simply plays the same idea over and over again. In others, he returns to the same section of the fretboard and targets note groupings that are very similar to one another.
The first approach allows Vaughan to build momentum and create tension in the solo. Each of the moments where Vaughan repeats an idea helps him to ramp up the energy level in the solo. It builds tension and suspense, which he then dissipates with a burst of energy when he moves onto a new phrase.
The second approach gives the solo a more structured and coherent feel. Vaughan does not move incessantly from new idea to new idea. He returns to key sections of the fretboard and similar note groupings, and he starts and finishes the solo in the same section of the guitar.
Put simply, repetition can help to improve the quality of your improvisations. It will help you to build momentum, and give your solos a more coherent feel.
It will also lower the mental energy you need to improvise. You don’t have to become a non-stop lick machine, pumping out new phrase after new phrase. Instead you can give yourself permission to play the same ideas and can do so in the knowledge that it will help you to sound better.
Bending variety & density
Bending is the most important technique in lead blues guitar. It defines the sound of lead blues guitar and is essential if you want to play in a vocal and expressive style.
Despite this though, I feel that most blues guitarists don’t bend enough. When I coach players on a 1-2-1 basis, most of them will use bending only intermittently.
From my perspective, this is because it is challenging. It requires mechanical control, and a developed musical ear that helps you know when you have bent any given note to the correct pitch.
Throughout this solo in Tightrope, Vaughan uses a wide variety of bends. He also packs them into his phrases with great density. This ensures that his solo sounds vocal and expressive, even though he is playing a lot of individual notes and fast licks.
So, even when you are playing in an upbeat and fast blues context like this one, don’t forget to include bends. They will ensure your solos sound beautifully bluesy and expressive.
Similarly, throughout the solo Vaughan illustrates the benefit of using many different techniques within short phrases.
If you look at the tab above, you will see that every phrase is stacked with a variety of techniques. Vaughan uses bends, slides, and hammer ons and pull offs quickly and interchangeably throughout.
This high density of technique makes simple note groupings come to life and adds excitement to phrases which otherwise might sound less interesting.
It is the key benefit of this approach, and why blues and blues rock solos are typically so dense with technique.
When you are improvising then – really zone in on these techniques and target them with greater frequency in your playing. It will do a lot to improve the quality of your solos, and will help you to get huge amounts of mileage from the minor pentatonic scale.
Don’t just think about techniques in isolation, either. Slide into a bend. Hammer on into a slide. Bend into a pull off.
These technique combinations will give your playing a beautiful and fluid feel and allow you to get even more mileage from simple note groupings.
I have already touched on this above, but it is such a key part of Vaughan’s style, that it is worth repeating.
This solo is so effective because of the way that Vaughan breathes life into the notes.
He uses a wide and aggressive vibrato, his bending is rapid and forceful, and he digs in and uses a powerful and intense pick attack.
Take these away and the solo loses a huge amount of impact.
It might sound obvious, but I typically encounter guitarists who are overly concerned with what they are playing and not how they are playing.
This is detrimental to their blues soloing, as blues guitar is all about feel and expression.
As I illustrate in this video here – just altering the quality of your vibrato will fundamentally change the sound of your playing. You can take the exact same phrase, and totally change the way it sounds by simply altering your vibrato.
You can apply the same idea to your bending and dynamics, and doing so will help you to add some of that SRV magic to your playing.
When analysing Stevie Ray Vaughan’s playing, it is easy to become overly focused on the pace of his playing.
Yes, speed is a key element of his playing.
However as I have tried to illustrate in this lesson, there are a number of learning points that you can take from this solo and apply in your playing.
The construction of the solo, the way Vaughan articulates the notes, and the density of technique in the playing all contribute to the power and impact of the solo.
So as you are working through this solo, keep these in mind. Not only this, but try to apply the same mindset when listening to other Stevie Ray Vaughan songs.
Actively listen to the guitar playing in your favourite SRV songs.
When you do this, you will discover small phrases and techniques that you hadn’t noticed before. Dig into these in more detail. Try to work out which techniques and ideas are being used and how you can replicate them in your own playing.
In this way, not only will you learn the solo; you will also build out your repertoire of techniques and soloing concepts.
Good luck! Let me know how you get on, and if you have any questions on anything covered in the lesson please just send me a message through your dashboard. I am always around and happy to help 😁
Otherwise when you are ready to do so, head over to the next and final lesson of this mini course, where we will take a look at improvisational approaches over the track. See you over there!