Over the years, blues songs and their respective solos have resulted in some truly classic introductions that can really set the tone and mood for each particular song or solo. Those same unforgettable introductions can also teach us a great deal about the song or solo.
As a kid learning how to play blues guitar, my earliest heroes were the great Mike Bloomfield of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Buddy Guy and B.B. King. While learning their respective styles, I noticed over time that whenever these great players would begin their songs, or break into a solo, they would always put their own indelible trademark lick at the beginning. Since they’re typically the first licks you’ll hear in a song, they’re also usually the first ones you’ll want to emulate.
The first thing you should notice is that these licks are not only for the major keys. They are actually major scale runs that borrow more from the “country” major pentatonic scale than the “blues” minor pentatonic scale. Incidentally, this “major” versus “minor” issue is a very important one in blues, and I address it fully in the next lesson.
One more interesting characteristic of these runs is that they almost all use the blues guitar technique of the “before and after” note. This means that a note is played in one place, and is then immediately answered by the same note, same octave, but in a new expressive way, and in a new location.
Overall, you should immediately get the idea with these licks, as well as hear the familiar echoes of such greats as Mike Bloomfield, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and even T Bone Walker. Enjoy!—Arlen Roth
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