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Jazz Guitar Lessons

JGT Lesson: Learning ‘Saxy’ Blues Licks

Mark Stefani

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Lesson based on a guitar solo from a tribute to the late B.B. King. 

I’ve always maintained that the most important components of any successful solo are Content, Phrasing, Feel and Message. This brief blues licks lesson is all about the importance and effectiveness of phrasing based upon soulful sax influences. The harmonic content in these measures may appear to be simple, but it’s really the syncopation factor that makes the language work.

Thrill is Gone (blues licks)

This blues licks lesson is based on the first four bars in the third (and final) chorus of my 36-bar “Thrill Is Gone” blues guitar solo, which is a tribute to the late B.B. King.

1 – Believe it or not, there’s a LOT going on in the first measure despite the fact that only four notes are involved.

The D, C#, A and F# represent the b3rd, 2nd (9th), b7th and 5th in the key of B minor. Specifically the second and last notes (C# and F#) are typically the sweetest choices in any minor scenario. Note the muted octave string rake used in the opening figure, something I frequently use to put an exclamation point on any note in a solo. Also worth mentioning is the “doubling-up” on the three notes that follow, typical of blues-oriented horn players. The ties add an extra layer of phrasing to the mix.

2 –  If you were to independently analyze the second measure purely from a blues language perspective, it might seem obvious that it stems from A major blues.

However, what would normally be the 3rd of A (C#) now rears its head as the 9th of the key, the same sweet note mentioned above. This is an example of how you can tweak a blues figure into something that has a melodic effect, but the listener will still perceive it as bluesy. Once again, check out the funky syncopation in beats two, three and four.

3 – Bar three is a classic “just add water” B minor pentatonic sequence common among sax players, where key notes (D, E, F# and A) are played twice as the line dynamically ascends.

You can modify this approach to begin on any note of the scale to achieve the same effect. Observe the two slurs (pull-offs) as they contribute to the phrasing in a big way.

4 – You might note that the final measure is phrased almost identical to the second bar, but the harmonic content is a continuation of the previous measure (B minor pentatonic) for a strong blues effect.

In summing up this blues licks lesson, after so many years transcribing blues and jazz horn solos I often think of myself as a saxophonist trapped in a guitar player’s body ;-). From both a phrasing point of view in addition to the quest that we all share to be unique, it’s a great place to be as an improviser and composer. Advice? Don’t just listen to and imitate other guitarists if you want to establish a more personal as well as creative voice.


To hear Mark Stefani’s entire “Thrill Is Gone” recording including the bass intro and solo, click hereA complete transcription (standard notation/tab) is available in his popular Monster Guitar Solo series.

Also, check out Mark Stefani’s Rhythm & Blues Experience lesson course.

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