For this article a short checklist to improve your improvising over Blues songs. The checklist can be used as a guide to improve your own guitar solos.
Learn both the minor and the major Pentatonic Scale in various places on the fretboard. Play them in position as in the usual block form. Once you know them play them as an arpeggio over two or three strings. The arpeggio idea is good for breaking out of the box, it will also make you think more about the notes.
Listen to your favourite players to hear how they put their phrases together. Playing Blues is more than just running your fingers across a Pentatonic scale. It is the phrasing which gives players like B.B King their particular sound. When you listen to any of your favourite guitar players try to understand how they get their sound: Do they use any blue notes? Do they mix major and minor scales or do they use any chromatic notes? Phrasing can give you a characteristic sound to your solos and it is this you want to understand to improve your own playing.
Structure and Arrangement:
Not all Blues songs are simply written in twelve bars, listen to your favourite blues songs to hear what their structure is based on. Some songs just use a two bar phrase and the whole song is based on this idea. A lot of Howlin’ Wolf’s music works like that.
Listen out for also any unusual turn arounds. Turn arounds can give a song with a traditional twelve bar blues feel a different twist.
Have a listen to B.B King’s Album “In London” to hear many songs which break away from the traditional 12 bar sound. Most songs are played with a full horn section and harmonica which play behind the regular band of drums, bass, organ and guitar. Listen to B.B’s phrasing, he does not use many notes, repeats many. Can you make it sound like that?