Start playing slide by sticking to the hot spots.
That’s what I call the 3rd, 5th, 7th and 12th frets in open tunings. So many blues licks and riffs live there and it’s a great place to start your slide journey. But intermediate slide players need to venture out and use the notes between the hot spots.
This lesson in Open E Tuning will help round out your slide solos in a fun and melodic way.
Map the Chord Tones
Solo using the notes of the chord you’re playing over and you’ll sound good.
Well, at least, you won’t sound bad by playing wrong notes. That’s half the battle.
Some chord tones will sound better to you than others and we’ll develop your taste for that in a future step. For now, let’s have a look at the chord tones of the E7, A7 and B7 chords as they fall on the fretboard in Open E tuning.
Dominant Seventh chords have four notes, the Root, Major Third, Perfect Fifth and Minor Seventh (1 – 3 – 5 – b7).
We could map the entire fretboard but for now, we’re going to limit our playing to the open strings up to the 5th fret.
This gives us plenty of room to play a sweet slide solo. Plus, there’s a hidden benefit and we’ll get to that later.
Let’s dig in.
The E7 Chord
Keep the intervals in mind as we map the chord tones for each of the chords. Each interval has it’s own unique sound in the context of the chord. Dominant Seventh Chords contain a Root, Major 3rd, Perfect 5th and Minor 7th (1 – 3 – 5 – b7). So, the notes we need for an E7 Chord are E G# B D.
Here they are on the fretboard up to and including the 5th fret.
Notice that we have a few duplicated notes along the way.
- The 5th fret of the 5th string is an E and so is the Open 4th String.
- The 4th String 4th fret is a G# and so is the Open 3rd String.
- The 3rd String 3rd fret is a B and so is the Open 2nd String.
It’s helpful to know where the duplicated notes are. As a slide player, you’ll find moments where one option might be preferable over the other.
We’ll incorporate both into our example solo.
The A7 Chord
Let’s shift our perspective to the notes of the A7 chord. Each interval mentioned below is in reference to an A note since A is the Root of the A7 chord.
The notes we need are A C# E G and here they are on the fretboard:
As with the E7 Chord, certain notes are duplicated.
💡 Notes at the first fret can be a bit awkward to play with the slide. I usually play these fretted to accommodate this challenge.
The B7 Chord
The B7 chord contains the notes B, D#, F# and A. Here’s they are on the fretboard. Note the duplication.
Improvise Over One Chord at a Time
Practice playing each chord’s tones and memorize the note locations. Bonus points for knowing the intervals too.
💡 Playing chord tones separately instead of together is an arpeggio.
But knowing where the notes are isn’t the end game.
We need to use them to make music.
So with a little focused noodling, you can experiment to find licks and phrases you enjoy.
Noodling to me, is aimlessly moving around the fretboard with no particular direction. You go where the mood takes you. I like to be clear with myself about when I’m noodling versus practicing but, noodling has it’s merits. It’s fun and some of my best ideas come to me when I turn off my brain and jam.
But let’s make sure there’s a little focus for this exercise.
Let’s harness that freedom but put in one big constraint. Play only the notes of the E7 chord. Use all the strings and play them in any order you want (noodling) but do it only with the notes of the E7 chord (constraint) and only up to the 5th fret (second constraint).
This will help you develop a lick library of your own.
And limiting yourself to the first five frets focuses your efforts and invites creativity.
Here’s an example lick that you can play over the E7 chord that I came up with during a focused noodling session. Learn this lick and you’ll have one (more) lick in your Open E tuning arsenal.
Once you have a few moves or melodies that you like, repeat this with the other two chords in the progression.
It’s important at this point not to try and connect the chords. Don’t try to tackle a full solo quite yet. It will come, but we’ve got more work to do first.
Let’s add a few expressive slide techniques to make these few chord tones come to life.
Embellish the Chord Tones with the Slide
Remember, there are only four chord tones in each of our chords. So far, we’ve limited our jamming to just these four tones as they occur across all six strings. This helps establish a structure for your solo. A skeleton if you will.
Now we’ll help this skeleton come to life with a few expressive slide guitar techniques.
This is one of my favorite things to do while playing slide. Target a chord tone by starting a fret lower than the target. Then, slowly but deliberately move the slide up to the target tone.
This works particularly well when targeting the Major 3rd.
It feels like a big sweeping bend that builds tension and adds emotion to a single note.
💡For a bluesy variation, start at the target note and slowly push slightly beyond the fret. This mimics the microtonal bends found throughout the Blues.
I call this slide move The Pull and it sounds and feels like a pre-bend and release. It works like the Push, except in reverse. Start a fret above the target note and moving down the fretboard toward the nut.
Try sliding into a note in such a way that the beginning of the slide isn’t heard as a separate note.
Focus on where you’re going, not where you start. This means you’ll have to get your slide moving. For Slide Ins we pluck the string and slide to the target note either from above or below.
Of course you can do this relatively slowly and a bit quicker depending on what the lick calls for.
The key is that you don’t hang on the starting note once it’s plucked. Get moving!
This is the mirror image of a Slide In.
Pluck the string with the slide in position at the target note and then move the slide. Move either above or below the target note. The key difference is here you start with the target note and then slide.
Try this example mixing each of these four slide based techniques.
Then, experiment on your own and be sure to vary the speed of the sliding to craft the sound you’re looking for.
When you dial this in, you’re slide playing starts to come alive!
Embellish with Non-Chord Tones
Did you stumble on a few sweet tones while you were jamming that weren’t actually part of the chord?
That’s definitely ok.
It’s more than OK.
There are notes outside the chord tones that will sound good. The chord-tone-only jam session was all about getting you used to the chord tones. Plus, you went beyond location and started making music with just a few notes.
Great solos don’t have to use exotic scales. But if you did find a note or two that you liked beyond the chord tones, make a mental note of it and use it in your solo.
For more on this, check out this video for more on adding sweet tones to your playing.
If you didn’t stumble on any outside notes, that’s ok too. Try this simple trick:
Use chromatics to climb from one chord tone to another.
Chromatic movement is moving up or down one fret at a time. Try connecting the minor 7th to the Root this way – or vice versa.
This sound is often found in Blues. Spoiler Alert: it’s a great way to connect chord changes too!
That’s where we’re going next.
Play the Changes by Connecting the Chords
This is where the rubber meets the road.
You’ve mapped out the notes of each chord and improvised a few licks over each with focused noodling. Now it’s time to connect the chord changes in a musical way.
We’ll make the task as small as possible to start with.
Each chord change boils down to just two chords. We need to get some reps in on each chord change. So, we’ll drill each change in the progression we need to solo over. Two chord backing tracks or loops can be extremely helpful at this stage.
Here’s how to drill the changes:
Take a chord change pair, loop it and solo over it.
Connect the last note of a phrase over the first chord with the nearest chord tone of the second chord. This keeps the melody flowing. It sounds natural and musical.
We’ll take the last phrase over E7:
And connect it to A7 using the G note on the 1st string. This is an excellent connector for two reasons:
- It is the nearest chord tone of A7 from the E note we landed previously and
- The G of the A7 chord is the minor 7th interval which is a defining interval.
Repeat this for each chord change pair.
Get comfortable connecting each chord change. Then, expand your focus to include the entire progression.
This is the woodshedding.
Eight Bar Blues Example in Open E
Let’s put all this into action, cool?
We’ll play an 8 Bar Blues in the Key of E as we weave together several concepts covered in this lesson.
How many concepts and techniques from this lesson can you spot in the performance?
Watch the video above for a quick walkthrough of the example.
If you want access to the SoundSlice interactive tab player so you can slow down, loop and learn at your own pace, become a myBGI member.
The quickest path to creating blues solos is by sticking with pentatonics. If that strategy leaves you wanting a little more, try the plan I’ve outlined above. To recap, here’s how to put this into action.
- Map the chord tones
- Focused Noodling with Chord Tones
- Embellish the Chord Tones with Slide Techniques
- Add Chromatics and Sweet Notes
- Drill the Changes
- Put it All Together
This system works well for creating a slick slide guitar solo.
You’re nearly guaranteed to avoid wrong notes because we’re focusing on chord tones. Sweeten things up with bluesy embellishments and thoughtful phrases that connect the chords. When you do, you’ve got a really cool solo.
A solo that has an impact.
A solo that leads.