Easy Riffs to Killer Solos

This is Part 2 to my 6 Easy Blues Riffs lesson.

James Cotton plays the blues

Does this sound familiar:

:arrow_right: Know how to play the blues scale? :white_check_mark:

:arrow_right: Know some blues riffs? :white_check_mark:

:arrow_right: Know how to take a solo? :x: :sob:

If so, you are not alone. For many people this is a difficult leap. Let me help. Here’s my 3-steps video to take you from easy riffs to solos.

And here’s a brief overview for you:


to help you get

from that fairly easy knowing some riffs

to that more elusive knowing how to make up your own killer

Blues Solo.


STEP 1: Build up your Blues Muscle by IMPROVISING the Heck out of Riffs

When it comes to riffs, the #1 mistake beginners make is thinking the goal is to know riffs . Learning riffs is great. (If you haven’t learned any yet, check out my 6 Easy Blues Riffs vid.) But learning riffs is just the beginning.

The TRUE GOAL is to PLAY AROUND with riffs . That’s what builds your muscle to be able to solo. :muscle: Not sure how to play around with a riff? Here’s some exercises to help get you pumped up:

:point_right: Repeat it over and over

:point_right: Reverse it (writing it out helps me with this)

:point_right: Vary the Dynamics (some notes loud and some notes soft)

:point_right: Make it longer (add notes - :bulb: Tip: knowing the almost blues scale helps with this )

:point_right: Make the riff shorte r (subtract notes from it)

:point_right: Phrasing (vary the rhythm of the riff, or)

:point_right: Vary where you play it

STEP 2: Understand & Get Some Solo Basics Down

When it comes time to do a solo in front of real live humans :open_mouth: there’s a good chance that your adrenaline will get pumping, and you’ll enter what I like to call the freak-out zone . Knowing a few vital solo basics can help you reign victorious in spite of the adrenaline.

:small_blue_diamond: Draw-more-than-blow - analyze any great 2nd position solo, it’s 80-90% draws. Don’t let the freak-out zone trick you into the fast blow-draw-blow-draw debacle. If all else fails: draw, baby, draw!

:small_blue_diamond: Use S P A C E - when everything is moving at the speed of light in the freak-out zone, a second can feel like forever , but silence is the most impactful statement you can make . So play a couple notes, and then just take a nice, deep breath. This will help you relax, and also create space, which automatically helps you with the 3rd solo basic…

:small_blue_diamond: Tell a Story - Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end . So should your solo! Taking a deep breath after your opening riff will help it seem like the beginning of a story. And you’ll be well on your way to a successful solo!

STEP 3: Put it all together. RIFFS + BASICS = SOLO.

Once you’ve learned and played around with riffs, and you understand and can act on these solo basics, you are ready to make up your own blues solo.

If you’d like to go through each of these exercises with me, and then play a real blues harmonica solo together (that requires no bending) check out my new lesson: Turning Easy Riffs into Killer Blues Solos.