It’s easy (well, sometimes) to pick up a bunch of licks and tricks, especially in the twangin’ tele style, but sooner or later you are going to have to assemble them into something that resembles music. Getting your chops sorted out is a big part of the game, yes…but I would argue that being musical with even simple ideas will get you farther.
I put this together over the rhythm of Haggard’s ‘Working Man’s Blues’. This is a very common tune if you end up on a gig with guys wearing cowboy hats and/or belt buckles larger than your fist. And, conveniently, it’s often a head-cutting tune of sorts, made to jam over and see who is really worthy of the buckle (or the hat.)
So, as with any tune in this style, the first thing you need to do is learn the rhythm part, know the chord changes backwards and forwards. To really sound good over tunes like this, you need to play to each chord, and even anticipate the changes with ‘lead-in’ notes that take you into the next chord.
I’m only playing through one solo section here, but in the ‘real world’ you will likely run through it a couple of times or more.
Solo Section – A | A | A | A | D | D | A | A | E | D | A | A ||
Ok, now…to ‘get into’ the solo, I start with a little lick over the A7, which builds some energy to lead me into the D7 (next lick). Sort of like revving up the engine before dumping the clutch.
The next section drops to the IV chord, D7. This is really where the solo ‘starts’. I’m sliding into the root, hitting some twangy bendy stuff, trying to mix up the ideas so I don’t play too much of anything that sounds the same. Always try to relate your licks to each other, either in a ‘call and response’ sense or in a tension-building sense where you build up the tension and then break it with a really nasty bit. Just remember that EVERY lick doesn’t have to be a killer. If you try to do that, you wear the listener out, never letting your stuff breathe. But, this is an uptempo tune, so if you let it drag too much you’ll lose them just as fast. Think balance.
Here’s lick 2, which leads us back to A.
Moving right along, the last lick left me in A, so I continue there, and throw a little breathing room in there with some double-stops. These are really just 2 separate chord shapes moved through 4 positions.
This section moves so quickly, I didn’t try to break the track up, and just played through. The single measure E and D go by pretty fast, so you need to plan ahead to hit the changes right. I’ll break it all down lick by lick. The last lick when I get back to A wasn’t really worth tabbing out, but as I mentioned before, you may get another ’round through the solo, so here you should be thinking about setting yourself up for the IV chord again.
A section Slower:
E section Slower:
This lick in E sounds harder than it really is…keeping some open strings going adds a lot to it. Another key is keeping your fretting hand loose and visualize where you are going next…anticipate the move down the neck – it goes quick!
D section slower:
Pretty straight-forward here, just sliding into some 6ths and adding that nice little low bit on F# and the A string to top it off, for the return back to A where you would probably be setting up to go through another 12 bars!
All Together Now!
Here’s the whole thing together:
It takes a lot of practice to become ‘fluent’ with the language of twang, and it’s really just a matter of putting in the time, and playing in situations where you have to rise to the occasion. Oddly enough, pride can be your strongest motivator to get better at something like this. All it takes is one good embarrassment on stage and BAM! you’re locked in the woodshed practicing your butt off.
A good source of inspiration outside of straight country is Bluegrass, Western Swing, even some jazz, because those styles really rely on playing over the chords in a tune and making flowing, lyrical melodies on the fly. It’s not really pure improvising, where you’re out to break new ground with every measure, it’s putting phrases together that support the style of music you’re playing, and just flat-out sounding good. If you try to get too wacky it’s going to sound wrong, and the guys with the hats and buckles really don’t like wrong.