Rockabilly Lesson 2: Basic Rockabilly Soloing Concepts

Last time I gave you a few examples of basic rockabilly rhythm patterns. This time we'll take a look at a handful of fundamental soloing ideas that I might typically use with those rhythm figures.

1) The Good Old Pentatonic Scale:

It's hard to beat the pentatonic scale for rockabilly, blues, surf, or really any roots-style music. The word "pentatonic" breaks down into two parts - "penta" for five and "tonic" referring to tones. So basically this scale breaks an octave down into five steps or tones. In Example 1, you see the scale in the key of E, starting with the open low Estring. The intervals are as follows: 1) Root (E); 2) Minor third (G); 3) Fourth (A); 4) Fifth (B); 5) Minor seventh (D). These are the five tones of the pentatonic scale. (There's a pretty good chance the typical novice guitarist already knows this scale, even if he or she doesn't know what the hell to call it.) Then the scale repeats itself; ie. the next tone would be the root (E), then the minor third (G), then the fourth (A), and so on. Check out the audio file for some variations on this old favorite.

The challenge, even if you are familiar with this scale, is to come up with phrases and ideas that are evocative of the rockabilly style. Any knucklehead can walk this scale up and down, and it's likely that it will sound like, well, any knucklehead walking this scale up and down. So, for the next couple of examples let's see if we can't hop up this old workhorse into some interesting perversions of a hillbilly design.



Doublestop with Slur

In Example 2, we're going to apply a couple of techniques - one called "doublestop" and one called "slurring." The lick begins with a combination of both in fact, but we'll break it down into one technique at a time. The doublestop is played using one finger to play two adjacent notes on two parallel strings. Here we are playing the high E AND the high B at the 12th fret with the tip of the first finger - if you're not familiar with this technique, use a bit more of the fingertip than you would for a single note. Any time you have parallel notes on parallel strings available, as you do in a few places in the pentatonic scale, you can apply this method. The second technique applied to this lick is the slur - simply slide up to the target note(s) from a half-step below.

Example 3
In Example 3, we'll use the parallel notes on the G B strings, again applying the doublestop/slur combination. This lick starts out with the fifth tone of the pentatonic scale (B) at the 14th fret of the A string, proceeding up the scale through the seventh and root before slurring the third and fifth in parallel on the G & B strings. The slur anticipates the downbeat of the bar.

Example 4
In Example 4, the lick starts with a slurred doublestop at the 11th and 12th fret of the E & B strings, followed by a walkdown through the pentatonic scale of the fourth, minor third and root tones. (Most folks identify this style with the great Chuck Berry, who built a pretty good chunk of the foundation of Rock n Roll with the doublestop/slur technique. Also, you old-timers may recognize the T-Bone Walker sound as well. T-Bone was a big influence on Mr. Berry, as well as most blues artists of the 50s and 60s.)

Like I mentioned in the rhythm lesson, these licks are strangely similar to standard rock & blues licks in many instances, and you really need to pay attention to the feel and execution to get the desired hillbilly sensation. One invaluable aid is our friend the slapback delay - a single quick slap/repeat will do the job beautifully. Another good tool is to use an aggressive, focused right hand picking technique. Spank that thang, Luther!!

2) The "Blues" Scale

Example 5
In Example 5 we're adding more notes to the basic pentatonic scale; this is referred to by some books as the Blues scale. It's really just a souped-up pentatonic scale. We have augmented the scale with an additional note between the two previously existing notes on each string, as follows:

Low (Bass) E string: E-F#-G A string: A-Bb-B D string: D-Eb-E G string: G-A-Bb B string: B-C#-D Hi (Treble)E string: E-F#-G

Now our possibilities have really expanded. As you can see from the tablature, the potential for doublestops has opened up, as well as places for application of other techniques - triplets, pull-offs, a combination of both, and dissonant note combinations, a bit of which I have thrown in on the audio track just to give you a few starting ideas. Try drilling this scale from bottom to top and back down again, using alternate picking (down/up/down/up), to get used to the new terrain. Next time, we'll start convoluting and contorting. Until then, Let It Rock!

Just can't get enough? Check out...