Greg Koch

Devilish Blues Riffs

It was in the recent December issue of GP that I introduced you to the so-called “devil’s interval,” the interval better known in modern times as the tritone. People often think of the tritone as the flatted 5—which, above the root, A, is created by adding Eb [Ex. 1a]. Of course, you’ll often see this tritone spelled enharmonically using D# [Ex. 1b], which only means that the notation is different, while the sound and fingering remain exactly the same. But, since I was a blues pig as a youth, it’s only natural that my treatise on the tritone continues with some exciting ways to incorporate that unmistakable tritone flavor into single-note lead guitar licks.

Let’s say you’re playing over a bluesy 12/8 groove in our friendly neighborhood key of A. One little thing you can do to make things more interesting is play spicy lines such as Ex. 2, which I may have ripped off, at least partially, from the great Mike Stern. The tritone action of note takes place in the first bar, where major triads built on the root, A, (beats one and three) alternate between major triads built on the tritone, Eb. The lick concludes with bar 2, where saucy maneuvers involving upward sweeps of the pick ultimately land you on the root, A.

You can also start your phrase on the tritone, as shown in Ex. 3. If you hear some bebop-inspired turns of phrase in this snaky example, well, you have trained ears, because watch what happens if we switch gears and play the same exact notes—or at least the first 12 pitches—as swung eighth-notes in 4/4 time. As proves Ex. 4, the notes seem to effortlessly imply a swingin’

II-V-I chord progression in A. No, the gristly riffs in this lesson aren’t on any of my records. They’re just random excerpts of a troubling morning here at the Koch residence, sitting in a kitchen full of dirty dishes. —As told to Jude Gold