Put the Power of Repetition to Work in Your Solos—and Get More from Less!

When applied with care, repetition can be the very glue that holds your solo together.
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Repetition. Too often the word is associated with dreariness, boredom, monotony.

On the other hand, when it’s applied as a soloing concept, repetition often produces a stimulating outcome. Many a blues, rock or jazz guitarist has whipped an audience into a frenzy by hammering home a burning lick over and over again.

But manipulating the crowd to your advantage isn’t the only reason for repetition. When applied with care, it can be the very glue that holds your solo together.

MILK IT FOR ALL IT’S WORTH
As guitarists, we tend to get so caught up in the search for the ultimate lick that we often discount the power of simplicity. Raw, primal licks delivered with heartfelt conviction can be overwhelmingly seductive.

For instance, check out FIGURE 1’s blues-harp–influenced double-stops, which cycle through two chord-tone pairs (G#-B and B-D) of an E7 chord. Played with intense vibrato inflections, the ringing dyads are rendered in a relentless stream of eighth-note triplets.

FIGURE 1

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Phrases such as these are so outrageously effective that some blues guitarists have been known to hang on one pair of notes through an entire 12-bar blues chorus. Try that on your next gig. You may just turn some heads.

Our next lick falls into the “If you’ve got it , flaunt it!” category. Exploiting four notes of the A minor pentatonic scale (A C D E G), FIGURE 2 is an insane whole-step bend/string-rake/pull-off maneuver voiced in the fretboard’s uppermost region. A staple of the blues-rock vernacular, it appears in various forms in the classic solos of such notables as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rossington-Collins guitar team.

FIGURE 2

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Notice that the lick cycle causes a rhythmic displacement in the 4/4 meter. Launched on the downbeat, it repeats on the “and” of 2 and the downbeat of 4 in the first measure. Crossing the bar line, it picks up again on the “and” of 1 and then hits the downbeat of 3 and the “and” of 4 before reaching its conclusion in measure 3.

Repetition’s mesmerizing effect on the audience isn’t its only benefit. The device can also aid in navigating the demanding harmonies and breakneck tempos of bebop.

FIGURE 3 features a I-vi-ii-V progression in C major (Cmaj7–Am7–Dm9–G13), set at the formidable tempo f 240 bpm. For all but the most seasoned bebop guitarist, this would likely be a nightmare. Not only is the tempo a bear, but the rate at which these changes occur makes them a potential knuckle buster. Repetition tactics save the day, though, as a syncopated yet manageable octave-juggling act leads into a cycled Am7 arpeggio figure. This in turn inspires the modulating motifs that conclude the figure: Bb minor and Ab minor substitute triads.

FIGURE 3

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I MEANT TO DO THAT!
All guitarists make mistakes, but what separates the master from the novice, besides experience, is the ability to make “clams” work to his advantage.

Picture this: You’re at the tail end of a burning run when all of a sudden you land on a clunker! What to do? Make an embarrassed “sorry, folks” expression and stumble to the end of your solo in shame? Or continue undaunted, reiterating the supposed stink-bomb with a confident “I meant to do that” expression on your face?

We hope you’ll choose the latter.

In FIGURE 4, an E note its the intended target at the top of measure 2. And though an Eb rears its ugly head instead, the phrase calmly reiterates the mistake two more times before carrying on to a logical Am conclusion.

FIGURE 4

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THE SOLO
The solo shown in FIGURE 5 is in a funky, blues-rock vein. Sixteen bars long, the progression cruises the boundaries of an E7#9 chord, taking a turn here and there with several variations: a II-V turnaround in measure 4 (F#7–B7#9); a transitional bIII–I (G–E/G#) in measure 8; a couple of IV7 chords (A7) in measures 9 and 13; a bluesy bVI7 (C7) in measure 11; and a bVI–bVII (C–D) cadence in the outré. Note that the solo has been written in the key of E minor as opposed to E major for ease of reading.

The solo opens with a fierce E blues-scale (E G A Bb B D) lick. Starting in the pickup measure, it crosses the bar line before reaching a startling b5th-to-5th conclusion on the downbeat of measure 1. To make sure it gets its point across, the phrase repeats two more times in the next few measures, with lots of breathing space tucked between.

This lick is quite a string skipper, so here’s a tip: Pick down for the initial A-string attack, up on the G string, down on the D string, and up on the A string, finishing off with a down/up move for the last two notes (Bb and B on the G and B strings). This approach essentially applies alternate picking to a legato-fueled phrase.

Phrase 2 shaves off the last three notes of its predecessor and replaces it with another wicked string-skipping ilck: a cat and mouse between the 5th and b5th notes of the E blues scale. (Pick up-down-up for each three-note set.) This phrase is repeated three more times before it too receives a trim, resulting in phrase 3: a two-note juggle between the 3rd and sus4th of the F#7 chord. (Pick down on the G string, up on the B string.) After two quick repetitions and a transitional phrase that rides the E blues (add maj7) scale (E G A Bb B D D#), we’re at the next set of phrases.

Phrases 4–6 follow the same “lick surgery” theme introduced in bars 1–4. Phrase 4 starts the proceedings with a five-note chromatic-fueled line (B D D# E G). On its third repetition, the first note (B) is sheared off, forming the basis for phrase 5 (D D# E G). After this phrase is recounted twice, it also has its first note (D) lopped off, resulting in the last variation: phrase 6 (D# E G). This is restated three times before phrase 7 whips it into spin cycle, launching into sextuplets for the exciting climax. Measure 8 provides a transition as a pair of slow, slinky beats usher in the second half of the solo. (Use your first finger to bend the G to G#.)

In addition to repetition, outrageous bend maneuvers are the theme of the second section. Measures 9 and 13 host a machine-gun-like dispatch of fretted-note/half-step pre-bend pairings. In sequential order, they provide a minor-major-3rd rub against the A7 chord in measure 9, and a b5th-5th interplay over the same chord in measure 13. (Using your 2nd finger for these bends will help you lock into position for each ensuring measure.) Measures 10, 12 and 14 house some ultra-bluesy bends. In bar 14, use your 1st finger for the bend but release it before you hit the A note with your 3rd finger, or else the note will sound sharp.

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