Review: Quilter 101 Mini Head

Full disclosure before beginning, I am a “Quilter artist”, which means I am on their webpage as a player and have been mentioned in their social media. I am not an employee of Quilter or involved in any marketing or advertising company. The “free stuff” endorsement deals of yesteryear don’t exist anywhere anymore. In other words, I use and like their product. but they’re not paying me to do that. But….

They did send me one of their 101 Mini heads to beta test for them. I was not allowed to discuss, photograph, or video the little beast until the product was announced. Which just happened a few days ago. Alas, if I’d only made a video before sending it back. *sigh*

Quilter 101 Mini Head Review

So, one day I get a big box from Quilter delivered to me. I open it up, and there’s a little box inside; no, wait, that’s the amp.

Quilter official product photo. May be actual size depending on your monitor.
Quilter official product photo. May be actual size depending on your monitor.

This little guy weighs two pounds, which considering that it’s a metal enclosure, made me wonder if there was anything inside. My point of reference is my Quilter MicroPro Head, a 200 watt monster that weighs a back breaking (OK, pinky bending) 7 lbs. Quilter’s other tiny head, the Tone Block seemed tiny enough at 4 lbs, and I considered it basically the stripped down engine of the 200 watt MicroPro and Aviator lines. And where I had thought of the Tone Block as primarily intended to be a power amp, with it’s gain and EQ controls, some users look to it as a neutral mini-head to put stompbox signals into.

Anyone using or thinking of using the Tone Block as a mini head owes it to themselves to check out the features the the 101 Mini has to offer. First the gain is there, but there are more tone shaping controls on the 101. While I’m a traditional amp guy, and prefer the three knob EQ plus Presence of many amps, the Tri-Q and Hi-Cut allow for a lot of options using only two knobs; absolutely necessary for the tiny amount of space to mount full size knobs. A sweep of the Tri-Q all the way counterclockwise gives scooped mids (not my favorite for most) at noon the frequencies are flat and all the way clockwise cuts the bass (my preferred for many of the sounds on this rig had a bit of bass cut). Likewise, the Hi-cut is just what you’d imagine, a sort of anti-presence or anti-bright switch for possible ice-pick frequencies.

Running through the amp voicings: Those familiar with the Quilter Full-Q sound (the sound of the Aviator line and the default setting for the MicroPro voicings) will not be surprised or disappointed, it is the full bodied Quilter sound. On my demo (serial number 101Demo02, I believe) the setting now called Tweed was then named “Blues”. This was also a familiar setting, though I felt a bit of difference between it and my MicroPro Tweed setting, but both remind me of 5E3 Deluxes. I’m not a huge Neil Young fan, but I can’t help crank the gain and play the opening to “Cinnamon Girl” on this setting.

The Jazz setting was something new to me, and of course made a bit more “dark” and “mellow” of a tone, even rounding out the sound of my single coils to play some tasty Telecaster jazz. The other clean sound is Surf, which I imagine to be shaped after some Fender Blackface sound… it had a bit more bottom end for my taste for that sound, but after adjusting the EQ, became a toss-up between it and the Full-Q for my most used sound.

Initially the most confusing one for me was called “Metal” on my demo but now called Lead. Like “Blues” to Tweed, this name change is a very good call, as the first thing I did when I saw the name Metal was to set it to the scoop setting and crank the gain. Not at all satisfying… while you can get a nice gritty sound, no Quilter amp yet made is “high gain” by any stretch. Putting some distortion in front (in my case a VFE Dark Horse) Changed that dramatically. I tuned the guitar down to baritone range and had a good amount of fun going “chugga-chugga-djent-djent” for awhile. While you can get those sounds, you have to use a good stompbox. “So why did they call it Metal?” I thought to myself. Taking the Tri-Q settings out of scoopville and playing open chords and some lead lines, I got it. This was classic rock land very similar to my old ’78 Marshall 50 watt master volume. Using just a bit of overdrive got some nice sustainy leads of the late 70’s to 80’s hard rock variety. So Lead is a better name; but just like an old Marshall, you can play all kinds of heavier music through it if you know what pedal you like.

Some of the first people to see this have said “where’s the reverb”. 1) There’s no more room on the face for knobs. 2) it’s a huge sounding head that weighs less than 2 pounds. 3) The suggested retail price is just under 300 bucks. 4) If you gotta have reverb, get a pedal and use the effects loop. Wait.. what’s that? Yeah, that’s right, this also has an effects loop.

Since this was such a tiny beast, I strapped it to a Pedaltrain Mini, then put a tc electronics HOF mini reverb and a Flashback mini delay in the effects loop. I set the reverb toneprint to a nice spring reverb amp sound and switched between some slapback and some spacious delay sounds. It just plain worked. It gave me great sounds out of each voicing and at a variety of gain settings. Likewise, putting a Fly5 rig or an Ethos preamp into just the return turned the 101 mini into a power amp (though if I remember correctly, it was more than the Hi-cut… I think the voicings, which still affected the tone, which I found surprising. Best to set to Full Q and leave the rest neutral for your pre-amps or modelers, I presume).

Power? Rated at 50 watts and up to 100 on the clean (Jazz and Surf) settings. How loud? Plenty enough for club shows, blues jams, and a pair of outdoor shows. The only time I opened it up all the way was at one of the outdoor settings where the band before us invited me to do an Allman Brothers tune, and the guy had two (!) Dr. Zs onstage and was playing way, way louder than I prefer. Loud as the MicroPro through the same speakers? Let’s just say no. I’ve never come near opening up the MicroPro all the way.

I was sent this amp to try out, because I was asking Chris at Quilter about the Tone Block. I think there are a few people who were considering Tone Block and now seeing this new device are wondering what to get. My suggestion is, if you’re looking for something to power pre-amps the Tone Block still may be what you want, and does still make a good, if bare bones, guitar head. But, if what you’re looking for is a mini head, especially if you have stompboxes, you might prefer 101.

What does the ToneBlock do that the 101 can’t? 200 watts class D and a DI out.

What’s different about the 101 Mini from ToneBlock? 5 amp voicings, Hi-Cut (more tone shaping), effects loop, headphone out, smaller and lighter.

So how did they pry it out of my hands? Well, after all, it was a demo, and not mine. I did notice a tiny amount of noise at zero volume and reported it as any good tester should. Quilter immediately asked to check it out at their facility, they followed up to me that they confirmed the issue already corrected in the production run.

I still wish that I’d gotten video before I returned it. And once I get past my current condition known as “poverty”, I’m still balancing which Quilter device I’ll get next, but at the $300 range, this is an astonishing deal.

Chapter 4: Working to 12 Tone Blues Guitar

Wrapping up the notes with one useful idea:

While trying to decide how to present the last three notes, I realized there is one great musical technique that uses all of the remaining notes… but for the format I’ve been presenting these lessons, it’s cheating a bit. It is a great technique, borrowed more from the jazzier side of the blues; used quite a lot in straight jazz: Enclosures. Basically pick a target note, start a half step above it then play a half step below it (enclosing it) then play the note. In this case we’ll do the notes for the I chord in the key of C.

Enclosures on the root, 5th and 3rd of the I chord in C. In this move, we'll surround the chord tones. Half step above, then half step below, then play the note.
Fig 1. Enclosures on the root, 5th and 3rd of the I chord in C. In this move, we’ll surround the chord tones. Half step above, then half step below, then play the note.

Right off the bat we enclose the root with the flat 2nd and the natural 7th, there’s two notes we haven’t used yet. The second enclosure uses the flat 6th and the #4 (T.T) to surround the fifth, so there’s the note we added from the previous chapter, and the last remaining note.

Fig. 2 diagram of enclosures on the root, 5th, and 3rd of the I chord.
Fig. 2: Diagram of enclosures on the root, 5th, and 3rd of the I chord.

So, hey, there are all of the notes. I hope you enjoyed this series and… OK, I said this was cheating at the top of the lesson.

 The natural 7th:

We’re doing examples in C today, but go ahead and play on any key. Hit the natural 7th on the I chord. Sounds terrible if you just leave it there, right? A severely dissonant tone. It’s also a tritone away from the root on the IV chord, also not a note to stick. But try this lick on a turnaround:

Fig 3: The magic note!
Fig 3: The magic note!

One night on a jam a much younger me was just noodling away on a minor pentatonic, when my finger slipped right at the end and this melodic note popped out and made a perfect exclamation point to an otherwise mediocre blues solo, similar to the lick above. I wasn’t the only one to notice, got a smattering of applause and a smile and a nod from another musician onstage. But why? Why did this natural 7th, this otherwise horrible sounding note on a blues work right at the end? Well, that was the note that got me out of key thinking and into playing the changes. Instead of thinking of the always safe “key of x, use x pentatonic minor” I realized that natural 7th was also the major 3rd of the V chord, the last chord of a standard blues turnaround. To this day, I do variations on tagging that note at the end of a solo probably at least once a night.

I’ll cover this in another lesson soon, but this started me on focusing on the fattest chord tones for each chord during the progression.

Take the time to look at enclosures and coming up with melodic ideas that hit the major 3rd on the V chord. The last installment for this series will cover the b2 and the #5/b6 in their roles in two unusual but useful scales for the blues.

FIg 4. Add the Major 7th to your grid.
Fig 4. Add the Major 7th to your grid.

Learn the Numbers

I have a good friend who also occasionally gets guitar lessons from me, who is advancing into the why (music theory) of guitar while working with learning the how. We missed an opportunity to have the lesson this week, but since my current main article deals with “the numbers” and another article I was writing regarding the pros and cons of learning the CAGED system had me talking about that, too, I’ll cover both the basics and offer something cool, by way of my guitar playing friend and former teacher Terry Bay of Salem, OR.

First of all guitarists know that an octave is broken up by twelve half steps; play the low open E string, play a note for each fret, and wind up at the twelfth fret. Double marker on most guitars, and also the same letter again. The physics is that the fundamental pitch is now vibrating twice as fast as the original one… same note, but higher.

Anyway, the main point here is that while there are twelve half steps, the heart of the number system is the major scale. For a major scale in any key, the steps are broken up into the same number of whole steps (two frets up on your guitar) and half steps (one fret up) like this: Whole step, whole, Half step, whole, whole, whole. half.

or: 1 /W\ 2/W\ 3 /h\ 4 /W\ 5 /W\ 6 /W\ 7 /h\

7 notes, plus the eighth being the octave, or the root, or the 1 again. For instance the Key of C having no sharps or flats is

C-(Whole step)-D-(W)-E-(1/2)-F-(W)-G-(W)-A-(W)-B-(1/2)-

So in a major scale for any key, the 1/2 step occurs between 3 and 4 (E and F in the key of C) and the 7 and 8 (B and C in the Key of C)

So let’s expand this out to twelve keys:

Fig.1 The Wonder Chart
Fig.1 The Wonder Chart

So this is the tool that Terry gave me many years ago, with a few subtle adjustments by me. The more you learn about construction, the more you can plug in, but hopefully you work to the point where you can do “the math” in your head. Here is some starting points. If I ask for a major scale in E flat, a quick look at the chart says that the notes of the scale are Eb, F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D. The three major chords in the key (for “three chords and the truth) are the I the IV, and the V. In the Key of Eb, we see those chords (1) Eb major, (4) Ab major, and (5) Bb major (or Bb7). If we know that a major chord is comprised of the 1,3, and 5 from the scale, we can see that an Eb major chord is made up of Eb, G, and Bb. If we know that the relative minor key is made from the 6th degree, we know that C minor is relative to Eb major. We could then start on teh C from that line and say the C minor scale is C, D Eb, F, G, Ab, and Bb. Or… if you know that the difference  between the major and minor key is a flat 3, and flat 6 and a flat 7, you could go up to the C major line and say the scale is C, D, flat the third Eb, F, G, flat the 6th, Ab, and flat the 7th Bb…

Okay, this is more theory than you need to know to read the chart, but the idea is to be able to take any bit of number theory you get and plug it into this chart. For example, as I mentioned above, a major chord consists of a 1, 3, and 5. in your G line, you can see those notes are G, B, D. You can then take a bit of new information like a minor chord consists of a 1, a flattened third, and a 5, and looking at the same line you’ll now know that a G minor chord consists of G, Bb, and D.

For many of you, you probably understand the numbers already. If you do, I hope you realize several uses for and the convenience of the Wonder Chart. Knowing the numbers is going to be really necessary to the twelve tone blues series that’s going on now as well as other upcoming ideas. Thanks for following along in this blog.

Editorial: “CD is a Loud Guitar Player”

This is a subject a long time brewing with me and my place in the local music community, but had a big group of issues come at once to bring this up: A few “loud” gigs. A few recent jams with a good upright player, and with two “loud” drummers. a recent Facebook meme passed between bass players about the loud guitar player telling them to turn down. etc. etc.

My name is CD Woodbury and I have a reputation of being a loud guitar player. This is even though I prefer having monitors where I can hear my vocals, where my ears don’t ring after the show, (or I have to wear a custom set of earplugs, even though they are very nice), even though I can go out to shows several times a week and witness one of my guitar playing brethren making bigger violations on this front.

On one front, I believe that for many casual listeners of blues, rock, and a few other styles; if the band is too loud, “the guitar player is too bleeping’ loud.” I remember one night in the early days of my career, hosting a weekly jam at the Westside Station in Salem, Oregon. The then owner pointed out that I should turn the guitar down. I pointed out that since I hadn’t yet even turned on the amplifier, I could put it outside and still not play any quieter.

There is a dilemma I have. I currently play blues guitar, but have played a extensive variety of different styles of music in their context. I have had some experience playing percussion, and I played bass in bands before I played guitar. In the context of the style I play currently, the bulk of the best examples of electric blues that I call upon either used stand up bass, or electric in the “pre-SVT” era of bass amplification for bass guitar. Guitar is the prevalent instrument in the mix (other than vocal), this is a holdover of the Delta blues, where guitar was frequently the only accompaniment. I would also point out that I started out, as a lot of kids of my generation, playing rock, where most albums feature louder drums. Especially after somewhere around the late sixties to seventies. Since rock was still very derivative of “blues” during that period, I believe many rhythm sections still key off that. And then modern bass amplification came into the picture.

I believe that volume, and many volume issues, in a blues band come up from the bottom. The drums cue off of the bass, and my guitar cues off of the drums. And me in my belief and my …ego, that believes the guitar should be at a certain point in the mix generally drives things up when comparing to the drums.

Recently, I played at a jam a few weeks at the same location with my friend Lon on bass. Lon is a friend who many years ago started coming out to jam sessions that I hosted playing bass guitar, with hobbyist skills and a sense of humor about his skill level. Years down the road he got himself an acoustic bass, then got proficient at it, and then most recently became confident in his abilities with it. A great transformation.  And in two prior weeks, I had the opportunity to play with him, and two of the more well known blues drummers around town, both with a reputation of “hitting hard”… except they didn’t hit hard with the amplified stand up bass. With a different sound, they locked in, as good drummers and bass players are prone to do, and I was left with a reasonable level to play at, a more traditional sound to play off of, and my vocals were both stronger and more “playful” because I could hear them in the monitors and could do more stuff not having to push to hear myself. Another  musician whom I respect told me it sounded “world class”, I just know it felt great and it was comparatively quiet.

There is a flip side to too loud from the bottom. I worked with a world class band leader at another point. The bass player in pursuit of a more “traditional” sound didn’t even turn up to a point I could hear it, which may have been a good thing because they also thought a part of the traditional sound involved actively not tuning the bass. With the bass virtually missing, I felt myself working too hard for grooves and rhythm, and feeling virtually alone during solos. So I eventually gave up working with a world class musician. Such is life.

Takeaway:

Guitarists: Many of you ARE too loud, and if your band is being mixed by a sound engineer, you are almost certainly making it impossible to mix effectively if you are (and likely playing with too much distortion, but that will be a separate editorial). Some things to help things out: Use a tilt back or stand for combos or something to elevate the speaker to ear height instead of knee height. I worked with one guitarist who insisted on playing his JC-120 at full volume standing right in front of it. If the backs of his knees had ears he might have turned down, but at that vantage point he had the worst seat in the house for monitoring his own instrument.  One other decent tool, IMHO, is a Weber beam blocker, which is simply a little parabolic device in front of the speaker cone to bounce the sound around a bit to the sides instead of right out the front in a focused pattern.

Bass man: I want to hear you, but with your mega watt rig, I probably already do. It really does cue off of the bottom, and as I mentioned above, a lot of the best examples of the style that I play, doesn’t have you that prominent in the mix. And it’s ok. I’ve done big band jazz as a guitarist, and understand what it’s like to play a necessary but less stated role. And you can probably rock out later in the set with most groups.

Drums: As a guitarist, I cue volume off of you. If you start hitting harder, I will likely get louder too. Discuss things with the rest of the rhythm section.

Sound engineer: Machiavelli says that to have power is to abuse it, but that mega-watt bass mix with the cannon shot sound for the bass drum that works for hip-hop and heavy metal… trust me when I say it doesn’t work at all for Blues, Jazz, Folk, most Classic Rock, or virtually any other style, particularly anything with a dynamic or acoustic aspect. The few that understand this are worth your weight in gold, and if I could afford it I would make you a statue, the rest of you stop, stop, stop, cranking the sub bass and killing live music for the styles I love.

I guess in the end I’m saying “I’m CD and I’m a loud guitar player” but if I get  that mix point that I’m familiar with at a quiet point, I’ll play quiet. I am equally uncomfortable when my balance point is noticeably louder than the band as I am when I can’t hear my instrument clearly. Or… I’m loud, but I’m almost never loud *alone*.

Chapter 3: Working to 12 tone Blues Guitar

I hope that you’ve spent some time exploring tensions and resolutions of each of the individual notes for each chords. The next note is tense for all three chords, but an absolutely essential blues note.

The Flat 5

Ok, the past two lessons were “scales” and frequently the next step for many guitarists is to add in “The blues scale” which is nothing other than the minor pentatonic with the flat 5 added in. I’m going to propose the radical idea of it being the first added note.

AddFlat5
Fig 1. Adding the flat 5 to the minor pentatonic, the blues scale.

TT. Tritone. The Devil’s 3rd. Augmented fourth / diminished fifth. Diabolus in musica. Play the root and then the flat 5. Play them together. This “evil” sounding interval was listed as a sound to be avoided in Medieval music and picked up the sinister reputation in the early eighteenth century. In a future lesson about chords, I’ll show how this interval is essential to the blues harmony, but right now we’re just looking at adding this note to our soloing vocabulary.

I mentioned earlier that this is a tense note for all three chords, but it’s a beautiful “ornament” or passing tone for all three chords. Part of my approach with this series of lessons is not to give you a bunch of licks, but the tools to make your own. But I’ll make an exception right now to give you some idea of how beautiful this ugly note can be for the blues.

b5Licks
Fig 2. Some b5 classic licks.

So, spend a bit of time with this particular note for all three chords, but I find that for all three it’s perfect as something to move through or away from and not usually a note to “stick”. On the one chord, as you see with the above licks, the note works fine going to the 4 or the 5. You can use it on a run up or down between those notes. On the five chord, if you land on it, you can either move a half step down (the b7 of the V chord) or a half step up, but there is a bit more gravity going up (to the root of the V chord). On the IV chord, landing on this interval generally wants to move down a half step ( to the root of the IV chord)

Anyway, long winded way of saying it’s tense on all three chords, but it’s good.

So after taking time working this one in, we should now have nine out of twelve notes under our fingers and in our heads for improving over a blues.

Fig 3. Add that scary red TT in with those polite pentatonics.
Fig 3. Add that scary red TT in with those polite pentatonics.

Chapter 2: Working to 12 tone Blues Guitar

Review:

Ok, I hope that you have spent a bit of time working out and playing around with the stable and tense notes for each of the three chords in a typical blues. It is essential that within this “key based” system (i.e. playing an A min pentatonic over all three chords in an A blues) you are beginning to hear the harmony shift underneath and to shift the note selection to match. This is not to say just to target the stable tones; again, a really good improvisor tells a story, and I like to think of tension and resolution as questions and answers in my head. “Did I leave the iron on?” (phrase ends with tense note) “You haven’t ironed your clothes in years.” (phrase ends with stable note)

Fig 1. C minor pentatonic scale over the entire neck, I - IV - V tensions and resolutions.
Fig 1. C minor pentatonic scale over the entire neck, I – IV – V tensions and resolutions.

Here are the notes over the entire neck for the key of C. The one major advantage that guitar has over many other instruments is that when you learn a closed fingering pattern (anything with no open strings) in one key, you can play it in all twelve. Work out all twelve keys for the pentatonic minor scale and play some of your same new melodies that you’ve come up with in the new keys. (note: this advantage is also one of the bigger reasons most guitarists can’t or at least don’t read standard notation. Often we learn grids instead.)

The reason that it’s essential to do this is for the new lesson, we will be adding another common scale, but targeting notes during the changes is going to become much more important in this chapter.

Chapter 2: Major pentatonic scale

This scale is also likely to be familiar to most of you. The major pentatonic scale is comprised of the root (1), 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th. For just about any grid or fingering system that you prefer, moving any of the familiar shapes from the minor pentatonic down three frets will give you the same notes as the major pentatonic. For example, if you play the C minor “box” and move it down to the A minor “box” you will have the same notes that are in the C major pentatonic. Just be sure to note that the root is now in a different place.

Let’s stay in the key of C for our examples, and let’s play over just a C7 chord in the same way we did for the previous lesson. We already know the root and 5th are stable. The major third is the interval that defines the chord as a major sound, so you have all three notes of the major triad within the scale. The 6th is a tense note, but will add a bit of a swing jazz flavor to melodies. The 9th is also a tense note, but like the sixth, is a bit sweet. You might recognize this sound used quite a bit in country music and some pop.

So mixing ideas and mixing up notes from the major and minor pentatonic scale work great on the I chord. (If you’ve never done it before try some licks where you go immediately from the flat 3rd to the major 3rd, “the blue note”) Now try this scale on the IV and V chords. Things get dicey, I’ll save you a little grief on the other two chords…

Fig 2: Major Pentatonic
Fig 2: Major Pentatonic “box” in root position. I – IV – V tensions, resolutions, and avoid tones.

Look at the IV chord grid. The major 3rd for the I chord becomes the major 7th of the IV chord. Extremely dissonant considering the chord contains the root and the flat 7th. This scale drops in the note in-between those two.  And the scale doesn’t even include the root for the IV chord, so I’ve sort of penciled it in with some hollow squares on this picture. One trick if you ever land that awful note is just to slide it up a fret into the root. Or you can hit the “bad” note two more times like a jazz player to say that you really meant it. Despite not having the root, and having a note that should be avoided, there are still two stable notes in this scale. The root of the I chord is now the 5th of the IV chord (ex. in the Key of C; the root, C, becomes the 5th scale degree of the IV chord F [F – A – C – Eb]) and the 6th of the I chord becomes the 3rd of the IV chord (ex. in the Key of C; the 6th, A, becomes the 3rd of the IV chord, F [F – A – C – Eb]).

The V chord doesn’t have any nasty surprises, but still is made up of either tension notes, or the two most stable (the root and the 5th)

Exercises

So the scale is, admittedly, not as nice to the IV and V chords as it is to the I chord. Still, start by doing the same as you did for the minor pentatonic. Start with playing ideas over one static chord for each (I7, IV7, and V7) then play over a 12 bar form.

The next step would be to try “shifting gears” during the progression. Try doing the I chord in major pentatonic ideas, and then the IV and V in minor. Then try overlapping your favorite notes from both (Such as adding the root and b7 on the IV chord while using the other notes from the major pentatonic, minus the avoid tone). Then try adding the avoid tone and quickly shifting to the root.

I will apply more “shifting gears” ideas in other series where we will look at different ways of plugging in patterns or melodies on a blues progression.

Just by using these two scales, we are two thirds of the way to utilizing all 12 notes.

Fig. 3: Minor + major pentatonics overlapped.
Fig. 3: Minor + major pentatonics overlapped.

We’ll just plug in the the last four notes individually from here in this series.

Intro and Chapter 1: Working to 12 Tone Blues Guitar

Intro:

I am primarily known as a blues guitarist, so I’m going to start a series with the use of notes to create melodies (improv) over a twelve bar blues progression. The intent is to help you find a way to utilize all of the notes in short order, but will only show one or a few ways to do this instead of getting too deep into approaches and systems. I’ll save those for a different series.

This lesson pre-supposes that you understand at least the rudiments of keys, “numbers”, chord structure, and the three chords that go in to the most basic 12 bar blues progression, and you can play those chords on your instrument.

||: I7   | I7   | I7   | I7   |

| IV7  | IV7  | I7   | I7   |

| V7   | IV7  | I7   | V7  :||

The most common starting point most instructors and methods will give a beginner is five notes that generally work over all three chords. The minor pentatonic scale, usually shown in the “box” form.

box
Fig. 1: Pentatonic Minor “box”

While all five of these notes are “safe” for all three chords, which makes it a great starting point for a beginner to learn improvising… well “safe” can also be “boring” unless you are very creative with it. And as you get more into the blues you’ll find that even players who supposedly “only play in the box” actually do add extras to make things more interesting.

Which notes can I use to be more interesting? I use these:

Fig 2. All The Notes!
Fig 2. All The Notes!

I would, of course, be no help if I left it there and said “there, now you know, go play some blues.” This series, we’ll build to a point that you can use all the notes one step at a time.

Chapter 1:

All right, are we excited? Ready to build our melodic choices? Here’s the first set of notes I’d like you to work with:

Fig 1. Minor Penta…  hey, what?
Fig 1. Minor Penta… hey, what?

Okay, yes it’s the same pentatonic minor scale, shown here in the box, though if you know all five CAGED forms or you are comfortable with any other approach, feel free to apply it to this set of exercises.

The biggest concept I want to add to this set of notes that you should already be familiar with is to begin to apply them to each of the three chords within the progression. This will be the key to adding note choices later, as playing some of those extra notes later may sound sweet on the V and dissonant on the I.

Construction

The notes for any key are the 1 (root), the flat 3rd (b3), the 4th, the 5th, and the flat 7th (b7). So for example for the key signature of C, with no sharps of flats, the C minor pentatonic scale is a C, Eb, F, G, and Bb. It would be a good idea now to work out what the notes are in all 12 keys. One bit of fun that will be more important later: The scale is comprised entirely of the chord tones 1 and b7 of each of the three chords. Again, example Key of C: The I chord, C7; C, E, G, Bb. The IV chord F7: F, A, C, Eb. The V Chord, G7: G, B, D, F.

Exercise

If you get nothing else from this lesson, this is what I want you to work out before moving to more notes: Make a recording or use a looper, of just a long sustained chord or groove over one chord.  Play out one note at a time, each of these five notes and make mental notes of whether each note sounds stable or tense, Make notes for each of the five notes over all three chords. Do it on your own before going to the next section here. Do in any key, start with the C examples given if the theory seems confusing right now.

Next Step

Now didya really do it or are you peeking? You’re only cheating yourself if you’re peeking.

Okay, what you probably found was that each chord had different stable and dissonant tones in this scale, even if they all “work”. You probably noticed that some of the stable notes sounded stabler than others and some tense notes were tenser than others. this is very good, but let’s just keep this concept binary for the moment.

I Chord: 1 = stable, b3 = tense, 4 = tense, 5 = stable, b7 = stable. Three chord tones (1, 5, b7).

IV Chord: 1 = stable, b3 = stable, 4 = stable, 5 = tense, b7 = tense. Three chord tones (4, 1, b3).

V Chord: 1 = tense, b3 = tense, 4 = stable, 5 = stable, b7 = tense. Two chord tones (4, 5).

OK, lets take just a moment to talk about tension and resolution in music. The first step you might see in this exercise as to plan licks or melodies that land on the stable notes of each of the three chords. For the interest of learning this is great. But I want to add one more layer to the concept that we’re building on here. Think of a conversation or story. A conversation, you might  have someone ask a question (adding tension) and then someone else giving a good answer (relief). You might try familiar melodies on each key and see if they land on a tense or stable note. What happens if you play a familiar cries of notes and targeted a stable note to land on a chord just being changed. Or ask a series of questions building to an answer right at the end of the progression… or maybe on the early part after the next repeat.

Spend a good amount of time applying this familiar scale over all three chords and work possible conversations for each of them. Spend some time with this idea before moving to the next section.

Introduction

Hi, my name is CD Woodbury and I’m a lifelong musician and guitar player. No those two things don’t contradict each other. They shouldn’t.  😉

There are quite a few resources online for beginners, of varying quality, some are excellent. When it comes to more advanced ideas, most things I’ve found are just a taste or disjointed ideas (often as a teaser for buying a series) or “play like me showing off” videos of stars playing licks.

I had a lull in between day jobs and did a quick listing of possible guitar books that I could write. Some with ideas I haven’t seen presented in the way that I’ve taught for private students, a few ideas that I think are different, and a few that are “styles” that are under-represented. Rather than do them in book form and try to seek a publisher, I’m starting the blog, planning on presenting my case and a few extras to Patreon, and putting the core ideas… all of them, online.

I do plan on other commentary, music theory lessons, and reviews, perhaps some performance videos here and there. This is my plan, but since I put the “pro” in procrastination, let’s see what I can accomplish.

And if you’ve read all the way through this pretentious opening, welcome! I hope to give you some good information, and develop better writing skills. One way or another, it will get better and I will make it worth your time.