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Key to the Highway - Key to the Blues - An 8 Bar Blues Lesson.

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange
Difficulty Rating: Advanced

This is basically an accompaniment for the old tune 'Key to the Highway', or at least it uses the same progression. It will take some time to feel comfortable with this fairly advanced way of playing, but here you can learn some basic moves.

First off, I'd like to suggest that you DON'T try and learn this note-for-note or attempt to duplicate what I played here. I know that I have tabbed it all out and (laboriously) added all the dots to the virtual fretboard in the movie, but I think the main thing to concentrate on is the basic techniques I have used and to adapt them to your own hands/fingers/taste. I know that I find it almost impossible to learn other players' moves but I find quite easy to hear the 'feel' and then do my own version of filling in the details.

The progression:

It's an 8 bar blues -- a bit unusual in itself -- and it goes:

| I - - - | V - - - | IV - - - | - - - - | I - - - | V - - - | I - IV - | I - V - |

So, all primary chords (I-IV-V) but in a different sequence that a 12 bar. We're in E here, so the chords are E(7), A(7) and B7. Nothing unusual there. I do a little ending using a couple of other chords, but that's just an add-on to the basic progression.

You'll see that express those chords in a number of ways and positions and that's one of the main things to pay attention to. What I'm hearing in my head as I play this kind of thing are various melody lines that fit around those chords. It's the top line I'm hearing mostly, the treble notes, and I flesh those lines out with chords or double stops as I see fit. So I'm looking for positions that accommodate both of those elements: melody line and chords. Because I know my fretboard very well and because I've been doing this for a long long time, I can see all those positions laid out there for the picking. My PlaneTalk package' teaches how I 'see' the fretboard as one big long if you're wondering how I 'see' that.

You will notice in the video that I'm almost always holding down a chord shape and working the melody lines around those shapes. You'll easily recognize the open E, A and B7 shapes if you watch my hand (not the dots) and you'll see that I'm using spare fingers -- often the pinkie -- to work the melody through those chords. It's important to keep those shapes anchored down so that your picking hand will be picking chord tones and not just any old notes.

Sometimes the melody line becomes a bass line -- same thing really. One is higher than the chords, the other lower than the chords, but the same principle applies: hold down the chord shape and add the line with whatever finger is available. If you need to let go of the shape or part of it, then make sure your picking hand knows what strings are no longer available.

You will also notice a very important part of this feel: the right hand thumb is thumping away at the appropriate bass string, four to the bar, a steady pulse that pretty much goes throughout. That's where the relentless forward motion comes from. It might be a good idea to start by concentrating on this aspect. The key of A is good for this as the three chord have open string roots.

A talk through of the first 8 bars

The intro -- bars 1 and 2 -- is a standard sounding phrase, only I play it in a lower register than usual here. That little double stop moves down the fretboard and I keep adding the open B and E strings to the mix. No big deal.

The tune starts at bar 3. I play a little line that ends on the 4th fret of the thin E string. Because the chord is E, I can add a chord below that note. I added a D and B. That little shape is E7 (think of a D7 chord moved up two frets to E). So there is the first example of the melody line with a few chord tones attached where convenient. I could have made that little shape a plain old E triad but the 7th flavor was what I wanted to hear.

Bar 4: I'm holding the bottom (pitch wise) portion of a B7 chord and using my pinkie to play a melody line on the treble strings, both open and fretted. (The line resoves to the open E string, making that B7 a B7sus4)

Bar 5 and 6: All A ... the open A shape at first then bits of a A7 barred chord. Here I play a little bass line to start off with, under the open a shape, which turns into a melody line in a higher register. So you can see that the chord fragments are sort of sandwiched between the low notes and high notes of the line.

Bar 7: Back to the E, I do the same sort of thing here ... bass line over the E moving up into a melody line over the B7 at bar 8. The thumb keeps hitting those on-the-beat quarter notes.

Bars 9 and 10 are the 'turnaround', where the progression resolves and primes the listener for the next pass. I play each turnaround a little differently but this one is fairly standard. I play through four chords -- one per beat in bar 9 and then E7 and B7 in bar 10. I stick to the rule: play bass line and melody and sandwich some chord tones between them where convenient and where tasteful.

That gives you a bit of an idea of what's going on for the first pass through the 8 bars. The other passes through the 8 bars are variations on the same process: look for ways to express a bass and melody line or both, all the while keeping at least some chord tones in the mix to keep the lines glued to the progression.

A couple of things to note: 1) The turnaround at bar 17 is similar to the intro and to the figure just before the final chord. 2) At bar 19 I move up the fretboard and do a little bendy thing where I hold the top string steady at the 7th fret and bend the B string up a semitone. It's a bit tricky. At bar 21 I do a similar thing over the A7 chord but a different finger configuration and different notes. In the first case the 5 holds steady and the flat 3 bends up to a 3; in the second case the 9 holds steady and the 6 bends up to a flat 7. The tabs shows two separate notes for that bend but it is just one ... bent up.

At the end I play through a new progression: E - C#7 - F#7 - B7. This is just to herald an ending and it's a fairly standard blues progression. The C#, normally minor in the key of E, becomes a dom7 chord. It acts as a V chord to F#7, which in turn acts as a V chord to B7, which IS the V chord of E. I guess you could say that it's an arc of the circle of fifths.

So that's the nuts and bolts of it. Then there's that elusive quality we musicians call 'the feel'. In this case, it's a shuffle sort of feel. I tabbed this out in 12/8 to make that feel clear in the TAB. You can see that it's based on four sets of triplets per bar, a "ONE and A TWO and A THREE and A FOUR" vibe ... 'dotted crochet' is another way of saying it. The whole thing swings. I have said it many time before here: you need to let your fingers dance; 'feel' comes from the ability to let your fingers dance on the strings. Don't allow them to be shy about that ... they need to relax into it. They need to create the flow, and then go with it. It's a very subtle process.

Once again, I wouldn't try to replicate what I played here. Try to capture the feel and take plenty of time to work out a few bits and pieces that you like. Perfect those bits and then try some more and have a go at inventing some yourself that suit your fingers and taste. The main thing to remember is that any lines must always relate to the chord in play which you should be holding down in some position or other ... where possible. And try to keep that bass line thumping away to keep it all rolling along.

(I have color-coded each 8 bar passage in the TAB. Remember that the red numbers in the movie are the red bar count in the TAB.)

Have fun!

Guitar Lesson by Kirk Lorange

Kirk LorangeAs well as putting together these fingerstyle guitar lessons, I am also the author of PlaneTalk - The Truly Totally Different Guitar Instruction Package, which teaches a mindset, a way of thinking about music and a way of tracking it all on the guitar fretboard. Yes, there IS a constant down there in the maze of strings and fret wire, a landmark that points to everything at all times. I call it The Easiest Yet Most Powerful Guitar Lesson You Will Ever Learn and many testimonials at my site will back up that rather superlative description. If your goal as a guitar player is to be able to truly PLAY the guitar, not just learn by rote; to be able to invent on the fly, not memorize every note; to be able to see the WHOLE fretboard as friendly, familiar territory, not just the first 5 frets and to do it all without thinking about all those scales and modes, then you should read more here.