November 29, 2015

Beyond Blues: Matt Schofield’s Sophisticated Solos

Mark Wigston

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In the three or so years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve been able to cover some big names and some unsung heroes, but none have been more requested than the fabulous Matt Schofield.

Bursting onto the scene in 2004 with his first trio record, The Trio, Live, Schofield showed little of the Brit-pop that his hometown of Manchester, England is known for and instead demonstrated a phenomenal connection with the classic blues sounds of the ’60s. Since then, he’s released four studio albums and a pair of live records that have catapulted him to prominence.

Schofield’s sound is unmistakable as he blends influences from players like Robben Ford, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, and Albert King. We’ve touched on his exquisite sense of melody before, but here we will dig into a pair of 12-bar solos that will illustrate how Schofield mixes pentatonic, Mixolydian, blues, and even Lydian dominant scales.

At first glance it might sound complicated, but the thing to remember is that you’re touching on specific flavors of each scale rather than seeing them as one big scale. Let’s start with Ex. 1, a straight-ahead blues progression in Bb. We open things up with the Bb minor pentatonic scale (Bb–Db–Eb–F–Ab), but add in the 6 (G). Some might say the 6 comes from the major pentatonic scale, but Robben Ford has been known to refer to the minor 6 pentatonic—where you swap out the b7 for the sweeter-sounding 6.

The key is to try and establish a “relationship” with these notes. Don’t think too much about what scale they’re from or what the correct scale might be. Think about how the note sounds, how it makes you feel, and if you like it. There’s nothing to stop you from playing the b9 over a dominant chord. Schofield does it all the time, Stevie Ray did it all the time, and Scott Henderson does it all the time. If that’s the melody you hear, and you play the note with the care and attention it needs, play on!

After the minor pentatonic-inspired phrase over the Bb7 in Ex. 1, we leave a bit of space to let the solo breathe. When the Bb7 returns we move to classic Bb blues scale (Bb–Db–Eb–E–F–Ab) territory. It’s a nice blend of what you’d expect while building some tension leading into the Eb7. Don’t underestimate even the simplest phrases. It’s not accidental that these notes fit so well. Schofield knows exactly what chord he’s playing over at any given time.

In the sixth measure we shift up to a pattern that looks a lot like the Eb major pentatonic scale (Eb–F–G–Bb–C), but with the b7 (Db) added for a little interest. This resolves perfectly to the Bb7 chord with some Bb major pentatonic (Bb–C–D–F–G) phrasing. It’s very cool how Schofield will start in minor and blues territory, but give the audience some major-sounding variations.

Over the F7 we’re using the F blues scale (F–Ab–Bb–B–C–Eb) to resolve nicely to an Eb Mixolydian (Eb–F–G–Ab–Bb–C–Db) sound. We also include a b3 (Gb) to build some tension before resolving to the 3 of Bb (D) on beat 1 of the next measure. Finally, we close out this solo with a triplet-based lick that touches on a pair of major triads (Bb and Eb) while ending with an essential blues cliché.

Click here for Ex. 1

Ex. 2 has some slightly trickier vocabulary, but still starts in classic territory with minor pentatonic and blues-scale phrasing. Measure 4 ups the difficulty with a slippery Bb triad arpeggio, which then moves down to resolve to the Eb major pentatonic scale for that chord, but you’re not stopping as you continue down for the resolution to the Bb blues scale.

In measure 7, we build on the ending lick in Ex. 1, but this time we slide up to lead into the V chord (F7) before shifting down into the Eb7. There’s a hint of the Eb Lydian dominant scale (Eb–F–G–A–Bb–C–Db) with the A on the 1st string, but we quickly move back to the Bb blues scale by the end of the measure.

Click here for Ex. 2

With that out of the way, here’s a backing track for you to practice these short solos over. Remember though, these aren’t to be seen as self-contained solos to be played in this one context. Go out and play bits of them in your own solos, add your own parts, adapt them, and find your own voice. I’m sure Matt would approve!

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