Chicago Blues Guitar Fills

Chicago Blues guitar fills are short instrumental lines that occur between vocal phrases. This lesson will teach you short licks that can be used for this purpose and show you what to play, when to play and how to play it.

As Chicago Blues guitarists, we spend about 80% of the time playing rhythm or Chicago Blues guitar fills behind a singer (or another soloist), so practising fills is time well spent.

The licks in this chapter form the vocabulary from which later solos will be built. It’s a logical way to learn a language; first learn some words, then build short sentences with these words, and finally form some complete stories with these sentences.

When playing Chicago Blues guitar fills, you need to be clear about some of the different aspects of playing:

• First, you need to know what to play. There is no right and wrong, and what you play is a matter of taste and experience. Having more choices and experience usually leads to better results.

• Next, you need to know when to play. One way to do this is to listen closely to the phrasing of the singer. Play between their vocal phrases, not over them. After hearing the first chorus you would normally become familiar as to how the singer phrases as it is usually consistent from chorus to chorus. Examples 6o – 6q take a close look at this concept.

• Finally, add feeling and expression to your melodies. This is how to play. It involves using techniques such as slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, bends and vibrato.

The notation will show you these techniques but you don’t have to copy my articulation exactly; you can add your own style and personality to each phrase. For example, do you want to add vibrato on a certain note? How fast should it be? How wide? These are all personal decisions and will make your solos expressive and unique.

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 1

Here is your first lick. On the repetition the last note is played an octave higher.

The bending idea in the next lick is a real classic. It was featured in Rolling Stone Chicago Blues by Muddy Waters and many others. Later, it made its way into Rock music in tracks like Voodoo Child (Slight Return) by Jimi Hendrix, and Are You Gonna Go My Way? by Lenny Kravitz.

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 2

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 2

The exact timing of the bend and release in this Chicago Blues guitar fill is hard to notate, so listen closely to the recording. On the repetition, the lick jumps up to the high root again.

The open position is especially useful in the keys of E and A. This lick is the basis for solo 9a.

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 3

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 3

Here is similar lick, this time in the key of A. By repeating the lick with slight variations, we create the beginning of a soulful solo. Once again, the bending adds expression.

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 4

Chicago Blues Guitar Fill 4

Play What You Sing.

One of the best tips given by professional, improvising musicians is to play what you sing. Play on the guitar what you sing, hum (or squeak). Let your ear and voice be the guide, not your fingers on the guitar! You will immediately start to sound a lot more musical and vocal. If you like a phrase that you sing, find it on the guitar, if not, sing another phrase and try again. Pretty soon you’ll start to hear the sounds in your head before you play them.

For more Chicago Blues Check out Andi’s best-selling book, The Chicago Blues Guitar Method: