by Jude Gold & Brian Setzer

If you could pour Brian Setzer’s explosive mixture of rock, country, jazz, and rockabilly into the gas tank of a muscle car, you’d win any drag race. But while Setzer’s riffs sound like pure spontaneous combustion, they’re fueled by a strong understanding of scales, theory, bebop, and sight-reading.

Read on for the bop-a-billy guitar lesson from Brian Setzer…

Guitar Lesson

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Hotwired Scales
“Once you learn scales and chord progressions, you can make up your own versions,” offers Setzer. The tattooed guitarist loves teaching young players how to escape the diatonic doldrums. “Watch this,” he offers. “Instead of playing a regular A major scale like this one [plays Ex. 1], I’ll turn it into something like this.” [Plays Ex. 2, which adds chromatic notes and slides.]

Changing Lanes
While Ex. 2 surfs an A7 vamp nicely, the next step is adjusting to shifting harmonies. “Once you learn how to change with the chords, you can fill in the spaces,” says Setzer, demonstrating with Ex. 3, a swingin’ line that nails the chords’ outer extensions with a Charlie Parker-like flair. Give the phrase a swing feel, and slur the sixteenth-notes.

“What I’ve just played for you is bebop,” says Setzer. “Bebop ties together a lot of loose ends for me. But you don’t have to play that all night. At any time, you can go back into rocking.” Proving his point, Setzer busts into a high-octane mixture of Travis picking and blues.

Hot-Rod Harmony
“You can play a simple melody [plays Ex. 4a] and then add chords to it,” says Setzer. He then plays Ex. 4b, a harmonized version of the notes in Ex. 4a. Try it as a I-VI-IIV turnaround in E. “The best part about all this stuff,” says Setzer, “is that when people hear you play it, they really get it.”