How to become a session guitarist

In last month’s Total Guitar (issue 214, with Zakk Wylde on the cover), I wrote a feature on how to become a session guitarist, called “Gun For Hire.”

I interviewed 5 guys: Luke Potashnick – an in-demand session guitarist, Mike Stevens – probably Britain’s top MD, Sue Carling – a top agent booking session musicians for TV, Cliff Jones – a producer for Polydor and other major labels, and Chris Difford, the legendary Squeeze frontman.

I asked all of them what they look for in a guitarist, and they all had different and insightful answers. Some great tips got left out of the article because of space, so I might try to find time to post them here. Two in particular spring to mind. Mike Stevens mentioned that the Bedford and the Cobden Club are two great places in London to meet touring musicians and MDs (and that you do really have to move to London if you’re serious about this). Cliff Jones suggested that studio producers are looking for guitarists who specialise in a given style, and you should have a dedicated myspace or website for promoting your session skills in that particular style.

Whenever I interview students applying to BIMM, they all say they want to become session musicians. Most people think of a session guitarist as a guy who gets up in the morning, drives to a studio, plays on a Madonna record before lunch, a Michael Jackson record after lunch, and goes home again. Sadly, the days of studio players like that are mostly over. The majority of modern professionals make their money from various income streams: functions gigs, live sessions, studio sessions, theatre shows, teaching, magazine writing, library music, product demonstrations, and whatever other work comes up. That’s why I teach my students (the ones who are aspiring session players, at least) a load of different skills.

Anyway, the article is now online at for you to check out. And visit for more info on my lessons.

Blues turnarounds 3: Major pentatonic

Here’s another option for playing over a major 12 bar blues: the major pentatonic.

Trouble is, you can’t play A major pentatonic all the way through a 12 bar like you can A minor pentatonic. It sounds crap over the D7 chord and it doesn’t do a particularly great job over the E7 either. To get round this, we’re going to use a different major pentatonic for each chord. You’ll play A major pentatonic over A7, D major pentatonic over D7, and… yeah, you got it.

Again, I’ve tried to stick in one area of the neck. It’s difficult to make your licks flow if you’re having to jump five frets between chord changes. So I’ve used E major pentatonic shape 3 (that’s the C shape, CAGED system fans), D major pentatonic shape 4 (A shape in the CAGED system), and A major pentatonic shape 1 (E shape). All of these hover around the 5th fret position where you should feel at home.

If you’re not used to using these it can be difficult to improvise because you won’t have any lick vocabulary. For one thing, listen to guys like Freddie King or Robben Ford who do this well. For another, take the time to write some licks using these scales that work. Your musicality will improve loads as a result.

Don’t forget to download the free tab, and contact me with any questions.


Download free tab: Blues Turnarounds

Improvising with arpeggios part 2

Next to “How do I get out of the pentatonic?” the next most common improvising question must be “How do I get away from the 5th fret?”

Here’s another example of using dominant 7th arpeggios over a 12 bar turnaround, but this time I’ve moved up to the 10th fret to start exploring further up the neck. I’m using the top part of the A shape arpeggio for the E7 chord, and the G shape for D7. My A7 arpeggio extends through the E and D shapes. If you don’t know what the hell I mean by E and D shapes, I’m using the CAGED system.

Let me know how you get on.


Click here to download the tab: Blues Turnarounds.

How to get out of your pentatonic rut

One of the most common questions students ask me is, “how can I get out of playing the same old pentatonic licks?”

Since you ask, here’s the first part of a series on alternatives to the minor pentatonic when you’re soloing over a major 12 bar blues.

In this lesson, you’ll learn how to use dominant 7th arpeggios over the turnaround (that’s the last four bars) of a 12 bar. We’re in A major, so those chords are E7, D7, and A7.

Arpeggios are made up entirely of the notes in the chord, so they always fit perfectly over the changes. The only problem is that when most guitarists start trying to improvise with arpeggios, they stop playing licks and start wondering up and down the shapes. This sounds crap. Don’t do it. It’s important to phrase with arpeggios the same way you would with the pentatonic scale. Use bends, slides, hammer-ons and pull-offs, double stops, rhythmic variety, and dynamics to make it sound musical.

In the video, you’ll see me playing over a turnaround exclusively using arpeggios. It still sounds bluesy, and it gives you an alternative to the minor pentatonic. Rather than flying around all over the neck, I’ve used arpeggios that are all in the same area of the neck. If you know the CAGED system, I’ve used the C shape for the E7 arpeggio, the A shape for the D7 arpeggio, and the E shape for A7. All those arpeggios fit around the 5th fret area, making them easy to integrate with your regular A minor pentatonic stuff. By staying in one area of the neck, it’s also easier to make the licks flow into each other.

I’ve also included free tab (Blues Turnarounds) for this lick as well as the next few lessons for you to download.