November 11

China Cat Sunflower 1st Guitar Solo – Video Lesson

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Let's examine Jerry Garcia's guitar solo over the 1st instrumental break on the "Europe '72" version of China Cat Sunflower.

​In this post I'm going to take a look at the 9 bar instrumental break that occurs between the verses of "China Cat Sunflower". This section was a great vehicle for Garcia to improvise over, and he always came through with melodic, yet energetic lines that would perfectly segue into the next verse (or main guitar solo as happens after the 2nd instrumental break).

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Song Form

Before we examine Garcia's note choice, let's take a look at the form of these solo sections. The instrumental break (or chorus section) of "China Cat Sunflower" is shown in example 1. As we can see from the chart, it begins with four bars of G, followed by three bars of D in 4/4, then one bar of D in 2/4, and ends with a bar of 4/4 that alternates between a C (for 2 beats) and a D (for 2 beats). This gives us nine bars in total.

Ex. 1

Note Choice

This lesson focuses on the solo taken from seminal album "Europe '72". In his first guitar solo, Jerry begins with a couple phrases reminiscent of the first solo from the studio version, but a lot more laid back. In the studio version there is a vocal melody over the chorus section (the "Na-na-na" part). The first 3 notes of Garcia's solo mimic that vocal melody.

Jerry's improvised lines over the G chord are made up of notes that can all be found in the G major pentatonic scale. As I mentioned in another post, the major pentatonic scale is frequently used in folk and country music, both genres that Jerry was heavily influenced by. Take a look at the following extended shape of the G major pentatonic scale.

Ex. 2

As you play through the first four measures of this solo, consult the diagram above and see if you can visualize the major pentatonic scale on the fretboard as you play. Knowing the above shapes will be a tremendous help as you come up with your own ideas over the solo section.

After four measures of G, the harmony shifts to a D chord for another four measures. Pay attention to what note Jerry settles on as we shift to the D chord - an F#. This is the major 3rd of a D chord, and by landing on it the listener can hear the chord change within the improvised line. It's important to pay special attention to which notes you target as the chords switch, and is something that separates mores experienced players from novices players.

Over the D chord, Jerry sticks to mostly chord tones with the addition of the 4th degree (G). Take a look at the diagram in example 3. You'll notice as you play through these next four measures, Jerry puts a lot of emphasis on these notes. Basically, his lines are based on chord tones with the addition of the 4th (G). You'll notice Jerry is including the b7 (C) even though no one is necessarily playing a D7 chord. This is because the V chord in the key of G is a D7, and the only difference between a D (D-F#-A) and a D7 (D-F#-A-C) is the addition of the C. By adding the C natural is his improvisations, Jerry is implying a Dominant 7 tonality. Adding "color" like this is something you'll definitely want to experiment with as a soloist.

Ex. 3

Once you get Jerry's licks under your fingers, try taking the diagram above and coming up with your own improvisations using only the notes listed. See if you can come up with some similar lines yourself. The most important thing is that you feel where you are as you're improvising, and that you are able to nail the C to D chord change in bar 9. Don't let that bar of 2/4 throw you off!

Make sure you download a copy of my transcription of this first solo from below. And most importantly, have fun!

Download the transcription

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