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Blues Scales

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Blues scales are based on pentatonic major and minor scales, except that there is a chromatic note added, changing them from pentatonic (five-note) six-note blues scales, named for their invention by and heavy use in Blues music. These scales retain the "guitar-friendly fingering patterns of pentatonic scales, and are used interchangeably with pentatonic scales in rock music, or other applications, where a lick is to take on a bluesy feel. The examples below are in the parallel keys of C major and A minor, which means that both scales share the same notes but have different starting and ending points. As usual, the white dots are the root note in each scale, and the maroon notes are those that are the distinguishing note. The blue notes are those that connect the minor scale to the parallel root in the major scale.

Major Blues Scale


The major blues scale is used in most applications where the major pentatonic would fit, but has the added element of both the major and minor 3rd in the scale. The minor 3rd can be used either in chromatic runs between the major 2nd and major 3rd, or as a way of shifting the lick between a major and minor feel. This shifting can can have a dramatic swinging effect between a happy and sad mood in the same piece.

Blues Scales
Attributes Scale Formula Major or Minor Distinguishing Degree Good over Chords Good with Progressions Values 1-2-b3-3-5-6 Major b3 M , M7 , M6 I-IV-V , II-V-I , I-VI-IV-V , I-III-IVI , I-IV-I , I-V-I

Major Blues Scale


The major blues scale is based on the major pentatonic scale, except that there

is a chromatic minor 3rd note added between the major 2nd and major 3rd, changing it from pentatonic (five-note) to a six-note blues scale. The major blues scale retains the "guitar-friendly fingering patterns of major pentatonic scale, and is used interchangeably with its pentatonic counterpart in rock music, country and bluegrass, where a lick is to take on a bluesy feel. The example below are in the parallel keys of C major. The white dots are the root note in each scale, and the maroon notes are those that are the distinguishing note. The blue notes are those that connect the minor scale to the parallel root in the major scale.

Major Blues Scale


The major blues scale is used in most applications where the major pentatonic would fit, but has the added element of both the major and minor 3rd in the scale. Attributes Scale Formula Major or Minor Distinguishing Degree Good over Chords Good with Progressions Values 1-2-b3-3-5-6 Major b3 M , M7 , M6 I-IV-V , II-V-I , I-VI-IV-V , I-III-IV-I , I-IV-I , I-V-I

Needless to say that there's also a minor sixth chord, basically a minor chord with a sixth note added. Note that the last interval has only 2 semitones, with this we stop using only thirds to build chords. Without this rule the number of possible chords increases again, if we use the basic definition of a chord - 3 different notes played together - we can play "chords" like C-C#-D-D#-E or even play all available notes together. Fortunately only a few of them are really useful. Most of them have been described already, so let's take a look at the rest:

Added chords: simply a note added to chord, like Cadd9 - C major plus

a 9th (C-E-G-D) Slash chords: a chord played with an additional bass note, like C/E (EC-E-G) Power chords: just root and perfect fifth (see intro), not a true chord, like C5 (C-G) Suspended chords: a triad chord in which the third is replaced ("suspended") by either a perfect fourth (sus4) or major second (sus2), like Csus4 (C-F-G). If you build a sus4 on the fifth note of a sus2 they have the same notes, so all sus2 chords can be described as sus4 inversions - and vice versa.

That's enough I think. Now let's see how we can use them.

Special Chords, Chord Sequences and Substitutions


Although John Lee Hooker could play a Blues with only one chord, a song is usually build upon chord changes. A common example we all know is the dominant 7th followed by the tonic major chord, for example G7 - C. These chords are also useful when playing a solo: try to emphasize the chord notes, especially those which make a chord unique (like the 7th of a dominant 7th). Simple songs are often build using tonic (root) major chord, subdominant major chord and dominant seventh chord, like C-F-G7. The subdominant is a harmonic alternative to the root with a repetitive character and is used in Blues for exactly this reason: first statement in tonic followed by a repetition in subdominant. Finally we have the dominant 7th, which leads back to the tonic. In Blues often all chords are played as dominant 7th chords, although only the subdominant and dominant chord notes belong to the major scale. This is allowed because the Blues is not based on the diatonic major scale. The problem is that you can't describe Blues harmonies using classical music theory. One way is to think of combining minor and major pentatonic, the other is to use a mixolydian scale, which is basically a major scale with a flattened seventh. In Blues nearly everything that fits is allowed, so keep it in mind as loose recommendations. Back to the chords. Even in Blues you can use more chords to vitalize your

playing. Like building up a basic lick library for soloing you should have a solid set of chord changes and substitutions. Let's take a look at some common chord sequences and substitutions beyond the tonic/dominant/subdominant thing. A basic rule for replacing a chord with another is that the root note should not alter and at that they share at least two notes. Example: for C major (C-E-G) this could be A minor (A-C-E). Also taking a chord and raising/lowering one note is possible. Don't mix a chord substitution and chord progression: if you have the progression of a 12 bar Blues you can substitute a chord with another having the same function, keeping the backbone intact. You keep the 12 bars! Finally, don't try to play it all together. Don't create a wild mixture of 7th, 9th and 11th chords with augmented, suspended and diminished variations. Keep it simple, like the Blues. Major/relative minor One way to substitute a chord is to use it's relative minor, the sixth degree. For example instead of C you play a Am. Or a C followed by a Am, it sounds like things turning bad. Another option, not that well fitting but also working is to use the third, Em in this example. While Am shares the root note and the third, the Em chord, although sharing two notes, doesn't have the root note. That's why Em is drifting further away from C as Am. Same applies to minor 7th chords. Suspended 7th Example: Old Love. Instead of the dominant 7th you can also use the tonic 7sus4 or 7sus2, like G7sus4 instead of D7 (leading to G). Note that the triad sus chords don't have a third in opposite to the sus7 chords. Diminished 7th In Nobody Knows You When You're Down the F#dim7 is used as a passing chord between F and C. Another example is Robert Johnsons Kind Hearted Woman Blues or Me And The Devil Blues. The special thing about the dim7 chord is that all intervals are the same - a minor third. This results in another specialty: there are only three dim7 chords possible, all other are enharmonic, sharing the same notes:

When you want to play a solo, you have to know which notes you can play. This set of notes is called a scale. It must fit to the song and the chords, not all notes on your fretboard would give a nice sound if played in one song. Looking into a music book you'll find dozens of different scales and modes, major and natural/melodic/harmonic minor, dorian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian or phrygian mode and even more. If you want to learn more about these, look at the basics. The classical music theory is not well suited to describe the Blues, but we don't have a choice. From that point of view Blues is crazy and wrong playing dominant major 7th chords all over minor pentatonic scales, using chromatic scale pieces for intros and turnarounds, using a 5 tone scale instead of the accustomed 7 tone scales, adding notes that don't belong to any scale and these stupid chord progressions... so it's only an attempt to describe what we call the Blues. Why is it so weird? It's because the black people in the USA back in the beginning of the 20th century tried to play their African music styles on western instruments - i.e. the guitar, the harp and the piano. Take the guitar: the frets are made for equal intonation, to play classical (western) music. To get the notes "between" you need special techniques like a string bend or a slide. The best way to describe the Blues scale with standard music theory is using a pentatonic scale and add some extras.

The pentatonic scale


This scale is called "pentatonic", because it contains only 5 (penta = 5) different notes. We start with the minor pentatonic scale in E (there's also a major pentatonic scale, which sounds not so "sad", but for a deep basic Blues we'll take the minor). We start with the key of E, because it's a "guitar key" all open strings belong to this scale. Here it is, noted in tab (E is the key, that means the scale begins with E):
E B G D A I---------------------0-3-I I-----------------0-3-----I I-------------0-2---------I I---------0-2-------------I I-----0-2-----------------I

E I-0-3---------------------I E minor pentatonic scale, first pattern

You start with the open E-string; that's (of course) E. When you reach the 2nd fret of the D-string, it's also E (play both at the same time, you will hear it). And finally the other open E string is also E. So you've stepped through 2 octaves. The notes are E - G - A - B - D. Playing the open strings also contains all notes of the E minor pentatonic scale, but not in the correct sequence, every 2nd note is left out. That means you can play simple rhythm guitar and even small solos with only open strings! No need to take your left hand...(sorry, lefthanders).

The Blues scale: Blue Notes


Next step: to get the typical Blues sound, we add a special note: the "Blue note" (which is usually a diminished fifth, see basics). However, there are more definitions of the Blue note, I use the most common definition. The diminished third and the diminished seventh are the other ones often called "Blue notes", or in general notes played at a lower pitch than those of the major scale. The diminished (flat) third is the note which in classical (western) music styles determines if it's a major or a minor scale. In Blues music it is often a bend form the minor note into the major note, usually not reaching exactly the target note. The diminished (flat) seventh is the note which is part of the dominant seventh chord, the one which leads back to the tonic (root) note. Another more simple definition you'll find is that a Blue note is always played at a lower pitch than those of the major scale to express a certain feeling. All these definitions show us the impossibility for an exact definition using classical music theory. The African roots of the Blues music used nonequal tempered (natural harmonic) scales, so this is obviously an attempt to describe these "in-between" notes using classical notation. So you can consider American Blues music as a well grown mixture of African and European music styles. Back to the scale - it now the scale gets more "dramatic" and looks like:

I-------------------------0-3-I I---------------------0-3-----I I---------------0-2-3---------I I-----------0-2---------------I I-----0-1-2-------------------I I-0-3-------------------------I E minor Blues scale

This new note is a great starting point for string bending, in Blues music a note is often bended into a Blue note. Another note to bend into is for example a note from the major scale while playing in a minor scale. By the way - you can play this scale also 12 frets higher using the same fingering pattern, it's still in E:
I-------------------------------------12-15-I I-------------------------------12-15-------I I----------------------12-14-15-------------I I----------------12-14----------------------I I-------12-13-14----------------------------I I-12-15-------------------------------------I

Other keys
And now the great advantage of playing guitar: with a bright smile on your face you look to the keyboard player and give him the sign for changing the key. While the keyboard player is wondering about the black and white keys on his keyboard (what was it? F-sharp? damn...), you just have finished your solo. The secret is that you only have to move the frets up or down to change to another key. The fingering pattern is still the same! Look at the fretboard scheme to locate the root notes for a scale. Moving up or down a fret means moving up or down a semi note: if you want to play in F you can use the pattern of E and simply move up one fret. Example: Blues pentatonic in A would look like (start at the 5th fret!):
I-------------------------5-8-I I---------------------5-8-----I I---------------5-7-8---------I I-----------5-7---------------I I-----5-6-7-------------------I I-5-8-------------------------I

A minor Blues scale

More fingering patterns and "box" playing


Muddy

Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield, 1915-1983) Originator of the Chicago Blues style. Singer, guitar player, slide guitar player, songwriter and bandleader. Played with Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, Earl Hooker, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, ..., also with Johnny Winter, the Band, EC and more. Guess where he loved to play when he was a child... With this scales you can play your first Blues licks. The advantage is that you can play everytime every note of the scale. There is no "wrong" note, but some will sound better, some not so good. You can not only play pentatonic scales to Blues music, but also to rock, pop and even jazz music. (On the other hand, you can never get any Spanish flamenco or country music feeling with it, there are some notes or better intervals missing...)

This is not the only position for the pentatonic Blues scale. There are different fingering patterns, so you can play it all over the fretboard. But for the beginning it's better to start with only one and add sometimes a note from another fingering pattern. Depending on the key and personal influences like finger size or strength most players use a special parts of these patterns called boxes. Within this box you have all the notes from an octave in a comfortable arrangement, for example small distances for small fingers or a position that allows you to bend the important notes with your ring finger. Some technique oriented guitarists tend to doom this box playing and like to fly all over the fretboard. However, as long as you don't want to be a shredder, but play the Blues instead, it's okay. Spend your time searching for positions you can put all your emotions to the string.
I---8---10--I I---8---10--I I-7-8-9-----I I-----------I I-----------I I-----------I Common box example for the A Blues scale

Here are schemes of your fretboard with all pentatonic fingering patterns for the two most common Blues keys (this is NO tab, just directly a look at the fretboard). You can see the minor pentatonic scale fingering patterns (with root notes and blue notes) plus the additional notes from the major pentatonic scale, which you don't need in the beginning, but will give you more room to play. You can cut out your own boxes in which you can play comfortably.

Chord Basics (not guitar specific)


What's a chord? Simply put, at least three notes played together. Wait strictly speaking it should be three different notes played together. Two notes only give an interval called dyad or double stop when played on a guitar. The only exception is a power chord: root and fifth (sometimes also root and fourth) played together, not a real chord but usually accepted under this name by guitar players.

The basic chord where all others chords are derived from is the triad. As the name says, it consists of three (tri = 3) different notes. The first one is usually the root note. Then we have an interval to the second note and another interval to the third note. These intervals are usually of about the same size: they are made of major and minor thirds. These intervals determine the sound of a chord. Now what's a third? Why don't we use a chromatic scale to avoid things like major and minor thirds? Why not just a third is three semitones, period? That's because all these intervals are relative to the scale. And the most common scale in Western music (music of the "Western hemisphere", not Country music) is the diatonic major scale, because it is based on mathematical relations between the frequencies So all interval names and therefore chord names are derived from this scale. Even if you play the Blues using a pentatonic scale. To understand the chords better it's useful to take a look at our band member's instrument - the piano (or keyboard). Why? The keys are aalready build upon the C major scale: all white keys belong to it. So let's take a look at it and name the intervals: