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The Blues is many things to many people. You might imagine the sorrow of old man wailing out in a raspy voice over a slide guitar, or Louis Armstrong with his cheeks puffed out like two biceps. In this book were going to try to see the blues from a technical point of view. Were going to talk about major and minor scales, rhythm and traditional melodic clichs. My hope is that after youve finished this book, even if you havent an ounce of the blues in your soul, youll still be able to wail a little at the piano. Lets start with the key of C. Here are the three main chords in the key of C. Play these in the left hand (just below the center of the piano).

Chapter

3 6

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Now lets get ready to add some right hand (melody) notes to our chords. Heres a blues scale to get you started.

Ive separated the notes out into different hand positions. Start with your thumb on C and play these three notes. Use thumb, then index, then middle finger.

Now put your thumb on E and play these four notes. Use thumb, index, middle and ring (the fourth finger).

As you go up over the top of the scale, play the A with your thumb, the Bb with your middle finger and the C with your ring finger.

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To get into this last position, flip your ring finger over your thumb (which should still be holding the note A) and use it to play G. The last three notes, Eb, D and C, can be played by the middle finger, index finger and thumb. You will have to stretch between the G (played by the ring finger) and the Eb (played by the middle finger).

One general rule for scales and fast passages is to keep the thumb off the black keys.

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Blues Exercise 1
Were going to learn to play fake book style in this book. Everythings a little topsy-turvy. The left hand will be written above the staff as chord symbols. Use the voicings taught on the first page for the left hand. The right hand is the notes written out (the melody). On the following page, Ill walk you through the notes and rhythm.

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Blues Exercise 1 notes

As you can see, the there is a lot of the notes E and Eb in this exercise. In the blues the third scale degree often moves between the major and minor to create different flavors. Especially as you move to the F7 chord, the Eb sounds better than the E. Take a look at this example:

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Blues Exercise 1 rhythm


For this exercise, Ive put a steady beat of quarter notes in the left hand. Practice playing both hands and counting.

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The Most Common Blues Notes


The third scale degree is made blue by lowering it a half-step. In the key of C, the third (E) is lowered a half-step to Eb. The seventh scale degree, likewise, is made blue by lowering it a halfstep. In the following boogie-woogie style piece, notice that the seventh and third scale degrees are lowered.

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Often, the blues plays with the difference between minor and major by moving between the low third and the high third and the low seventh and high seventh. Usually, the major notes are only played for a second such as in the last beat of the first measure, where the note B is in the middle of a triplet. Notice in measure four how the Eb moves to an E. This forms a C major chord for a few beats before returning to minor feel for the next few measures.

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Shell Voicings for C7, F7 and G7


A shell voicing is the third and seventh of a chord. Lets learn the shell voicings for three common chords in the key of C.

C7

E is the third of a C7 chord. Bb is the seventh of a C7 chord.

C7 with the third (E) on top

F7

A is the third of an F7 chord. Eb is the seventh of an F7 chord.

F7 with the seventh (Eb) on top

G7

B is the third of a G7 chord. F is the seventh of a G7 chord.

G7 with the seventh (F) on top

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Shell Voicings Practice


I have taken out the note names below the bass clef and added chord symbols.

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Rhythm Practice
Lets practice the rhythm from the shell voicings exercise.

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Chapter

3 6

The Blues Scale


The blues is a tradition, so you dont have to be all that creative to play the blues. Ive written in the solfeggio. Ideally, you would sing and play along. Thats the best way to start to hear the key in your head. Heres a blues scale in the key of C with added chromatic notes. Ive written the solfeggio (the do, re, mi syllables) as well as the note names. Eventually, you should be able to hear melodies in solfeggio. This book should be a good introduction to this skill.

On the next page, I have the same example transposed into the key of F. Notice how the solfeggio stays the same, but the note names change. One big advantage solfeggio will give you, is that as you relate the keys, instead of thinking of 12 different keys, you think in terms of one set of fixed relationships that transpose. Practicing solfeggio is one of the best ways to improve your musical skills and help yourself learn to improvise or play by ear.

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See the appendix to practice this scale in all the other keys.

The Minor Blues Scale

Minor blues can either be written in a major key with flats written on the third scale degree (and often the seventh scale degree as well), or as you see above, written a minor key, with the key center being the sixth scale degree. The solfeggio names then are based on the sixth scale degree. (Notice how it starts on la above). Most often when you read music, this is how minor keys are written so I wanted to give this to you to study. Instead of the I chord and the IV chord in the first two measures, you have the vi chord (six chord) and the ii chord (two chord). The equivalent of the ii > V > I pattern in major ( two five one) is the viim7 > III7 > vi pattern (seven minor seven to three dominant to

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six). This is an example of major minor borrowing because normally the seven chord would be diminished and the three chord would be minor.

The third chord to the right is Bdim (the normal vii chord in the key of C)

The fifth chord to the right is Bm (the two chord in the key of A) replacing the normal vii chord in the key of C.

But often the parallel major equivalents (in this case from the key of A) are used. Its as if the second to last measure above is in the key of A, and the Bm7 and E7 chords are the ii (two) and V (five) chords respectively.

The fifth chord to the right is Bm (the two chord in the key of A)

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Heres an example using both the ii > V (two five) and the vii > III (seven three) cadences. A cadence is the end of a musical phrase, especially the last few chords. (In the key of Am, which is the same as the key of C, Dm and G are the ii and V chords. Bm and E7 are the vii and III chords.

Now that weve learned a little bit about harmony and chords, lets focus on the melody again. One of the easiest ways to create melodies is to use chord tones in a sequence. Lets look at this same sequence of chords, but this time Ive added a melody that takes chord tones and puts them into a nice sounding sequence. (Jump to the next page.)

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While this doesnt sound much like the blues yet, it goes to show how you can be very theoretical in your approach to improvising and composing. Often, the less you try to reinvent the wheel, the better your music will sound. There is plenty of room for expression in the confines of form. On the next page is a more rangy minor blues scale. Ive added a boogie-woogie bass line to it. If you want to keep practicing the scale, you can put a 12 bar blues under it (move to the IV chord and back again, and then on to the V chord.)

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Heres the same blues scale from the last page, only this time written as triplets. Underneath, Ive added a different boogie-woogie accompaniment.

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This time around, I kept the bass from the last exercise but replaced the scale with an arpeggio of the six chord (the tonal center in minor).

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So again, Ive kept the left hand the same, and added a simple sequence in the right hand. Ive left out the note names this time, because I think you can figure out the notes, and it will be good sight reading practice for you.

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Now lets practice triads moving up the scale.

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Ive added two voices in the right hand. Start slowly!

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Chapter

3 6

Blues Rhythms
On the following pages I will give some example rhythms that you can use when improvising the blues. Remember that the eighth notes are swung, that means rather than being evenly timed, the second of each group of two eighth notes is shorter, creating a triplet feel.

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Chapter

3 6

Blues Melody
The blues is a folk tradition, so a good place to start is folk melody. Folk melodies are often simple. They are diatonic (that means they stay inside one scale), and often pentatonic. Pentatonic means that only five notes of a scale are used. The fourth and seventh scale degrees, which can create that tangy sound the tritone, are left out. The A major pentatonic scale (leave out the fourth scale degree fa and the seventh scale degree ti)

Heres a simple melody that uses the pentatonic scale:

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Heres the same melody with the chords and melody notes written out for you:

Heres the same melody extended into a 12 bar blues. (Ive left the base clef out after bar 3)

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So, its pretty amazing how good those five notes can sound. You can also do minor pentatonic. In this case, its the same five scale degrees, but this time from the scale of the relative major. For example, Am gets its pentatonic notes from the C major scale, rather than the A major scale. The A minor pentatonic scale

The A minor pentatonic scale leaves out the fourth scale degree fa and the seventh scale degree ti, but this time its from the C scale, so the notes F and the notes B. The minor blues scale in chapter 2 is the minor pentatonic scale with one chromatic passing tone added. A chromatic note is one that is outside the key.

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Poor Wayfaring Stranger Minor pentatonic song. Ive left out the left hand after the first few measures, because it just repeats the pattern on chords written above the staff.

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Heres the song again with the solfeggio written out.

To hear a great Blues recording of this song, check out Eva Cassidys rendition on the album Songbird. She takes the minor pentatonic melody and adds a lot of the passing tone between re and mi. (You can either sing this note ri for sharped re or me for flatted mi)

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Another bluesy folk song is How of the Rising Sun. It adds the 2nd scale degree (in minor) ti to the minor pentatonic. And it borrows the seventh scale degree from the A major scale (G#) at the end of the song. Its as if the second to last measure is in the key of A major, instead of a minor. When the solfeggio syllable sol is sharped, it becomes si.

Heres a cool rhythm to try for the left hand. Its one, two-and, three (remember to swing the eighth notes).

ETC.

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Lets make house of the rising sun a little bluesier by adding that passing tone between re and mi.

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Understanding chord tone relationships in the blues


The concept of key in music is a fluid thing. For example, weve looked at the blues in the key of A major and A minor, and the pitches function very similarly between the two, but there are distinct differences that can either be exploited to take the music in different directions, or simply used as flavor.

Here we are in the key of Am but we use G7, the V (five) chord in the key of C.

This time, while still in the key of Am, we use E7, the V chord in the key of A.

Heres the G7 chord again, this time approached from the chord a half-step above it, Ab7

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Now heres the V chord in the key of A (E7) approached from a half-step above by the F7 chord.

The flat six chord is especially well-suited to the blues because the third of the chord is the root of the key (A) and the seventh of the chord is the flat fifth of the key (a very exciting part of the blues scale). Look at the first chord, F7. This is the flat sixth chord in the key of A (or Am). The third of the chord, the middle note in the left hand is the root of the key.

One the next page, the first example uses simply the tonal center of the key (A) and the Am and F7 chords in the left hand. The common tone between the two chords makes the move from the one chord to the flat six chord particularly exciting. (The little black dots in the left hand are staccato markings, they mean to play each note very short, as if there were rests between the notes).

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You can also play with the change between the fifth of Am chord and the flat fifth (which is the seventh of the F7 chord).

The next example is a classic blues clich. Notice how it moves from the fifth down through the flat fifth to the third of an A chord.

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The fifth of the one chord is often used as a lead-in note for phrase (the note E in the key of Am).

Of course, this sort of thing has been very common in western music and for hundreds of years. For example the classic interval between the first and second notes in Here comes the bride is the fifth of the key up to the first of the key. Or in the following melody that moves between the root of the key and the fifth.

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Just for fun. Eine kleine Nachtmusic with stride in the left hand. (pronounced eye nuh klein nuh nah-kt moo-ZEEK. To sound particularly authentic the k in nacht, while still a Germanic throat clearing sound, should be airy, not heavy and dark)

Left hand stride is a great skill to practice. It can be maddeningly hard on your brain at first as hard as squatting for the first time at the gym. But if you just slowly start to experience stride technique, it will sink in. Dont try to rush it, or force it into your brain. There are part of your brain that literally need to slowly develop. The muscle memory for stride takes repetition over time. You cannot rush it, though Im sure, if youre ambitious you will try!

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The flat seventh scale degree

Flat seventh in the Am scale

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In the last measure, a rich, discordant sound is greated by mixing the Am scale (which contains the note G) with the V chord form the key of A (the E7 chord, which contains the note G#). This creates a E7 sharp nine chord. The sharp nine is actually the minor 3rd of the chord. So this E7 chord has both the major and minor thirds above the root of the chord E (G and G#).

The flat seventh


The flat seventh is a major tool in the arsenal of blues-influences rock n roll composers. The examples are endless, here are three: Daytripper by the Beatles opening guitar riff Come together by the Beatles the base line. Cocaine by Eric Clapton the main riff

Heres an example of the kind of riff that uses the root and the flat seventh. (A and G in the key of A)

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In the previous melody you saw the flat seventh scale degree along with the root of the key. Often, the flat seventh can play off the fifth of the key instead.

Heres the same melody simplified (written without the octave doubling or left hand).

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Now try this melody with a 1950s style walking bass. This is much easier than the stride in the last example!

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The Third Scale Degree


In the blues, the minor third scale degree will become the seventh of the four chord. You can plan your melodies to play with the different sounds of melodies that treat this note either as the third scale degree or as the seventh of the four chord.

Here the note C (do) is both the third scale degree in the A minor scale, and the seventh of the four chord (D7).

For an example of how you can use emphasize the fact that its the seventh of D7, instead of the third scale degree in Am, you could use a sequence:

There are many possibilities to explore here. The best thing to do is that as you learn blues songs and listen to blues songs, get to know how scales and chord tones work in your favorite songs. You can also play with this third scale degree duality in major, by flatting the third when you switch to the four chord:

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Third scale degree in C Major, Third of C chord

Flat third scale degree in C Major, Flat seventh of F7 chord

Here are these chords transposed around the circle of fifths, notice how the third of the first chord becomes the minor seventh of the next chord.

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Exercise Blues in A with chords in the melody

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Chapter

3 6

Practice Studies
In this chapter there are twelve practice studies incorporating the ideas we have talked about so far in the book, as well as some very far-out chromatic notes. As long as you come back to the usual blues notes, you can go away from the key quite a bit. Some of the following exercises use the solfeggio for the key of A, and some of them use the solfeggio for the key of C. Its sometimes hard to choose, because often the scales will switch freely when playing in an A blues. When I use the solfeggio for the key of A, I write the piece in the key of A, because I think itll be easier to think in that key when you see it written that way on the page. In the left hand I use rootless seventh chords with extensions and alterations. These voicings are rife with tension to begin with, so they make it easier to play more chromatic passages over them. Forgivingly, you are less likely to sound like you hit a wrong note, when the voicing of your chord is a little wrong to begin with! I use the same voicings from the first several exercises in later exercises, but dont write the note names under the staff. The idea is that you will begin to memorize these shapes!

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Blues Study 1

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Blues Study 2

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Blues Study 3

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Blues Study 4

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Blues Study 5

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Blues Study 6

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Blues Study 7

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Blues Study 8

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Blues Study 9

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Blues Study 10

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Blues Study 11

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Blues Study 12

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Chapter

3 6

Bluesy Left Hand Voicings


To make your improvisations easier, it will help to study left handed voicings. Weve already seen quite a few in the last chapter that you might use when playing in the key of A. In this chapter, I would like to take two very common bluesy chords, the minor sixth chord and the dominant seventh chord and show you several voicings for each chord in the eight most popular keys. In the right hand Ive written some ideas for blues phrases that stick pretty close to the chord tones. If its a sharp five chord for example, the melody will incorporate the sharp fifth. I toyed with only writing the solfeggio notes, but I found the music pretty tough to read, so like most of the book, Ive written in the note names.

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Cm6 left hand voicings

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Dm6 left hand voicings

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Ebm6 left hand voicings

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Em6 left hand voicings

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Fm6 left hand voicings

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Gm6 left hand voicings

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Abm6 left hand voicings

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Am6 left hand voicings

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Bbm6 left hand voicings

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Bm6 left hand voicings

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C7 left hand voicings

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D7 left hand voicings

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E7 left hand voicings

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F7 left hand voicings

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G7 left hand voicings

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Ab7 left hand voicings

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A7 left hand voicings |

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Bb7 left hand voicings

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B7 left hand voicings

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Appendix

3 6

Blues Scale from Chapter 2


Key of G

Key of Bb

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Key of D

Key of Eb

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Key of A

Key of Ab

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Key of E

Key of Db

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Key of B

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Minor Blues Scale from Chapter 2


Key of Em

Key of Gm

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Key of Bm

Key of Cm

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Key of F#m

Key of Fm

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Key of C#m

Key of Bbm

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Key of G#m

Key of G#m
I dont know why I threw this key in. I doubt you see a song in the key of G#m. Its so much easier to write it in Gm.

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