Adding some blues licks to a solo is a sure way to connect
to your audience, and for many genres of music is the essential
vocabulary you should be drawing from. But did you know that there’s
more than one blues scale?
First, CLICK HERE for a downloadable PDF of all sheet music for this tutorial. Then, read on!
The Blues Scale
The common blues scale that students are taught is shown in Ex. 1.
It consists of the root, flat third, fourth, sharp fourth (a.k.a. flat
fifth, tritone), fifth, flat seventh, and back to the root. You’ll
notice that unlike the scales and modes we have discussed over the last
two columns, the blues scale only has six distinct notes, or seven if
you include the repeated root/octave. These notes clearly outline a
minor seventh chord based on the root, with the added fourth and flatted
fifth, so it works well against a minor seventh chord, or a dominant
seventh with a sharp ninth. When you listen to blues and rock guitar
players, organists, and synth players like George Duke, you will hear
how they can play blues licks over both minor and major chord vamps, the
blues changes, and other chord progressions; imparting a lot of feeling
and expression from their lines. In Ex. 2 I show a couple of simple blues licks, which can work against a single chord, or some varying progressions.
As a synth player, integrating bends is essential to “speaking the blues.” So in Ex. 3
I take those same licks and show how you might integrate some
well-placed bends into the phrases. As we discussed way back in February
and March of 2012, you can really get emotional when you bend slowly
and play a bit more “between the cracks” of the notes, especially when
bending up into the fourth, flatted fifth, and fifth of the key center
(in this case, the F, Gb, and G notes in the key of C).
Be sure to use the whole vocabulary of bends: don’t just always bend up
into a note, bend up and down, scoop into a note, and do a slight
“fall” or “doit” off when releasing a note (by bending down or up
slightly as you release the key). Set your bend range to a minor third
(or higher!) and practice bends from within the scale note choices as
shown in Ex. 4.
The Major Blues Scale
Relying solely on the blues scale can get a bit monotonous
after a while, especially when used over a major or dominant seventh
chord or progression. One reason is that the major third of the root key
chord (E if in the key of C) is never played . When you want to play bluesy but in a more major-sounding way you can use the major blues scale. As shown in Ex. 5,
it consists of the root, second, flat third, major third, fifth, and
sixth of the scale. As you play the notes you’ll start to hear that this
scale is the basis for a lot of rock and soul licks, horn lines,
boogie-woogie piano riffs and more. If you play rock ’n’ roll piano,
this is one of the fundamental scales to draw on when in a major key.
The only really “bluesy” note in the scale is the minor
third, and the area that you center on to play between the cracks is now
between the second, minor third, and major third. Ex. 6 presents a few simple licks using the scale, and Ex. 7
integrates bends into them. Unlike the “regular” blues scale, you can’t
keep playing this same blues scale over a whole blues progression; when
you move to the IV chord (F7 in the key of C) that E note (the major third of the key) really doesn’t work. So you’ll want to use the F major blues scale, or the C blues scale―see Ex. 8.
Drawing from Both Scales
Since each of these scales can work on a dominant seventh
chord, why not just merge them together? That would give you the scale
shown in Ex. 9, consisting of the root, second, flat third, major
third, fourth, flat fifth, fifth, sixth, and flat seventh. All the
notes will sound good against the chord, but when you play the scale up
and down it doesn’t sound very bluesy. As I’ve been saying, scales are
good for showing note choices, but just running up and down them is not
the answer. The approach I use (I certainly didn't invent it!) is to
create groupings of note choices from this scale, not use all of them
all the time. Ex. 10 shows some common choices here. See you next month!