Our fourth installment of “Turning Scales into Solos” will, kind of by its very nature, be a shorter lesson than normal. But just because it’s short in length it doesn’t mean that there’s nothing here to learn. Quite the contrary! Before we can (temporarily) walk away from the blues, there’s one more very important scale to discuss. Appropriately, it’s called the blues scale.
Not surprisingly, if for no other reason than folks like to argue about almost anything, there are often disagreements over what notes, exactly, are used in the blues scale. Even music scholars don’t always see eye to eye on this topic. In their book, Music in Theory and Practice, Volume 1, authors Benward and Saker define the blues scale as the nine-note combination of the major scale and minor pentatonic that we examined in Example 3 of our last lesson, Combining the Major Scale with the Minor Pentatonic. Slightly confusing, no?
Here, we’re going to address what most musicians acknowledge as the “blues scale.” This is as good a place as any to mention that there is no such thing as a “major blues scale” or a “minor blues scale.” Just as we know there is no “major chromatic scale” or “minor whole note scale.” Like other scales, the blues scale follows a specific pattern and, also as with all other scales, we define that pattern in terms of the major scale. We’ll get to that definition in just a minute.
First, though, let’s take a moment and re-read what we know about blue notes, courtesy of Wikipedia:
In jazz and blues, a blue note (also “worried” note) is a note sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale for expressive purposes. Typically the alteration is a semitone or less, but this varies among performers and genres.
As we noted in The Major and The Minor, the third lesson in this series, the Wikipedia definition goes on to add a very important sentence: “The blue notes are usually said to be flattened third, flattened fifth and flattened seventh scale degrees.”
We already know a scale where we’ve made use of two of these three blue notes, and that’s the minor pentatonic. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is in the key of C:
You undoubtedly remember our discussion of how guitarists love to use the minor pentatonic scale over standard blues progressions in major keys because it contains a healthy dose of blue notes for each chord change. Looking at the notes used in our example of the C minor pentatonic scale:
C Eb F G Bb
We can see we have two blue notes of the C major scale, those being Eb (flatted third) and Bb (flatted seventh).
But while Meatloaf may sing, “two out of three ain’t bad,” we can take a moment and add the third blue note, the flatted fifth, to the minor pentatonic with relative ease. You can see in the following example that it doesn’t even involve a change of fingering:
Really nothing to it, is there? This example is how most musicians will define the blues scale. In other words, think of it as:
Root flat 3rd 4th flat 5th 5th flat 7th
Or, in perhaps easier terms, it’s the minor pentatonic with the flat 5th added to it. The real question, though, is “how does it sound when used over a typical twelve bar blues progression?” Well, I’m glad you asked:
As in our other lessons, I’m deliberately overplaying, not to mention I’m going out of my way to play a lot of the Gb notes in the C Blues scale in order to let you hear the particular flavor of this scale. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, as the saying goes, but it certainly allows you to add some interesting touches.
Just as in our past lessons in this series, it’s a good idea to just sit and play around with this scale, not only to get it into your fingers, but also to get it into your ears and your head. And, also just as in our past lessons, here’s an “extended version” of our blues in C chord progression for you to work with!
Because this last MP3 is about three minutes long, a good idea would be to try to cycle through the various scales you know – the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic, the “combination” scale from our last lesson and now this blues scale. Listen to the notes each scale gives you, what type of mood (if any) a particular scale puts you in. The more music that’s in your head, the more color you can bring to your fingers.
Next time out we’re going to leave the blues for a bit, but not the minor pentatonic scale. And we’ll also be taking (yet) another look at the major scale and what a useful thing it is! In the meantime, and as always, please feel free to write me with any questions. Either leave me a message at the forum page (you can “Instant Message” me if you’re a member) or mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time…