Blues lines in Jazz III – Blues Concept in Tonal Structures

So far in this series, we have talked about the usage of both minor and major blues scales in exclusive blues settings. In this installment, we will answer the question of how to apply these hip blues sounds to tonal and modal situations.

Form 1
Form 2

When comparing the minor blues scale (right) with the diatonic natural minor scale (left) in the illustration above, only one note jumps out at being out of place, namely the blue note (in this key of C minor the note “F#”), while steps 2 and 6 of the natural minor scale are omitted when playing the minor blues scale. In other words, play the natural minor scale without those steps and add the b5, the blue note.

Form 3
Form 4

Just as C-major uses the same notes as A-minor, since they are relative scales, the C- major blues scale is identical with A-minor blues. When comparing the major scale with the major blues scale we can see that the difference lies in steps 4 and 7 as well as the blue note, the #9.

Important: Before going to the following, figure out this relationship of diatonic major/minor and blues major/minor scales in all positions!! Then, go on to:

Playing application 1: a) Record a one to two minute play-along track of

Track 1

b) improvise over the track, mixing up the major scale and major blues scale; in as many positions as you have looked at, eventually in all of them (use method described above as well as the blues scale chart of the previous installment to pair up the different scales).

c) play one of the idioms learned in installment one

You’ll notice in the last experiment that the blues sound is much stronger!? The mixing of both minor and major blues scales on non-blues backgrounds enhances the blues sound immediately.

d) to capitalize on this insight, improvise on the play-along track mixing up the major scale with both the minor blues and major blues scales. Who knows: this might just be so much fun that you will come up with your own blues idioms or even inspire you to transcribe some Benson, Grant Green, or other favorites!?

e) turn on the radio and figure out the key of the song just being played; then make the same connections of mixing up the scalar vocabulary. This can work in just about any style…have fun!

Let’s move on to applying this knowledge to yet another background: MODAL PIECES.

Playing application 2: a) Record a one to two minute play-along track of

Track 2

b) improvise on this track using, for Dm9, the C-major blues scale (the relationship here lies in Dm being the second step in C-major tonality; or D-Dorian is the same as C-Ionian) and, for Fm9, use the Eb-major blues scale (for similar Dorian/Ionian relationship).

c) Improvise using D-minor blues and F-minor blues scales (for obvious natural minor/ blues minor relationship, as described in the first part of this installment)

d) improvise by mixing up the different approaches elaborated on in points b) and c); in addition, incorporate the diatonic scales here for a diversification in sound. This is actually a thought process you have practiced in playing application 1; hence, a fairly easy and direct step!

e) finally, go back to installment one and pick some of the blues lines to apply here.

The last points in this playing application 2 are actually quite a chunk which needs to be digested over some time; however, this is quite a hip sound and you will soon realize that the tools used are quite simple, if not all familiar necessarily for all of you, and that this is just a way of rethinking how to use these tools. Once you see through all this and manage to make music with it, I can only encourage you to go through your whole repertoire of tunes and actively work this blues insight and skills learned into songs that you already know. This will actually take less time and effort than you might expect.