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Tom Quayle: Spicing Up Your Blues Playing

Lesson Notes

Spicing up your blues playing.

** As featured in issue 2 **

The blues is an interesting structure in that it only contains three chords. This can be both a blessing and a curse in one. Three chords are easy to remember and play over but can sound boring if stuck to rigidly. The first four bars of our blues progression are usually the most boring part as we have the same chord for four bars. Lets take a blues in G giving us the chords G7, C7 and D7. Normally we would play either a G blues scale over the whole progression or assign a mixolydian scale to each chord matching its root note. In this case – G mixolydian, C mixolydian and D mixolydian.

The G7 lasts for the first four bars and we often look for ways to spice up this section of the progression and create some tension before moving to the C7 or V chord. One way we can do this is to play different scales over this 4th bar to create tension. I’ve mentioned already how we can use a G blues scale or a G mixolydian scale over this G7 chord but I want you to try something else in this 4th bar, namely a G altered scale.

This scale is derived from an Ab melodic minor scale - in other words it contains the same notes as Ab melodic minor but starts from the note G. The Ab melodic minor scale contains the notes Ab, Bb, C, Db, Eb, F and G. When we play this scale over the G7 in bar 4 of our blues we get some very interesting sounding notes that create tension. These are then resolved when we move to the C7 in bar 5 and return to our G blues scale or C mixolydian scale.  This kind of tension and release is what drives music and provides forward motion and momentum to our improvisations, not to mention interest for the listener. Try playing this Ab melodic minor scale in bar 4 of your blues progression and switching back to your normal scale choices for the C7 in bar 5.

Another approach is to utilise a scale you already know to achieve the same effect. This negates having to learn and apply a new sound and achieves the same results much more quickly. This time I want you to play Bb minor pentatonic instead of our Ab melodic minor scale. You can work out which minor pentatonic to use by moving up 3 frets from the root note of the first chord in your blues. For a Blues in C we would use an Eb minor pentatonic for example. Don’t worry if this sounds strange to your ears at first. New sounds take time to digest and soon you’ll be spicing up your blues playing with some cool new lines.

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