The blues is a musical genre that emerged from the experiences of the enslaved and oppressed African American people in the Southern United States.
Blues music is a form of expression that reflects the joys, sorrows, hopes, struggles, triumphs and tragedies of life.
The origins of blues music can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when enslaved Africans and their descendants created songs that blended elements of African musical traditions, spirituals, work songs and folk ballads.
These songs were improvised and performed with simple instruments such as guitars, banjos, harmonicas etc.
The blues became popular in the rural areas of the Mississippi Delta, where many legendary blues artists such as Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and B.B. King were born and raised.
The blues quickly spread to other regions such as Texas, Chicago, Memphis, and New Orleans where different styles and subgenres of it were developed, such as country blues, urban blues, electric blues and rhythm and blues etc.
The blues also heavily influenced other emerging musical genres such as jazz, rock, rock and roll, soul, funk, hip hop and more.
The blues is a timeless and universal music that speaks to nearly all humankind in all of its diversities and complexities.
It is a music that celebrates life with all of its beauty and pain, that inspires courage and resilience in the face of adversity, that connects us to our roots, and to each other.
It is a music that connects us with our innermost feelings, making us feel more alive…
Blues music is characterized by its highly expressive vocals, often accompanied by guitar, piano, harmonica and other instruments that convey the emotions and experiences of its players and singers.
Blues music is a form of musical story-telling that reflects the joys, sorrows, struggles and triumphs, hopes and fears of the people who created it.
The blues expressed the hardships, emotions and aspirations of the oppressed and marginalized people who created it.
One very important and defining characteristic of blues music is the practice of playing MINOR pentatonic or blues scales over MAJOR chords.
Pioneering blues musicians played MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over MAJOR chords to create a contrast between MAJOR and MINOR tonalities.
It is thought that MAJOR chords represented the dominant and oppressive society.
Playing MINOR pentatonic or blues scales over MAJOR chord tonalities created tense and emotive counter melodies which expressed the resistance and frustrations of the oppressed people.
This technique of playing MINOR pentatonic or blues scales over MAJOR chords was adopted by many other musical genres that were influenced by the blues, such as jazz, rock, soul, funk, pop and hip hop.
The technique has long since became a solid foundation of modern music.
It offers guitarists a simple and effective way to create catchy riffs and licks, memorable solos and above all else – greater IMPROVISATIONAL freedom!
Blues techniques allow us to explore and express different moods and feelings, from sadness and melancholy to joy and excitement into our phrasings.
Playing a MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over a MAJOR chord is a technique that has a rich and diverse history, as well as a wide and universal appeal.
Use it well and enjoy!
MINOR BLUES SCALE
The MINOR blues scale is a six note (hexatonic) scale that combines the MINOR pentatonic scale with a chromatic passing tone.
The chromatic passing tone is the b5 degree of the MINOR scale, creating a DIMINISHED or b5 with the TONIC note.
Since the MINOR blues scale contains a semitone interval, it is a HEMITONIC scale.
This presence of this b5 interval within the MINOR pentatonic scale is one of the main characteristics of the blues genre.
So, the A MINOR blues scale is: A-C-D-Eb-E-G.
The DIMINISHED or b5 interval in the MINOR blues scale is also known as the “blue” note which gives the scale its characteristic sound and expressive quality.
The MINOR blues scale with this added b5 “blue” note allows guitarists to use the blue note as a PASSING tone or TARGET note depending on their playing style and preferences.
The blue note offers further options to slide into, vibrate, hammer-on to or pull-off from these blue notes to create different effects, or bend them up slightly to create highly expressive “microtones” that would add the maximum emotions and nuances to the harmony and melody.
The MINOR blues scale can be traced back to the musical practices of enslaved Africans in the United States who adapted their native musical scales to Western diatonic scales by adding the b5 note to the MINOR pentatonic scale or the b3 note to the MAJOR pentatonic scale.
The MINOR blues scale was influenced by the “call-and-response” phrasings, vocal inflections and rhythms of African-American spiritual and work songs.
The MINOR blues scale is now widely used by musicians of various genres, such as rock, pop, soul, funk, hip hop, and even metal music to create a “bluesy” or soulful sound.
You can use the MINOR blues scale in many musical contexts, but it works especially well over MINOR chords and DOMINANT 7th chords.
For example, if you are playing a blues in A MINOR, you can use the A MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over all the chords in the progression: Am7, Dm7, and E7.
Or, better still, you can shift through the A, D and E MINOR pentatonic blues scales to match the progression and create more contrast and variety in your phrasing.
You can also play an A MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over all the chords in a DOMINANT blues progression: A7-D7-E7.
Or, you can swap between MAJOR and MINOR tonalities or even combine them.
There are so many different possibilities.
The range of scales you can use in blues is almost endless, we shall look at some more of these a little later.
Now, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to play the blues, as long as you have fun and express yourself.
However, you should always aim to use any scale you play to make interesting and expressive music and try your best not to make them sound like exercises!
Too many “would be” blues guitarists fall into this trap…
You can experiment with different rhythms, bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, vibrato and many other highly expressive dynamics and articulations to make your playing more meaningful and interesting.
The MINOR and MAJOR pentatonic and blues scales are essential scales for all guitar players to learn and master.
They can help you play with more confidence and creativity over a wide range of musical styles and genres.
Try practicing the scale in different keys and positions, and apply it to some backing tracks or songs that you like.
All variations of the MINOR pentatonic and blues scales, be they in CAGED, 3nps or diagonal patterns can be easily found and explored in the FRETPAL app!
MAJOR BLUES SCALE
The MAJOR blues scale is also a six-note (or hexatonic) scale that combines the MAJOR pentatonic scale with a chromatic passing tone.
This semitone interval makes the MAJOR blues scale a HEMITONIC scale.
The chromatic passing tone is the b3 degree of the MAJOR scale, which creates a MINOR 3rd interval with the TONIC note.
This presence of this b3 interval within the MAJOR pentatonic scale is one of the characteristic sounds of the blues genre.
So, the formation of a C MAJOR blues scale is: C-D-Eb-E-G-A.
Blues music pioneers often used a MAJOR pentatonic scale with a flattened 7th degree,
This was later adapted by blues musicians to create the DOMINANT 7th chord.
The addition of the flattened 3rd degree was probably influenced by “blue” notes, which are the microtonal pitches that fall between the MAJOR and MINOR intervals of the Western scale.
These “blue” notes were used to express the emotions and nuances in the vocal melodies and instrumental solos of blues music.
The MAJOR blues scale can be used in many musical contexts, but it is especially effective in blues, rock, country, and jazz styles.
The scale can be applied over MAJOR chords, DOMINANT 7th chords, or any chord that implies a MAJOR tonality.
Depending on how you use it, the MAJOR blues scale can give a “country” or “southern rock” flavour to your melodies, riffs, licks and solos.
All variations of the MAJOR pentatonic and blues scales be they in CAGED, 3nps or diagonal patterns can be easily found and explored in the FRETPAL app.
MAJOR OR MINOR BLUES?
One of the most common questions that beginner blues guitarists have is:
Whether to use the MAJOR or MINOR blues scale?
Well, the answer to that is not that straightforward, as both scales have their advantages and disadvantages.
Here are some factors to consider when choosing between the MAJOR and MINOR blues scale:
The MAJOR blues scale is derived from the MAJOR pentatonic scale, with an added b3 note.
This note creates a “bluesy” sound and adds tension to MAJOR chords.
The MAJOR blues scale works well over DOMINANT 7th chords, which are the main chords in a blues progression.
The MAJOR blues scale can of course be used over MAJOR chords, but it may sound too bright or happy for some blues styles.
If this is the case, it is better to use the MINOR blues scale with the same root note instead.
The MAJOR blues scale is a good choice for playing over MAJOR chords if you want to create a “country” or “southern rock” flavour to your licks or solos.
The MINOR blues scale is derived from the MINOR pentatonic scale, with an added b5 note.
This note creates a dissonant sound and adds more tension to MINOR chords.
Of course, the MINOR blues scale works well over MINOR chords, but it can also be used over MAJOR and DOMINANT 7th chords, as long as the root note of the scale matches the chord.
The MINOR blues scale creates a darker, more melacholic sound than the MAJOR blues scale.
The best way to decide which scale to use is to experiment with both and see what sounds good to your ears.
Blues notes are the heart and soul of blues music.
They are the notes that give the blues its distinctive sound and emotional depth.
Blues notes are not fixed pitches, but rather “microtonal” variations of the standard notes in a scale.
They are played by bending, vibrating, sliding, or hammering on/pulling off the strings on the guitar to create the maximum expressive and emotive effect.
Blues notes are not random or arbitrary, but follow certain patterns and conventions that depend on the style and context of the blues.
To play blues notes well, you need to listen to a lot of blues music and practice imitating the masters.
You also need to develop your own voice and expression and experiment with different ways of playing blues notes.
Blues notes are not just notes, you should think of them more as FEELINGS.
Should blues notes be PASSING tones?
Now, that is a really great question!
Blues notes are the notes that give the blues its distinctive sound and feel.
They are the b3, b5 and b7 degrees of the MAJOR scale which create contrast, tension and release with the underlying harmony.
Some people think that blues notes should only be used as PASSING tones, meaning that they should be immediately resolved to either a CHORD or a consonant diatonic SCALE tone.
They argue that this way, the blues notes create the required tension and release to get a “bluesy” sound and avoid sounding out of tune or dissonant.
However, other people think that blues notes can also be used as TARGET tones, meaning that they are emphasized or sustained in the melody.
They argue that this way, the “blue” notes create a more expressive and emotional effect and reflect the soulful and improvisational nature of the blues.
So, there is no definitive answer to this question – different styles and players may prefer different approaches.
The best way to find out what works for you is to listen to a lot of blues music, and experiment with using blues notes in different ways.
You may find that you like using the blue notes as both PASSING tones and TARGET tones, depending on the context and mood of the song.
The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy playing the blues!
They are the way you communicate YOUR own emotions and stories through music.
Playing blues notes is not only fun, but also rewarding and liberating.
It is a way of expressing yourself and connecting with others who share your passion for the blues.
You can mix and match the scales, or even combine them, depending on the chords you are using or the mood you want to create.
For example, in the DOMINANT blues progression – C7-F7-G7, you can use the MAJOR pentatonic or blues scale over the C7 and F7 chords, and switch to the MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over the G7 chord.
Or, you can use the MINOR pentatonic or blues scale over the whole progression or you can add some notes from the MAJOR pentatonic or blues scale here and there for contrast.
Or, you can even mix the MAJOR and MINOR blues scales together and make up your own signature licks and develop your own voice.
All the blues giants have their own take on how to play the blues and their own distinctive sound and style.
With so many variations to choose from, you can develop your OWN blues style too!
I have heard too many people that want to emulate the style of some players exactly to every single nuance.
Personally, I think there is no harm in being influenced by the great players, but you should develop your own style.
It’s up to you!
Above all else, the most important thing is to have fun and make great music.