Blues

Music of certain genres have developed around certain chordal patterns and related scales. The blues scale supposedly has its roots in African American music dating back to the days of slavery, but the exact origins of its modern incarnation are unknown. Blues music uses the 'blues scale' one of which we show below.

 

The blues scale is neither a minor nor a major scale but the internal dissonances provide the 'colour' that one associates with blues music - the 'blue' notes are the minor third and the 'flat five'.

You should note the unusual naming of the fourth note of this scale - really an augmented 4th or diminished 5th - called the 'flat five'.

In vocal music, the second degree of the scale is often sung somewhere between an Eb and an E. In instrumental music, various techniques are employed to achieve the same effect, such as stretching the string while playing an Eb on a stringed instrument, lipping down an E on a wind instrument, or striking both the Eb and E simultaneously on a keyboard instrument. The flatted seventh and fifth also are not always sung or played exactly on the notated pitch.

Variations on the blues scale that include the natural third, fifth, or seventh can be used as well. Also, note that if the flatted fifth is omitted, the resultant scale is the minor pentatonic scale which we consider below. The minor pentatonic scale can thus be used as a substitute for the blues scale, and vice versa.

The beauty of the blues scale is that it can be played over an entire blues progression with no real avoid notes.

If you try playing lines based on this usage (for example, a C blues scale over a C7 chord) you get instant positive feedback, since almost everything you can do sounds good.

This unfortunately leads many players to overuse the scale, and to run out of interesting ideas quickly. One way to introduce added interest when using the blues scale is to use any special effects at your disposal to vary your sound. This can include honking and screaming for saxophonists, growling for brass players, or using clusters on the piano.

Many draw attention to characteristic rhythms associated with 'blues' music. In fact, the best-known rhythm, called the 'eight-note triplet shuffle', is found also in jazz and swing. This rhythm is illustrated below.

 

 

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