Blues – Wrapping Up

Hey, Guitarists,

Over the last few blogs, I talked about the progression of the blues, a I, IV, V of all dominant 7th chords that make up the 12 bar progression.  Then I talked about the A Blues scale.  After that, we added the b5 note for a more “bluesy” sound.
If you’ve been following this far, hopefully you worked on those triads from last week – A7, D7 and E7.  Before you go any further, you should be able to play these simple 4 note figures on the guitar against the appropriate chord.
The final step in this series is of course – putting it all together.  This is why I wanted you to get comfortable playing the blues scale (with and without the b5th) and the triads separately.  Most guitarists will be pretty comfortable with the A blues scale.   The thing to work on is seeing how these two overlay.
The easiest way to do this is realize the A blues scale has all the notes of the A7 chord except one – the C# or 3rd note of the A7.  A very common sound and one that Eric Clapton mentions in his autobiography is going from the C (natural) to the C#.  Now that sound typically wants to resolve somewhere, usually the root (A).  The most common way to play this is:
String     Fret
3               5
3              6
4               7
So while the A7 chord is sounding, play that 3 note lick.  It will probably sound familiar to you.  You can also resolve it upward (1st string 5th fret) to the high A.
Now I could have just given you the lick, but then you wouldn’t have known why we can use this note out of the scale like that. 
Keep Rockin’,

One More Point about the Blues..


In my last two blogs, I talked about the chord progression the blues is based on (the I, IV, V), the basic blues scale, and the highly distinctive flatted fifth note in addition to that scale.  

Many guitar players don’t go any farther than that.  They practice their little licks over and over until “I got blisters on me fingers!!!”, people stop to listen to their speed as they hammer on an pull off their way from the 5th fret, 6th string until they’re screaming at the high E string, bending from the 15th fret to the 17th.  They have arrived.
Ok, rockstar.  Time to be quiet, shampoo the mousse out of your hair and get back to practicing.  You are not done yet.  Not for the rest of your life, anyway.
The next significant phase of getting to be a good blues player is to be aware of the chord progression.  People have asked me several times “Do you know the exact note you’re playing each time you play?”
The answer is usually yes.  But it’s not as conscious as you would think.  
If I ask for your address and it’s 123 Main St., SomeCity, SomeState, 99999, the USPS can find you, my gps can find you, and it’s all good.  However, you can also tell someone who lives near you “Come up to Main Street, make a left, and I’m the third house on the left.”  Your house position is relative to the beginning of the street.  So there’s two ways to give directions- one absolute (so Mr. Postman can find it) and the other way, relative to your surroundings that your friends can follow.
If you know your chord structures well on the guitar, you’ll begin to think in related terms.  Trust me.
Most chords have a 1, 3, and 5 in it – some are flatted or sharped, but you have 3 notes for major and minor chords.  This is the triad, or 3 notes that make up the chord. Make it a dominant 7th chord like what we use in blues, and you have 
1 3 5 b7
I still call these “triads” even though there are 4 notes in them, mainly because “quadrads” don’t roll off the tongue as well.  But you get the idea.
In good ol’ A blues, it’s 
A C# E G
So against A7, if you play that shape, you’re going to get a different sound than if you just played the A blues scale because of the C#.  Try playing it like this:
A C# E G
String     Fret     Finger
  4             7             3
  3             6             2
  2             5             1
  2             8            4
Against D7 play this:
D F# A C
String     Fret      Finger
  3              7           2
  2              7           3
  1              5            1
  1              8           4
And for E7 play:
E G# B D
String    Fret       Finger
   3           9              2
   2           9              3
   1            7              1
   1            10            4
Learn these shapes and try to track the chords as you hear them (record them on a tape if you can).  Play A7 against A7, D7 against D7 and E7 against E7.   You’re probably going to recognize sounds you’ve hear before.  You are now following the chord progression, albeit limitedly, but it’s a start.  
Eventually, you should learn all your triad shapes, but start with this.  Like I said, most guitarists don’t get this far….
….but you can.
Rock on,

The Blues Scale "Blue" Note

Hi guitarists,

The last blog was all about the I, IV, V blues progression and how the A blues (aka A Minor Pentatonic) scale is played against it. Many players don’t consider this really the A blues scale without an additional note. And that note is….

…the flatted fifth.

Yes, it’s hard to believe that only one additional note can change your sound, but if you try it, you’ll see that it does.

So before our scale was:

1 b3 4 5 b7

Now we add Eb to the mix:

1 b3 4 b5 5 b7
A C D Eb E G

Playing this note adds a particular “color” to your sound. You’ll hear the difference. There are two old rock classics that make use of the note. The first is Heartbreaker by Led Zepplin:

A C D Eb E G
A A A A C D Eb E G

The other is Sunshine of your love by Cream (Eric Clapton’s “supergroup” back in the late 60’s). I’ve transposed the song to the same key to make the example clearer:

E Eb D A C A

Note that each use of the Eb is used as a passing tone. Passing tones are used all the time as notes that “fill in” your passage, add color to the phrase but you don’t want to stick on that note. Played by itself, the flatted fifth is a “tri tone” – 3 whole steps from the root and in old, old, days this dissonant interval was considered an unholy sound and there are books out there that suggest people who dared played this interval were sentenced to death. Today if people don’t like your sound, you just lose your rotation spot on MTV.

The harshness of the sound is tempered by usually embedding it between the 4th and 5th note of the scale. If you go from A (1) to Eb (b5) back and forth it sounds very harsh (Buckethead likes this sound a lot). But using the phrase as D Eb E or E Eb D ascending or descending, it gives your playing a different sound.

Additionally you can play this like so:

D (hammer on) Eb (pulloff) D (pulloff) C A C A

Not everybody uses the flatted fifth sound. It’s a style option. The late, great bebop trumpet player, Dizzy Gillespi, once commented “We don’t flat our fifths, we drink ’em!”

Rock on,


I IV V – Blues Basics

Hey all,

In my last blog, I talked about the I, IV, V progression and how it related to a major key.  Let’s take a look at the key of A Major:
1    2    3     4    5    6     7
A   B   C#   D   E   F#   G#
So the I IV V in A Major is:
I – A Maj
IV – D Maj
V – E Maj
And as I said last post, every note you have in A Major can be found in at least one of those chords.  Have a melody in A Major?  You can harmonize it to these three chords.
Now the Blues works on the I, IV, V of A as well, but with a completely different tonality.  It adds the 7th to the chords.  But not in keeping with the key of A Major.
If we were in A Major, and added 7ths to these chords, we would have:
I – A Maj7
IV – D Maj7
V – E Dominant 7 (or E7)
Blues doesn’t use these.  Jazz will, but blues doesn’t.   Blues treats every chord as a dominant 7th chord.  Read that again.  Our I IV V in A blues is:
I – A7
IV – D7
V – E7
This changes the color of the sound distinctly.  Now if you are sticking to major key theory this doesn’t make any sense at all.  Since the dominant chord is “always” the V chord of a key, this would mean that A7 is in the key of D, D7 is in the key of G, and E7 is in the key of A.
Nope, all wrong.  This is not a major key so those rules do not apply.
This is the key of A Blues.  It is meant to sound a bit dissonant (harsh) on these 7th chords but it works.   And you don’t use the A major scales to solo against it either (shudder!!  try it and see).  You would use the A Blues scale (Some people call it the minor pentatonic scale):
1    b3  4   5    b7  1
A   C   D   E   G   A
“Wait!” my student shouts out, head spinning “First you tell me we’re using the dominant V chord everywhere.  Now, those notes don’t even all belong in the A7 chord!!  Stop lying to me!!  I want my money back!!”
Relax.  Let’s lay it out side by side:
                1     3    5    b7
A7     –    A     C#    E   G
D7    –     D     F#    A   C
E7    –     E      G#    B   D
A Blues  A   C   D   E  G  A
Note that the A blues scale lacks the 3rd of any of our dominant chords.  It does have the root of all the chords.  It has the 5th of 2 of the chords, and it has the b7th of all the chords.
So the A blues scale isn’t a perfect match against this chord progression, but it’s close.  And it will keep you out of trouble too if you get lost.  There are 5 notes in the A blues scale so there are 5 starting points or “positions” of the scale.  Find them on the net and print them out.  They should be laid out 2 notes per string.  (Once I figure out how draw graphics in php or flex, I’ll be putting it on my own website.)
A word about fingering:  On each string, use your 1st finger for the first note, and your 3rd finger if the next note is a whole step away, or your 4th finger if the next note is 3 half steps away.  I’ve seen some students using their 2nd finger on the first note one a string because they were taught not to move their hand.  Nonsense!  Follow 1st and 3rd finger or 1st and 4th finger and you’ll be fine.
So our A blues song will follow the traditional 12 Bar Blues progression:
A7  |   A7   |   A7   |  A7   |
D7   |  D7   |   A7   |   A7   |
E7   |  D7   |   A7   |   E7   |
Get these chords recorded on a tape recorder, play them back and work the A blues scale to them.  My next blog will discuss the “forbidden” note in the Blues scale.
Until then, keep rockin’,

Back to School

Hey folks – 

As usual, whenever we trudged back to school after our summer off, we’re subjected to a heat wave.  Like summer’s last death throe before giving way to a chilly autumn, we’re going to school, sweating away in our new school clothes.  For us parents, it means trying to remember to buy the lunch bags (and even making the lunches!), back to school nights and getting to know our kid’s teachers.
Perhaps not so unusual is with all these kids reigned in from vacation, I’m experiencing a spike with my teaching schedule.  A lot of people want to learn to play guitar now that they can’t go anywhere 🙂
With the thought of back to school in mind, I wanted to talk about the most used chord progression in Western Music.  A chord progression is a series of chords.  All songs have chord progressions.
Let’s take our key of C.  C is all natural notes (all the white keys on a keyboard).  So the notes would be :
1  2  3 4  5 6 7  8(or 1)
It follows the alphabet until it gets to G and then returns to A.  There are no “H” notes although some students have tried unsuccessfully to argue with me that there were.
Chords are built in 3rds.  For example, C to D is a 2nd.  C to E is a 3rd.  A  3rd is just a distance in music that skips the note in between.
So, in the Key of C, the first chord is Cmajor and it has C, E, and G in it. That is the 1, 3, and 5 of the key.  Since it is built off of the first note in the key, it is the “one” chord or I in roman numerals.
The 4th note of the key is F.  If we built a chord of F (and remember chords are built in 3rds), it would be notes F, A, and C.  This is Fmajor, the “four” chord or IV in Roman Numerals.
The 5th note of the key of C is G.  Building a chord in the same way gives us the notes G, B, and D.  This is Gmajor, the “five” chord in they key of C or V in Roman Numerals.
You might wonder “Hey, I know my G major chord and I hit all the strings.  That’s 6 notes.  How can there be just 3 notes in the chord?”.  That’s because they repeat (yes, you can use notes more than once).  For instance, the open string G major chord has 6th string 3rd fret, 5th string 2nd fret and 1st string 3rd fret – all other strings open.  This gives us (from 6th string to 1st string):
So even though you’re hitting 6 pitches, you’re playing 3 notes.
Now, back to the progression.  
I = C
IV = F
V = G
This is the I, IV, V progression in C.  It is used in blues, rock, country, pop, hard rock, you name it.  How you’d solo against it depends on the style of music you are playing, which is too involved to get into in this post.
However, 2 things I’d note about this progression.  First, these are the three “major” triads of the key.  The other chords built off the other notes are either minor or diminished.  Second, you can harmonize any melody in the key of C with this chord progression.  In other words, if you pick a note out of the key of C, I’ll find that note in at least one of these chords.  
So that’s the story behind the I, IV, V progression.  Of course, there’s a lot more to it, I left out 7th chords, country-pentatonic tonalities, and on and on.  But this is the beginning.
Happy Schooling everybody.
Keep Rockin’.