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.
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
A C D E G
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:
A A G A
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!”
Hey folks –