Friday, September 30, 2011

Pentatonic Spice - Adding "Blues" sounds to your boxes - Part 2 of 3


In Part One of of this series, we covered adding "modal" sounds to the pentatonic boxes you already know. If you didn't read that post, click here so that you're up to speed prior to this next installment. 

In Part Two, let's discuss adding "Blues" spices to the pentatonic. But before we do, I first want to give a shout out to Stevel over at the Gear Page for suggesting I make this a series. Great idea. Thanks brother.

The "Blues" Scale
One of the staples of capturing a blues sound in your solos is the use and understanding of the "blues" scale (as it is commonly referred). 

From wikipedia:

The hexatonic, or six note, blues scale consists of the minor pentatonic scale plus the 4th or 5th degree[1][2][3]. A major feature of the blues scale is the use of blue notes,[4] however, since blue notes are considered alternative inflections, a blues scale may be considered to not fit the traditional definition of a scale.[5] At its most basic, a single version of this "blues scale" is commonly used over all changes (or chords) in a twelve bar blues progression.[6] Likewise, in contemporary jazz theory, its use is commonly based upon the key rather than the individual chord.[2]

In essence, the only difference between the regular pentatonic and a blues scale is one note: the b5. But what a difference it makes. Understand that this is not a note you can stand on for any length of time. More, a note you pass across to add that dissonant/consonant resolution that the blues live on. The b5 and the 3rd are at the core.

To me, there are three spots where I really "hear" the blues:
  • the b3rd - bend or slide it up to a major 3rd-ish then resolve down to the root
  • the b7th - roll across it to the major 7th then resolve to the root
  • the b5 - 7, 5, b5, 4, 3, 1 BAM! There it is!

There are other spots as well, but these are three moves that are ALL OVER the blues. It took me quite a while to really understand the power of such a simple-seeming genre, but having a solid grasp of the blues has improved my soloing like no other study. I HIGHLY suggest learning this to ANYONE who wants to solo. Rant over : )

Anyway, let's have a look at the chart prepared at the top of this entry. Click here to download it if you so choose.  What you will see, as in Part One, is the first position pentatonic at the top. Then below to the right, is the "Blues" version of the scale with the added b5's.

Another very commonly used scale with blues spices is the Dorian mode, also covered in Part One and shown on the left of the chart. The natural 6th and 9th are other very common blues notes. Again, they are used mostly as pass-throughs, but they can add a powerful dimension to a solo.

At the bottom, I added a combined "hybrid" version. VERY usable scale.

The key to this is trying to figure out where your original scale lives. At first, only stop on the safe notes of the original pentatonic minor form. As you gain confidence, you can stand on these other notes... maybe not the b5... like, EVER! But certainly the 6th and 9th are pretty consonant. They tend to add a suspended, dreamy-type sound to my ears. But I am sure you will have your own way of describing them.

As with all the concepts I am covering here, to take it to the next level, find these added notes in all the other shapes of the pentatonic scale. If you master them with each shape, your pool of available sound options becomes immense!

Below is an example of the Blues Scale in use. What a great sound! One of my faves.

P.S. I added an explanation of intervals for anyone confused by the terminology. Click here for that post  
Blues example by Jeremy_green

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