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Thread: How to Get The Blues!

  1. #1
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default How to Get The Blues!

    Have you ever noticed how many Blues tunes get played in E or in A, be they recordings; tunes played at jam sessions; what two strangers play who just sit down and start picking together; or what someone often plays when messing around with an instrument in a music store? (not to mention what many somewhat impaired groups play in a bar, tavern, or pub)

    The reason why E & A are the most common “Blues Keys” becomes obvious when one can answer the question, “What makes the Blues sound Bluesy?” It’s all about what I call “approaching dissonance”. There are only three ways to combine notes, unison, harmony, or dissonance. Generally speaking, dissonance is not enjoyed and I liken the skill of “approaching it” to a tight-rope walker thrilling the crowd by wavering but never falling from the wire. The addition of the b7th to a chord provides that musical “emotional tease” of almost falling from the wire. When a skilled improvisor bends into and/or very slightly beyond that point, blues fans love it! Beside the b7th there are two other “Blue Notes”, the b3rd & b5th.

    Many have heard mention of the “Blues Scale” and it is nothing more than the minor pentatonic pattern (which already includes the b3rd & b5th) with the addition of the b7th i.e. it is now a hexatonic pattern. Put the minor pentatonic over a major I-IV-V progression (parallel minor, E min over E maj.) played as 7th chords & voila!!, you’re on your way to being a real blues player!

    Why E & A? What are some of the easiest 7th chords to play? What are the easiest minor pentatonic patterns to play? I rest my case.

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  3. #2
    Registered User Ky Slim's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by OldMandoMan View Post

    Why E & A? [/B]
    E and A are the lowest pitched open strings on a standard tuned guitar would be my guess.

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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    The reason is simple: The blues tend to get played in the keys of A and E simply because these are easy keys for the guitar, and they offer many open strings and low-position hand placements. Lots of Delta blues musicians played the guitar as their main instrument. This says something about the guitar, but not about the mandolin -- and nothing at all about the blues as a musical form, per se. When played on other instruments, the blues often wind up in a host of other keys. Horns and reeds (trumpet, sax) will often prefer to use the flat keys (F, Bb, Eb, Ab). Violins and mandolins and suchlike can rather easily handle the blues in C, D and G. But truthfully, the blues isn't tied to any particular set of notes and can be played in any key whatsoever. This is appropriate, since most of the original blues were songs with words, not instrumentals, and songs get played in various keys designed to complement the human voice.

    Put another way, the blues don't sound "bluesy" because they're being played in A or E. Not at all. It has nothing to do with the key. They sound "bluesy" because of the note and harmony choices involved. It's important not to get these very different things confused.

    Incidentally, the "Mississippi Waltz," as played by Kenny Baker on the fiddle with Bill Monroe, is a fine blues waltz in F (chords F, Ab, C, Bb). It works really well on the mandolin. Not many E's or A's in it: it uses Eb's (flat 7th) and Ab's (flat 3rd), instead. And George Gershwin's famous "Rhapsody in Blue," a semi-classical piece that explores the 'blue' notes (and scales) in great detail, is written in Bb.
    Last edited by sblock; Nov-05-2019 at 2:32pm.

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    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    The blues style is more than a minor pentatonic scale. It was codified by guitar players, and the familiar riffs use the G and B strings for bending, especially for the slightly raised minor third, but also that handy parallel-thirds move bending the G and B together.

    It is not a major challenge to find those exact patterns on mandolin, although they are less convenient. They are not especially convenient on piano, either, but keyboard players use the same riffs. And E is of course common, but lots of Chicago Blues is in C.
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by OldMandoMan View Post
    I rest my case.
    About what? What's the argument?

    Post #1 of this thread sounds to me like it's actually post #2 (or 3 or 4 etc) of a thread of which the original post somehow got cut off.

  9. #6
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    In my attempt to simplify playing blues, I seem to have complicated the issue for some. My apologies!

    - Absolutely the blues can be played in any key and yes horns, reeds, & keyboard players seem to favor the flat keys (as most of the tunes in the Fake Book will illustrate) while most guitarists & mandolinists prefer the sharp keys G through E.

    - Of course “bluesy-ness” is communicated by style, but if the “slight dissonance“ of using the “Blue Notes” of flat 3, flat 5 & flat 7 is not there, all the style & bending will not a blues player make. Think of the lyrics for “The Birth of The Blues” from Porgy & Bess?

    - I focus on the keys of E & A as they allow the use of all open strings for blues improvising in the key of E on both Mando & Guitar; and only requiring one to avoid the open D string in the key A on Mando, & the open D and B strings in the key of A on Guitar. The seventh chords for both E & A are also pretty simple on both instruments.

    - The best improvisor I’ve ever known summed it up pretty succinctly by saying “It’s mainly pentatonics with some chromaticism thrown in!”, and applying the KISS principle, I’ll go to the mat on that point.

    I’m sure many of you out there can play what ever you need to, so perhaps I’m only trying to help those who are struggling with capturing that “Bluesy Sound”, a technique which some players seem to perpetuate as only for the talented & gifted.

    Now here is a question for the gurus: The Blues scale is simply the minor pentatonic with a flat 5 added. What is the pattern called when the natural 7 is also added?

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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Jungle Boogie

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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    The Ledzeppelian Mode

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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    If only someone had told Yank Rachell this before he decided to tune his mandolin down three half steps.
    Play that which you feel is groovy, get down with your bad self, and shake your money maker if it makes sense for you to do so.

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  16. #10

    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by OldMandoMan View Post
    Have you ever noticed how many Blues tunes get played in E or in A, be they recordings; tunes played at jam sessions; what two strangers play who just sit down and start picking together; or what someone often plays when messing around with an instrument in a music store? (not to mention what many somewhat impaired groups play in a bar, tavern, or pub)

    The reason why E & A are the most common “Blues Keys” becomes obvious when one can answer the question, “What makes the Blues sound Bluesy?” It’s all about what I call “approaching dissonance”. There are only three ways to combine notes, unison, harmony, or dissonance. Generally speaking, dissonance is not enjoyed and I liken the skill of “approaching it” to a tight-rope walker thrilling the crowd by wavering but never falling from the wire. The addition of the b7th to a chord provides that musical “emotional tease” of almost falling from the wire. When a skilled improvisor bends into and/or very slightly beyond that point, blues fans love it! Beside the b7th there are two other “Blue Notes”, the b3rd & b5th.

    Many have heard mention of the “Blues Scale” and it is nothing more than the minor pentatonic pattern (which already includes the b3rd & b5th) with the addition of the b7th i.e. it is now a hexatonic pattern. Put the minor pentatonic over a major I-IV-V progression (parallel minor, E min over E maj.) played as 7th chords & voila!!, you’re on your way to being a real blues player!

    Why E & A? What are some of the easiest 7th chords to play? What are the easiest minor pentatonic patterns to play? I rest my case.
    The b7 is already in the minor pentatonic scale. It is the b5/#4 that is added to make the blues scale.

  17. #11
    Registered User sblock's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by OldMandoMan View Post
    In my attempt to simplify playing blues, I seem to have complicated the issue for some. My apologies!

    - Absolutely the blues can be played in any key and yes horns, reeds, & keyboard players seem to favor the flat keys (as most of the tunes in the Fake Book will illustrate) while most guitarists & mandolinists prefer the sharp keys G through E.

    - Of course “bluesy-ness” is communicated by style, but if the “slight dissonance“ of using the “Blue Notes” of flat 3, flat 5 & flat 7 is not there, all the style & bending will not a blues player make. Think of the lyrics for “The Birth of The Blues” from Porgy & Bess?

    - I focus on the keys of E & A as they allow the use of all open strings for blues improvising in the key of E on both Mando & Guitar; and only requiring one to avoid the open D string in the key A on Mando, & the open D and B strings in the key of A on Guitar. The seventh chords for both E & A are also pretty simple on both instruments.

    - The best improvisor I’ve ever known summed it up pretty succinctly by saying “It’s mainly pentatonics with some chromaticism thrown in!”, and applying the KISS principle, I’ll go to the mat on that point.

    I’m sure many of you out there can play what ever you need to, so perhaps I’m only trying to help those who are struggling with capturing that “Bluesy Sound”, a technique which some players seem to perpetuate as only for the talented & gifted.

    Now here is a question for the gurus: The Blues scale is simply the minor pentatonic with a flat 5 added. What is the pattern called when the natural 7 is also added?
    The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7, with 6 notes. If you add the natural 7th, you will have a heptatonic scale consisting of 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-7. VERY FEW scales include both natural and dominant sevenths, in practice (these clash badly). Bebop sometimes uses a dominant scale of 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-7, but that's just about it. There is no name, to my knowledge, for the scale you're describing -- and no practical use, to my knowledge.

    You can find a list of over 60 common scales & modes, and their English names, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...ales_and_modes

    The scale you want is not listed.

  18. #12
    Registered User Tom Wright's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    The blues scale is 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7, with 6 notes. If you add the natural 7th, you will have a heptatonic scale consisting of 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-7. VERY FEW scales include both natural and dominant sevenths, in practice (these clash badly). Bebop sometimes uses a dominant scale of 1-2-3-4-5-6-b7-7, but that's just about it. There is no name, to my knowledge, for the scale you're describing -- and no practical use, to my knowledge.

    You can find a list of over 60 common scales & modes, and their English names, here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_o...ales_and_modes

    The scale you want is not listed.
    I use that collection of notes plenty in jazz and blues, although the raised 7th is likely to only be a passing tone heading towards the tonic.

    The bass line for “Born in Chicago” is 5,7,#7,1 (8). Or (for rxample) G, Bb, B, C.
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Just to be a pedant I went to The Amazing Scale Finder at https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/finder.php If I pressed the right buttons it's called 'Chromatic Hypophrygian'

    https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/3305
    - Jeremy

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  20. #14
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    Just to be a pedant I went to The Amazing Scale Finder at https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/finder.php If I pressed the right buttons it's called 'Chromatic Hypophrygian'

    https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/3305
    Love it! That's about as "nerdy" as as one could hope for. It must have been named by someone at Juliard or Berklee?

    Over the years I've taken to calling it "The Hybrid-Blues Scale" and designating the 7 as an H-note. (perhaps a nod to German Blues players?) The little "Box" created by the little three note chromatic runs (4-b5-5 and b7-7-8) forms what I call a "landing pad" for speedy jumps between the four patterns on the mando neck or the five patterns on the guitar neck. Blues players use this "Hybrid Blues scale" a lot more than they may be aware of.

    One of my favorite quotes that I MIGHT have heard from Alan Holdsworth (?) is "All twelve notes are available to every player all the time" The caveat is of course, the more you stray from the pentatonic the greater the odds you will hit a land-mine, thus this is where theory & ear-training crashes into creativity!

  21. #15
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by DoubleE View Post
    The Ledzeppelian Mode
    Not to be confused with "pie ala mode" where one adds ice cream instead of "assorted chemicals"?

  22. #16
    Registered User DoubleE's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by OldMandoMan View Post
    Not to be confused with "pie ala mode" where one adds ice cream instead of "assorted chemicals"?
    No, you’re thinking of the Jergarcian Mode. That’s the minor pentatonic with lysergic acid diethylamide raised to the nth degree.
    (1-b3-4-5-b7-L-S-D)

  23. #17
    Registered User OldMandoMan's Avatar
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    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Me thinks the number of possible modes may be expanding to unknown limits?

  24. #18

    Default Re: How to Get The Blues!

    Quote Originally Posted by derbex View Post
    Just to be a pedant I went to The Amazing Scale Finder at https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/finder.php If I pressed the right buttons it's called 'Chromatic Hypophrygian'

    https://ianring.com/musictheory/scales/3305
    Didn't Hagred get in trouble for owning one of those?

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