There is a simple trick when soloing over a blues progression:

Major blues scales sound good over the I chord and

minor blues scales work over the IV and V chords

When we talk about a blues scale, we are talking about a modified pentatonic scale.  Let’s work in D:

D minor Pentatonic Scale  

Scale Notes:      D     F    G    A    C
Scale Position:   1      b3  4    5    b7

Now, turn your pentatonic scale into a blues scale by adding one more note.  For a minor pentatonic scale, add a b5 or #4 (same thing). In D minor, that would be a G#.

D minor Blues Scale

Scale Notes:     D  F   G   G#   A   C    D
Scale Position:  1  b3  4  #4    5    b7   8

Playing a minor blues scale over an entire blues progression works, but sounds weak over the I chord (D7).

Basic D major Blues Chord Changes
D7    D7     D7    D7
| //// | //// | //// | //// |

G7    G7     D7    D7
| //// | //// | //// | //// |

A7     G7    D7    D7
| //// | //// | //// | //// |

There’s a trick, but you need a major blues scale. So first work up your D major pentatonic scale.

D Major (B minor) Pentatonic Scale

 

Scale Notes:     D E   F#   A   B
Scale Position:  1 2   3     5    6

Now add a flatted 3rd (F) to get the D Major blues scale.

D Major Blues Scale

Scale Notes:      D   E   F    F#    A    B   D
Scale Position:   1   2   b3  3      5     6   8

Take this simple system and start practicing to blues changes in online videos on CDs, or with your own band. I hope you have new fun with this trick in your soloing. When you have fun, your listeners have fun!

Tips: 

  • When I was a kid, I resented that all of my “square” music teachers continually prescribed scales, patterns, and exercises.  I wanted to get right in and play music!  Being of little brain as I was, it took a long time before I realized that my teachers were right, and that I really did want to spend time running through scales, patterns, and exercises.  Still, if anyone had shown me these simple tips about the Blues (and maybe showed me how to practice efficiently), I would have had a lot more fun earlier on!
  • If you haven’t really played around with the Blues, but you know your pentatonics, it’s easily within your grasp.
  • If you already knew all of this, it’s time to take it to someone who is just getting started.  I’m sure that you’ve got friends with a kid who’s just learning an instrument.  Give back to the community!
  • Use any patterns and licks that you’ve got for your pentatonics.  Use what you already know with this minor/major shift trick.  Play some of your hard-won pentatonic riffs and patterns, but then go back to your newly found Major/minor blues patterns.  You’ll add to your sound and keep things interesting.

Chris Carden


Chris Carden is a Detroit-area saxophonist, band leader and sideman in jazz, funk, Latin, and rock bands, and co-owner of a music composition and a sound design company. He works days supporting designers at an automotive manufacturer, and he is thrilled to be surrounded by great musicians of all musical styles. It usually takes him less than 60 seconds to meet someone and find out what instrument they play.

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