Sunday, May 17, 2009


Let me welcome you to the first installment in my new blog. For those of you interested in music history, you may visit my other blog at For those of you interested in jazz guitar, then here is the place to come!

I will post a variety of short (and hopefully useful) articles on a wide variety of topics related to jazz guitar, including everything from maintenance to jazz theory and history.


I hope over time, that readers might become involved and add their articles. One step at a time, however, so I will let you all know when I have arrived at the point. For now, I will leave the comments window open so that you can add any information that you believe makes an article better, that is, once articles start appearing. You can go to the comments window by clicking on the article title. One rule--play nice.


Also, please visit me at my website and at my You Tube Channel. Thanks!


Brazil is a tune forever associated by most people, especially those tuned into gypsy jazz, as one of Django Reinhardt's finest moments. The tune was also used as the title track in the Terry Gilliam film of the same name.

Brazil, Django Reinhardt

Playing Brazil

The most compelling feature of the music is the unrestrained enthusiasm and its unabashed Latin quality of the piece, though the underlying rhythm does not fit into the basic established patterns of the rumba, tango, or samba. The melody itself is a 'rift' tune in the Swing style, and the Latin feel is created in the head to a large degree by the highly-syncopated secondary chromatic melody from the fifth of the scale to the seventh and back again to the fifth. Hence, the song, at least the head, features not one rift, but two!

Included at the right side of the page is the score of the head. Since there are two independent melodies that run through most of the head, the piece is, at the minimum, a duet, and it is as a guitar duet that the score has been arranged.

The chord symbols are also given over the score, so the melody in the higher part of each paired system and the chords above may be used as a fake book score by a band. Here the secondary melody in the highest voice of the lower part of the system must be played by second player, but the remaining parts of the texture can be filled out by the comping instrument, bass, and drums in the standard way.

To view the score in right column of the article, right click, open in a new window and, to save the score to your computer, right click a second time.

I play with pick-up bands but have no regular gig, and sometimes I play social functions (restaurants, wedding and corporate cocktail hours, private parties, etc.) solo. When I do, I use rhythm tracks that I have made and drive them through my amp from my laptop. I also use rhythm tracks to sharpen my improvisational skills when practicing at home. I have provided two videos, one of me improvising to one of these rhythm tracks and a video for your use for practice that features the second guitar part as written on the score above.

The audio given on the practice video below is slower than the version I use in my improvisation below and my version crawls compared to Reinhardt's, but the practice video is fast enough to be useful in learning your way around the song. The file goes on for four complete stanzas, so there is time to both practice the head and sharpen your skills at improvising. The progression is simple: G and D7 in alternation (major, mixolydian from tonic, major pentatonic, and even minor pentatonic)-E7 (major phrygian, diminished, alt scale)-Am9 (A pentatonic, natural minor, dorian, melodic minor, E major phryrgian continued from E7)-D7 (all the same scales the song started with over the tonic chord pus mixolydian on D and even materials from the diminished chord or scale). The rate of harmonic change is very slow, so there's time to explore! Have fun!

Last, here is my take on Brazil using a slightly modified version of the rhythm track (faster and with bass added). If you decide to use this song in a band setting, once past the head, I would recommend abandoning the secondary melody, as does Django, and add momentum through the use of a walking bass.

Clearly I am not a gypsy jazz player, although that is a gypsy guitar in my lap on the video, but the tune does lend itself nicely to a Swing treatment. This was one of the last pieces Reinhardt recorded before his death, and one could reasonably argue that there are more Swing and bop influences in his playing by this time than gypsy.

Brazil (my version)

Gyspy Guitar, Yet Again

Limehouse Blues
Limehouse Blues
was composed by Philip Braham and was originally sung with words by Douglas Furber. The song has long since become a improvisational instrumental and one, like Brazil, I heard on an old but astounding Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappeli recording.

Reinhardt/Grappeli, Limehouse Blues

The lyrics:
And those weird China blues
Never go away
Sad, mad blues
For all the while they seem to say

Oh, Limehouse kid
Oh, oh, Limehouse kid
Goin' the way
That the rest of them did
Poor broken blossom
And nobody's child
Haunting and taunting
You're just kind of wild

Oh, Limehouse blues
I've the real Limehouse blues
Can't seem to shake off
Those real China blues
Rings on your fingers
And tears for your crown
That is the story
Of old Chinatown

Rings on your fingers
And tears for your crown
That is the story
Of old Chinatown

Here is my version of Limehouse Blues. The guitar I am playing was made by David Hodson shortly before his death, and was a replica of Reinhardt's guitar in the Louvre. I say "was" because a local repairman (a monkey with a can of Krylon and a wrench, as it turned out) took a barely visible hairline face crack and made it into a disaster by forcing the crack open, pouring glue onto it, then sanding it after the glue dried. The guitar's face has since been lovingly and painstakingly restored by someone with the talent and expertise to do it, but there were some really intense moments.

Swing Gitane
Despite his fame as a gypsy guitarist, "Swing Gitane" is one of the few gypsy melodies that Django Reinhardt recorded and kept for a time in his repertory. "Swing Gitane" means "Swing Gypsy." My version is certainly more Swing than gypsy, but it is a very compelling minor key song. It has built in both swing and drive while retaining some of the eastern European flavor of earlier versions.

I am not a gypsy jazz player, instead having my roots more in electric archtop playing, but the allure of these guitars is hard to resist.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Working the Blues 1, Introduction

This series of articles will hopefully help new players come to grips with improvising over the wellspring progression of American popular music, the blues. Many who teach improvisation hold that the major scale is the primary scale and that all other notes not in the scale but which are brought into play are grafted onto the major scale or used to substitute for notes in the scale. While this is correct in the grand scheme, it does not address "blue note" resolutions or help the new player get any closer to a "more authentic" feel in creating melodies. Identifying the notes that can be used is the easy part. Mastering the syntax and grammar in order to make music in the blues and jazz language is another matter entirely. To make matters even more complex, there is a wide variety of "dialects," though basics are shared.

Nearly all of us carry with us our earliest musical training, at the most meager, the assemblies and brief classes we had in grade school. Here we are taught from the European point of view, and the very first item on the agenda is "do, re, mi," the natural major scale. We are taught, as in European music, to sing or play on the beat. We also carry the influence of all the music heard at home and on the media, and much of what we hear has great value but does not help with understanding the blues or how the basic behaviors of the notes within blues informs all popular music that followed it, especially jazz.

To getting a start, an overview of two basic scales, the major and minor pentatonic, and their historical uses as early as the nineteenth century is really important. The foundation of most American popular music was laid in African-American drum song and dance, work songs, British and British-inspired folk songs, the Spiritual and the sorrow song Spiritual, and even prison songs. The two scales represent polarities in that one is essentially major and the other minor, but herein is found the bases of melodic direction, note resolutions, melodic leaps, and the substitutions of some notes for others and when the substitutions are possible, desirable, and even absolutely non-negotiable in their absolute necessity.

Though I would hardly describe myself as a "blues god," especially since my playing is colored for better or worse by decades of classical music training and by an interest in jazz that prompts me to use scale materials that are outside blues but not jazz, I nonetheless would like to start with a sample of my blues:

Twelve Bar Blues in B Flat

Working the Blues 2, The Scales

The two scales that we will explore, given to the right in the key of A, are the major and minor pentatonic scales. Each of these scales has a European counterpart and exists as a "gapped" version of existing scales. A "gapped" scale is identical to an existing scale but is missing notes found in that other scale.

For the major pentatonic scale, the notes are identical to the natural major scale but the 4th and 7th notes are omitted. The spelling of the A major scale is A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G#-A, but that for the major pentatonic form is A-B-C#-E-F#-A. An ornamental note is added between the 2nd and 3rd notes, and this note (C natural in score) is called the "flat 3rd." It exists as one of the defining notes of the minor pentatonic scale but may be incorporated in the major pentatonic scale to very positive effect. The pattern, then, becomes A-B-C-C#-E-F#-A.

In the minor pentatonic scale, the 2nd and 6th notes are missing from a natural minor scale. The A natural minor scale is A-B-C-D-E-F-G-A. The spelling of the minor pentatonic form is A-C-D-E-G-A. In addition, an ornamental note, the "flat 5th," is added so that the pattern is A-C-D-D# or E flat (depending on direction)-G-A. This ornamental note is actually a critical blue note. This last form is sometimes called the "blues scale."

It is critical to learn the fingerings for these scales in arrangements in which no open strings are used. This permits the scales to be moved to any key just by shifting positions. There are five positions for each and every scale type including scales other than the pentatonic scales.

As critical is to learn the functions of each note by number, since this will permit the improviser to find the notes in any position without having to figure out the name of every note within every key, though the player should also develop this familiarity. The functions follow and are based on the scales given in the illustration:

Major Pentatonic
A (Tonic) B (2nd) C (flatted 3rd ornament) C# (3rd) E (5th) F# (6th)

Minor Pentatonic
A (Tonic) C (flatted 3rd) D (4th) D# or E flat (# 4th or flatted 5th) E (5th) G (flatted 7th)

Knowing the function of each note in each scale is critical to theoretical conversations, hearing events within the music, correct resolution (addressed in later article) and use within a key, and finding the way around the instrument.

Historical Background
These scales are the stuff of American popular music as it emerged in the 19th century. The major pentatonic scale most likely has its origins in British folk music, especially that of Scotland, and it made its way to America first aboard the ships that transported English colonists and then, in the nineteenth century, aboard British ships that carried goods to America.

The major pentatonic scale is found in a considerable number of American folk songs, many of which we learn growing up. The scale was used to create new songs, but as often British folk songs were fitted with new words to reflect the immediate concerns of the lives of the users. "Shenandoah," which uses the major pentatonic scale, likely started as a sea chanty but is known to Americans with a very different text than the origin and with a text that makes no reference whatsoever to the sea or maritime life!

The major pentatonic scale also found widespread use in the Spiritual as black worshipers abandoned the stock hymns taught them by evangelists and began to form a body of worship music that reflected their lives and beliefs. Major-key Spirituals were encouraged by slave owners fearing that songs in minor could evoke feelings of hopelessness and depression, in other words, of opening the door to the mood of "nothing to lose" and the actual physical dangers that could result.

In application, the major pentatonic scale is essentially a major scale, and that means the direction or "push" of the music is upward. This is a critical point to remember when using it to improvise and with regard to blue note resolutions. In addition, in folk songs, the major pentatonic scale was often colored by the borrowing of the minor or "flat third" of the minor pentatonic scale, usually at the end of a stanza of music, where is is often still found today. In Froggy Went a Courtin', the scale used is the major pentatonic, but the flatted third, the C natural note, of the minor pentatonic scale is inflected in the second measure of the third line.

The minor pentatonic scale likely began in the minor-key "sorrow song" Spiritual. Minor-key Spirituals are not found in great quantities relatively speaking, and most did not come into currency until after the Emancipation. Exemplified on the video is the sorrow song Motherless Child. Pictured at the end of the video are the slave auctions, the possible impetus for the lyrics.

At first the sorrow song remained in minor, then later the minor pentatonic scale jumped tonality and began to be applied over chords in major keys. This is exemplified in the urban blues of Muddy Waters. The video, which one of Waters' urban blues songs and presents it as a guitar duet, demonstrates an adherence to the minor pentatonic scale in the melodies, both the primary melody, the "call," and the response in the second guitar, the "answer."

Again, the minor pentatonic scale is a gapped natural minor scale. Critical to remember in improvising, and especially in resolving blue notes, is that the direction of the minor pentatonic scale is downward.

Here, then, is the basic language of blues, that is, a mixture of two scales with different pitches and directional pull. If one combines the two scales, one gets C-D-E flat-E-F-F#-G-G-B-C, all of the notes in the twelve-note chromatic scale except the flatted second, the flatted 6th, and the natural 7th! That all these notes are available does not mean that they can be used in any combination, and here is where the difficulty lies in learning to play blues.

The impact of the scales upon the blues chords and rhythmic aspects of playing blues will be the focus of the next two articles. How to make all the elements work together will be addressed in the last in this series of articles.

Finally, when you learn these scales, do not use open strings. If you used only closed positions (notes that are fingered) you will be able to move the scales to any key simply by shifting positions on the neck. There are five possible fingerings for every scale, and they lay out end to end in consecutively higher block positions.

Working the Blues 3, The Chords

Chord in Blues

For the most part, the chords used in Blues are the same as those which evolved in European music beginning in the Renaissance. There are two chords which differ, and these are critical in identifying blues and in improvising Blues solos.

Given in the top row is the set of chords that evolved in European music and which are used in nearly all styles of American popular music. In understanding the symbols below each chord, there are several facts you must know. First, each chord is built on a note of the scale, in this case, the C major scale, and uses for it notes those found only in the scale. The lowest note in the chord in the chart is its root. The I maj7 chord is Cmaj7, the ii7 chord is Dm7, the iii7 chord is Em7, the IV maj7 is F maj7, the V chord is G7, the vi7 chord is Am7, and the vii half-dim7 is B half-diminished 7. Half-diminished 7 chords are often written in jazz charts as m7 flat 5, or minor 7 flat 5.

Each chord is numbered according to the note of the scale upon which it is built, the note which is also its root. The "I" chord is built upon the first note of the scale, the "ii" chord is built upon the second note, the iii chord on the third note, and so forth. The use of upper case identifies the chord quality. The upper case Roman numerals are major chords while those labeled in lower case are minor. There is an exception among the set, and that is the half-diminished chord found on the seventh note of the scale. It is not used often in major keys because it is in sound strongly similar to the V chord and hence will be addressed in a later article. A note the interval of a seventh is added to the chords in the chart. These 7ths are not present in many styles of popular music, but they appear on almost every chord in jazz and blues.

The chart has double duty. The reader can remove the 7th from the chord and what is left is the chord that would be used in styles in which 7ths are not prevalent. In Country, for example, the use of Cmaj7 would be unlikely for the tonic or I chord, but the user can remove the 7th to have a C major chord, and this chord would be correct to use in the style.

The 7ths also have quality, and here the symbols can get confusing. The "maj7" label attached to the I chord does not refer to the quality of the chord, which is major, but to the quality of the 7th. A major seventh or "maj7" is most easily reckoned not by counting the whole and half-steps between the root and the added seventh, which is the note stacked highest in the chord. Instead, it is far easier and far easier to count downward one half-step from the root and then add that note at the highest part of the chord. In the case of Cmaj7, the maj7 is B, located one-half step lower than the root C note but placed always as the highest note. The Cmaj7 is actually a major chord with a major 7th added to it.

The symbol "7" is actually an abbreviation. It indicates that a minor 7th is added to a chord. The easiest way to identify or locate the minor 7th is to count downward from the root one whole step then add that note in the highest position within the chord. In the case of the ii, iii, and vi chords, the chords are actually minor chords with minor 7ths.

The case of V7 is a second exception within the set of chords. After the tonic chord, it is the most critical in any key. This chord is called the "dominant 7 chord." It consists of a major chord with a minor 7th, and in terms of actual chord names, this is realized as a plain chord letter name and a plain "7." The numbers 9 and 13 are variant forms of the V7 chord and should be considered and treated in the same way. Just as it is not traditional to write "major" to indicate major chords, using just the letter name instead, we do not indicate that a 7th is minor by putting an "m" before the 7th in a chord symbol. Typical dominant 7 chords are written as C7, D7, E7, F7, G7, etc.

In traditional music, the dominant 7 chord controls harmonic and melodic direction. It contains the least stable notes in the scale. The root, 3rd, and 5th of the chord all pull to the tonic note for resolution. The 7th pulls downward to the 3rd of the tonic chord. In this key, the G (root), B (3rd), and D (5th) of the G7 chord all need to move to the tonic note C to resolve. The C note is the root of the C or tonic chord. The F note (7th) of the G7 chord moves downward to the next lower note in the scale to resolve, the E note, and the E note is also the 3rd of the C or tonic chord. The motion V7-I is the closing signature chord progression that identifies closure in Western music, and the appearance of these two chords marks the ending of nearly every piece of Western music since the early 16th century. There is only one "real dominant 7 chord in a key, and it is always found on the fifth note of the scale.

Blues differs from the European system in use in much of popular music in that it admits more scale notes than those found in the basic major scale. The additional notes are found in the minor pentatonic scale illustrated above. Many of the notes of the minor pentatonic scale and the major scale are shared (C, F, and G). Some notes found in the major scale are missing entirely from the minor pentatonic scale (D and A). What remains are two notes which are different from the notes of the major scale, and these notes are E flat, the flatted 3rd, and B flat, the flatted 7th. These two notes are the fundamental "blue notes" found in wide variety of American popular music styles. These notes are certainly the first blue notes and the minor pentatonic scale the first blues-based note sets that most young players learn.

These two notes have an effect on the basic chords used in Blues. The flatted 3rd of the minor pentatonic scale clashes terribly with the 7th of the IV maj7 chord. The flatted 7th of the minor pentatonic scale clashes terribly with the 7th of the I maj7 chord. The result is that in blues the two chords are altered to accommodate these blue notes. IV maj7 is altered to become IV7, a chord with the same note pattern as a dominant 7 chord but in the position on the fourth note of the scale, not the fifth. The I maj7 chord is altered to become I7, a chord with the same note pattern as a dominant 7 chord but on the first note of the scale.

Although these chords are "spelled" as dominant 7 chords, they do not function as dominant 7 chords, instead being simply altered chords that coincidentally resemble the dominant 7 chord. There is the suggestion, however, that I7 might imply or contain some of the function of the "real" dominant chord. In the simple blues progression below, notice that if the key were considered to be F and not C and all but the first two chords were ignored, the progression of C7 to F7 could be viewed or heard as V7-I in the key of F major.

||: I7 (C7) | IV7 (F7) | I7 (C7) | Iv 7 (F7) V7 (G7) :|| C7 ||

In listening to blues, there is a sense that music moves not just to a new chord but also to a new key whenever there is motion from I7 to IV7 or vice-verse, and it. This sense of shift is the result of the dominant-tonic relationship between the I and IV chords, and this is an element of the music that makes the music particularly potent. The relationship will be explored in greater depth in a subsequent article.

Those reader who are particularly observant have doubtless noticed that the flatted third of the minor pentatonic scale does not alter the third of the I chord. Here we have an aural phenomenon or tradition. The insertion at certain places in a melody of the flatted third, even over the I chord, does not create an unacceptable dissonant clash. In the evolution of American folk song, the flatted third of the minor pentatonic scale heard through the 19th century and earlier in black work song simply crept into the American style as an acceptable alternative, under certain circumstances, to the natural 3rd found in the major scale. The flatted third is traditionally introduced in popular melody late in the musical stanza, often over the last few chords before the stanza concludes. An example of the use of the flatted minor pentatonic third as an alternate note to the natural third of the major scale can be heard in "Froggy Went A Courtin'," a media file in a preceding lecture.

The chords in the graphic above appear here in the key of C major, but the chords, their qualities and the qualities of their added 7ths, and the Blues alterations described transpose literally to any major key since they remain the same regardless of the key, as long as the music is in major.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Working the Blues 4: Basic Chord Charts for Jazz and Blues Guitar

There are two basic types of chords used in Blues and these two types, and the fingerings given in the chart, are found as well in jazz. The first is the dominant 7 chord. Like the regular major chord, we use their names in abbreviated form. We rarely call a "C major chord." Instead we call it a "C chord" and assume that it is a major triad with a C note root. Similarly, we do not call a G7 chord a "G dominant 7 chord." That it is a dominant 7 chord is understood. Any chord, then, that uses a plain letter name and a "7" is a dominant 7 chord. For example, neither "Cmaj7" nor "Cm7" is not a dominant 7 chord, but "C7" is.

The chords used in jazz and blues differ from the chords used on guitar in most music in that they do not contain doubled notes. In a standard first position G7 chord, the notes are, from highest to lowest, G-B-D-G-B-F. There are three G notes and two B notes. While this sound of a chord this dense is appropriate, necessary, and satisfying for many styles of music, it is not desirable in the more open textures of jazz and blues.

Jazz and blues chords for guitar usually contain no doubled notes, that is, only one of each of the different notes. This arrangement gives jazz and blues chords greater flexibility to be used to create a wide variety of effects through alteration or placement in different positions. The two chords given are the preferred basic configurations for this style of music. In the charts above, strings that are not given a finger assignment are not played. In each chart, the lowest note in the configuration is the root of the chord.

The 9 chord is included here. It should not be applied indiscriminately in place of dominant 7 chords since not all dominant 7 chords will accept this type of 9th, but it can be used in the posted progression where indicated to add the "hot" factor.

The minor 7th chords are straightforward with the exception of the fingering on the second chart that appears as on open or uncolored circle. This fingering should not be part of the the standard fingering since it will create voice-leading problems from the chord preceding it or to the chord following it. It is a note that can be added under certain circumstances, however, and so it is given so that the user is aware of it. In the first m7 chart, the 3rd finger bars the three notes on the same fret marked "3."

In notation, minor 7 chords contain the name of the root and the symbol "m7." Hence Gmaj7 or G7 are not minor chords, but Gm7 is.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Working the Blues 5: The Twelve Bar Blues Progression

The twelve bar blues progression first appeared in the prints of W.C. Handy and began to stabilize as a preferred progression in the music of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. By the late 1930s, it had become associated with Chicago bluesmen such as Tampa Red. It has since come to be known as "Chicago Blues."

This stanza form contains three, not four lines, and the form itself can be traced to the 19th century Spiritual. In the example, each chord gets four beats. In the cases in which more than one chord appears in a measure, the front slashes tell how many beats each should receive. There are also possible chord substitutions given below each line. These substitutions do not have an impact on the melodic improvisation of the lead play but, in fact, add an immeasurable and invaluable interest to the accompaniment and the overall piece. The player can choose his set of substitutions, but the substitutions are restricted to the measures under which they appear.

Notice that in the last line the progression is Bm7-E7-A7. Originally, Bm7 would have been an E7 and the progression would have been E7-E7-A7. In some blues and in rock 'n' roll, this same line would be played as E7-D7-A7. The problem for the improviser in this last progression is that the D7 requires the minor pentatonic scale while the other two progressions accept either the major or minor pentatonic scale. The D7 will require the improviser to stop what he is doing and switch back to the minor pentatonic scale regardless of whether or not it fits the melody that he has been building.

In playing these chords, at least until you develop advanced comping skills, there are conventions that extend back to banjo playing in New Orleans jazz and extend through Swing and modern blues. Each chord is strummed downward on the downbeat. There is no upward strum between the beats. The chords on the second and fourth beats are accented by being played slight louder, and they are played staccato, that is, cut off as soon as they sound. The role of the rhythm player is just that--he supplies the chord and the rhythm. As such, he is not the soloist and busy rhythms of complex strums encroach upon the lead players territory.

Finally, the progression is given in A major, so all the fingerings learned for the major and minor pentatonic scales will have to be moved on the neck to match the key. The key of A was chosen since it is an excellent guitar key and offers available notes for soloing in positions on the neck both higher and lower than the mid-neck location where most of the progression is played and the easiest scale fingerings are found.

IMPORTANT: In the current graphic, the second A7 chord in the second line should be placed over the G7 of the first substitution. This error will corrected shortly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Working the Blues 6: Melodic Characteristics of the Blues, Choosing the Correct Scale, and Reconciling the Scales to the Chords

Melodic Characteristics

The melodic structures found in blues and many jazz styles derive directly from the work songs and musical practices brought from Africa with slavery. The features of the music were incorporated into nearly all American popular music styles.

The following features can be used in forming and shaping improvisations:

1. Melodies tend to consist of short fragments. In Swing, these short fragments evolved into the riff.

2. These fragments tend to be rhythmically very busy and tend to move at a much faster rate than the accompaniment.

3. In the beginning, the melodic fragments of an improvised melody should start and end on either the tonic note or the fifth. Later chord tones may be used as starting and ending notes.

4, Motion through he scales tends to be stepwise, that is, regardless of the scale used, if one starts on the tonic note and wishes to play to the fifth note of the scale, then he must play all the notes in-between.

5. Stepwise motion through the scales can be relieved and interest created by repeating notes or by changing directions.

6. Leaps, at least for beginners, are restricted to tonic to tonic, tonic to fifth, fifth to tonic, and fifth to fifth. Later chord tones may be added to the list of possible leaps. The leaps often occur not in the motive, but between motives.

7. Vocal ornamentation can be carried into guitar improvisation. Ornamentation comes in two varieties. The first is the glissando or slide. Here one can place his finger one note lower (half-step, whole step or more depending on the time available to execute) than the position of a note in the scale, pluck it, then slide his finger to the note that actually exists in the scale. The approach to the scale note is nearly always from below. Any note in any scale may be given this treatment and the ornament may be applied at any time.

A second ornament is the "bent" note. This is created by pulling or pushing the string upon which the note is fingered. There are only two notes that should be bent in the beginning of your study--the fourth and the flat fifth. When bent, these become notes that already exist in the scale. If you bend other notes, notes that are not in the scale or key are introduced, and these notes do not create good effects.

Scale Choice and Shifting Between Scales
The scale that you choose to use over a given chord is actually very liberal. Either pentatonic scale and any combination of these scales may be used with great success and musical interest over any chord but with one CRITICAL exception: the major pentatonic scale may not be used over the IV7 chord. The scale contains the natural3rd interval but the IV7 contains as its 7th the flatted third. The result of simultaneous sounding of these two notes is a musical train wreck.

In blues, the "safe" scale is the minor pentatonic. It may be played over all chords effectively. Here the quality of the melody is wholly dependent upon the cleverness of the improviser and not a function of having to match a particular scale to a particular chord. The use of the minor pentatonic scale frees the improviser to concentrate on creating melodic motives since he does not have to follow the chord changes. Anything he plays within the scale will match the chords. The benefit of using only the minor pentatonic scale does have its downside, and the downside can be for most huge. It is very difficult to create engaging solos using on this scale and there is a redundancy and limitation to melodic possibilities. In brief, it all sounds the same in a very short time. Professional musicians who use successfully but exclusively the minor pentatonic scale have a very special gift.

The major pentatonic scale, then, is essential in expanding the possibilities of the improviser by expanding the palette of notes that are available for use. The major pentatonic may be played over all chords except, as emphatically noted, the IV7 chord, and it may be mixed freely with the minor pentatonic scale for relieve and maximum effect.

For the listener, the use of both scales offers surprise and relief. Both scales share the tonic and the fifth but otherwise use different notes (the major pentatonic scale contains the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th; the minor pentatonic contains the flatted 3rd, 4th, and flatted 7th). The listener cannot anticipate the notes he will hear in the improvised solo, and the surprise at hearing keeps him engaged. Interest is also added in that the scales are derived respectively from the major key and the parallel minor (the minor scale from the same tonic note), and so the use both scales in combination or alteration effectively creates a continual switching in the melody from the major to the minor mode or key.

Changing from one scale to the other can be problematic, especially for beginners who have not yet learned all the locations of all the notes in the chords. The most effective way to start is to use either the tonic or the fifth of either scale, since they are shared notes, as the "switching stations." Bear in mind the tendencies of scale motion described in earlier articles. Examples of switching are illustrated in the graphic above. Remember that you can click on the image to enlarge it.

In gaining mastery, you are encouraged to use a recording program (Audacity can be downloaded for free if you don't have a recording program loaded already). You should make a good rhythm track of the chords over which you can experiment improvising melodies. This step is essential to hearing what works but also in internalizing the changes of the progression so that your reactions when improvising are instinctual. Once the fingers react without the mind having to search out notes, the improviser actually begins to hear in his head the melody he wishes to build before he plays it.