Blues Guitar 102, beyond the blues scale
by Dave Bell
Hi all, this lesson is designed for guitarists who have been playing blues for a while and are comfortable with using the blues scales for each key in it's various positions on the neck. The blues scale is obviously an essential part of playing blues, and should be your main tool. Many guitarists never go beyond playing standard blues scale licks and sound very fine indeed! Albert King comes to mind as a great blues guitarist who never strayed far from the standard blues scale. But it's fun to explore other scales you can use in blues too, and makes you a more complete guitarist.
This lesson will show some other approaches for playing leads over a major key blues progression. The key of 'A' will be used. First a quick refresher, the following is the standard 1ˢᵗ position blues box in the key of 'A'
Cool move #1
The first cool move is one that BB King uses quite a bit in his playing. Simply shift the blues box shown above down three frets so that it starts on the second fret, and play using this position over the 'A' blues tune. This gives an 'uptown' feel to the blues. Note that not all the notes work, and you will need to be careful especially that you land on the correct notes on chord changes. Best bet is to loop a blues bed in the key of 'A' and just experiment with playing out of the F# box until you find which notes work over the three chords. Of course the neat thing about guitar is that the same note can be found many places on the neck. For example, instead of dropping down to the Ist position F# box, instead play the 2ⁿᵈ position F# box. You will notice that you are now playing around the 5ᵗʰ fret, where your 1ˢᵗ position 'A' blues box is. The combined 2ⁿᵈ position F# box and 1ˢᵗ position A box on the top three strings looks like this:
The notes colored blue are notes common to both scales. The green colored notes are from the 1ˢᵗ position 'A' blues scale and the red notes are from the second position F# blues scale. As you can see it's easy to access both scales while staying in the same position. It's fun to mix these up, here is an example of a lick that does that, played with a triplet feel:
It's important to learn where these notes are all the way up the neck. In each position of the 'A' blues scale you can also find notes from the 'F#' blues scale, and you can mix these up or just play the notes from one or the other.
Experiment with just playing the notes from the F# scale over the A blues, and also experiment with playing notes from both scales. You will be amazed at how many new licks you will come up with! Also try playing the 'A' blues scale over the I chord (A) and then switch to the F# scale for the IV chord (D). There is lots of things you can do with it.
Cool move #2!
This one is fun and sounds great! The 'V' chord in the key of 'A' is 'E'. Play over your blues progression as normal, but when you switch to the 'E' chord, move up to the 12ᵗʰ fret and play your favorite licks from the 'E' blues scale over the 'E' chord. Sounds awesome! Again, if you examine the neck you will see that the notes for the 'E' blues scale are available from the various 'A' blues scale boxes, and vice versa, so you don't need to be jumping all over the neck to get at these notes. For example, here is the top three strings of the 'E' blues box, 12 fret position, showing where the notes from the 'A' blues scale also fit:
The blue notes are common to both scales, the green note is from the 'E' blues scale and the red note is from the 'A' blues scale.
Try now and mix all of these moves up while playing over your 'A' blues progression. Practice makes perfect, and the more experimenting you do with these moves the more cool licks you will discover.
Cool move #3!
This one is great, I use it all the time. I learned this
from Ronnie Earl but I've also heard Joe Louis Walker use it quite a bit.
Basically the idea is to play the notes contained in and around the 9ᵗʰ
chord of each chord of the I, IV, V progression. Works great all over the place,
here is an example of a lick using it over the 'V'-'IV' turnaround (triplet
Feel free to use chromatics too, i.e. playing the notes inbetween. Here is an example over the D9th chord:
Of course you can mix and match these notes af well. This move also works over the 'I' chord, just move the box up to the A9th chord position.
Ok! Hopefully this lesson will be helpful to some players out there wanting to cop the blues! If there is any interest I can do more lessons on advanced blues playing, maybe get more into cromatic playing and using mixolydian modes. Also we haven't talked about minor key blues yet.
Until next time have fun with your playing, and keep the blues alive!
About the author:
Dave has been playing guitar since the 70's and has played in various bar bands over the years. He has been a blues fan since 1971 when he first heard Albert King, who is still a favorite. He now works mostly on his own, composing original music in the blues and latin rock genres.
The Right Wrong Notes
Pratical Use Of The Chromatic Scale
When playing music we can use scales as a guide which will tell us what notes will work best for a particular song. The pentatonic scale is a good example. The five notes in the pentatonic are all you need sometimes, but at some point may players want to be able to venture "outside the box". To do this, we can simply employ the Chromatic Scale.
"Many ways to improve your playing"
Play Live and Jam, Jam,Jam... this will really help you get the most out of your playing. It will quickly help you convey your sound and your talent with the guitar. Find a bunch of friends and just play. ~Scott