~ Americana blues ~

~ a blues guitar primer in standard tuning ~

~ E A D G B E ~

~ the blue notes ~

~ blues chords ~

~ oral tradition ~

'yep, the Americana original ...

... of three chords and the truth :)

In a nutshell / standard tuning. In our Americana fabrical weave of all things musical, we get a nice solid banding of blue colors all through and of many different hues. That each of these hues presents a different shade of the color, helps the blues weave its magics into all of our music styles. Surely some more than others, but if we listen to a few songs in a chosen style, chances are that within a couple of tracks we'll find some blue hue.

And if the music we choose to spin was captured live? Then maybe even better odds to hear some blue, for then we get to re-experience what the artists brought to their show that very day. That music helps wash off the dust of everyday life we each get to collect, so goes the blues, to help us remember to refresh and renew ourselves and help others renew, in our own spiritual ways each day.

In a nutshell / precision tuned or loosely tuned? In our creating of the blues music, the blue notes and chords, we should realize that we need two systems of tuning to create the elements. Our blues chords, and all of our Americana harmonies are based on the pitches being 'equal temper tuned.' Super precise, and not without its detractors, this mathematical way of dividing the octave allows for any of our 12 pitches to be stacked and sounded together as chords.

Blues melodies today, while based on instruments that are built to equal temper pitch standards, are altered slightly, or a lot, to find their blues truth. All seasoned players on all of our instruments find unique ways to bend the pitch of their notes a wee bit to sound a deeper blues colors. And the blues voice and singer ? Consummate bender and trend setter as to where the blue notes find super blue color.

"Music washes away the dust of everyday life." wiki ~ Art Blakey

Origins. Luckily in this blues music, guitarists reading here have a clear tie to its historical roots. For back in early days America, our blues music ancestors played banjos of various string combinations; three, four and five string banjos, and tuned them often to an 'open G' tuning sequence of the pitches.

Along around the 1800's, the Spanish style guitar with its traditional six strings, began to make its way up north into Texas and eventually all USA points beyond. Its six strings were tuned in what we commonly term as 'concert E', today's standard tuning, so a bit different from open G.' Compare the tunings. Example 1.

Just reverse engineering here :) Wow, fairly dramatic difference yes? So instead of working out new fingerings and such, early blues artists simply tuned their guitars with the pitches of 'open G.' And as generations passed and the musics gradually evolved, we've migrated back to concert tuning. So while 'concert E' mostly rules today through all our guitar musics, the 'open G' tuning is still a historical core DNA for our blues. And that the blues is all through our Americana, getting some of this 'roots' under our fingers can grow a ton of coolness on down the road.

Starting point with the blues guitar. That it is just easier to play in open 'G' for newly minted players helps. That in blues and rock and roll music there's a solid library of memorable songs played in open 'G', a few that went top 10 and get radio rocked every day. And there's an 'open G' bonus here too ... pick up any banjo, tune it to 'open G' and commence the waybac to some blues roots :) Know this scale shape yet ... ? Our common ancestor :) Example 1a.

 

What follows here. So in the following discussions we migrate back to conventional concert tuning. And get after a few of the core elements that get the blue colors into our ears and under our fingers. In most of the biographies of the recognized blues greats and also the personal favorites I've read, this thread always appears; that through emulating recognized masters we learn to craft and conjure up our own stories and their magic.

wiki ~ biographies of blues artists

Same true process for learning all the arts of course, in our music we often do this through listening to the music we each dig, which most likely got us here in the first place anyway. We love to listen to music :) Now we just begin to listen closer, and the same spot over and over if needed, to understand why that note in that spot is just so cool. Or what makes this groove feel so in the pocket to us. To understand what is attracting us to this music ... hmm ... Ya hip? RO !

We add the additional challenge here to find the pitches we hear and sing, and find them on our instruments. That in beginning blues and blues guitar, there's really only a handful of pitches, a couple of chords and a song form that is readily understood, its 'top' of the form accented with many ways. That said, when we hear the blues, we know there's something extra, that added juice that brings the stories and testimonials to life.

The blue notes already hold this magic but the artist still must find their nuance with the color and set it in motion in time. So with a narrowing of our pitch resource, we've all the more need to 'bring it.' And as quipped by our blues and jazz king immortal Mr. Louis Armstrong ...

'what we play is life'

wiki ~ Louis Armstrong

Jazz blues. While all blues styles share common roots, if you're leaning towards jazz artistically please take note. A jazz styled blues is often unique in a couple of ways from a traditional blues, blues rock, country rock etc. First, there's really no slower tempo jazz blues ballads, tempos are usually bright and up, scootin' right along. Second, there's way more chord substitution in the jazz approach, so we can 'nick' more of our 12 pitches in our lines, increasing our pitch resource. Cats are more inclined to solo through chord changes than over them.

Third, with the brighter tempos, stronger players just take longer solos, often into the 5 to 10 range in number of choruses. In advanced art, in 10 choruses the knowledgeable listener often hears a wide range of our Americana historical timeline of blues history, as they build up a solo over a few minutes of improv.

wiki ~ blues history timeline

Do remember that at m.m @180 or so, an 'up' tempo for jazz , it's less than 20 seconds per 12 bar chorus, so 10 choruses is just a few minutes in real time. Yet often enough time to tell a tale and climax the ride if appropriate. Mastering the turnaround is key to longer solos. In this method we use one turnaround lick in all of our styles, fully master it, then flip it over and master that, master the 'turnaround blues' song and then it'll just all just evolve on its own further on down the road.

wiki ~ "Farther Up The Road" song

Let's play a blues in ____ ... a blues in E.' Ever hear this phrase? Ever say this phrase? If not read on. If yes and hip? Well ... might as well read on too because a lot of discussions start with these few words; a 'blues in E.' Or 'G', or 'A' or 'Bb.'

For in them, those in the know get near all the info they need to count it off and commence jamming. Really? Yep. And like any other adventure in life, the more we know of it and have experienced, the more we can bring. Don't have to of course, but can if needed.

'... melting pitches together.' Understanding and theorizing about the blues is realizing that the pitches we use that make everything sound major in all of the styles, we melt right into the pitches that make our music sound minor in all styles, all get merged together for making the pitches and chords for our blues music.

'a balance in all life is found in the musical sounds and stories we call the blues ...'

The blues just might be the ultimate seamless blend of our two main tonalities, major and minor. For in the unique blue weaving of the pitches and intervals, our traditional relative major / minor pitches we use to create all styles of our Amer Afro Euro musics, are now mixed in such a way as sound and portray the blues. Which, given its rich history of 100 years or so now, creates lots of options for us.

'What a 'blues in E' implies ...' Without any further description we can mostly default to this basis; that it is a 12 bar blues song and when counted off, we're starting at the top of the form. In the 12 bar form we know the basics of how the song will unfold and go through its form and progression. By learning to count measures out, chances are excellent that when not distracted, you'll always know the places in the 12 bar blues form. Try counting , thinking four beats to the bar, so 4/4 time.

'... count the form in beats and measures.'

1st phrase; 1234 2234 3234 4234

second phrase; 5234 6234 7234 8234

3rd phrase; 9234 10 234 11 234 12 234 ...

top ... 1234 2234 3234 4234 ... yea!

Do this just a couple of times through, in time with a metronome if handy, some sort of click etc., each day till ya got it rote memorized, prolly won't take long but ya gots to do it over a few times to get it down rote.

Place the chords. If there are chords, the root of the first one is an 'E' chord. In the fifth bar we go to Four (A) and in the 10th, there's a turnaround with the Five chord (B). After the 12 bars are done we simply start the form again, looking for new coolness to bring in the story being told.

The melody notes and words. Our melody notes are centered around 'E' and usually focus on the blue notes, regardless of whether the chords / triads are major or minor. The words are written into three distinct phrases, each four bars long and look to capture the blue.

While thankfully there's always more to learn, thus empowered in these three basics, we can start up a 'blues in 'E' together and chances are it'll work fine everywhere that artists are bringing the blues. With endless variations and always new coolness to learn, we'll negotiate it all as we go along and hang with new players, sharing ideas and learning new ones.

So read on here to explore these basics. Totally totally rote learn these blues basics here if need be, for while the letter name key will surely change at some point, to a 'blues in A', a 'blues in G etc', the phrase 'oh hey let's a 'blues in __' and what it essentially implies is the same, and now a standard global thing we can all share wherever we might venture.

"There's no money in those frets ..." Ever hear this expression? It sums up a good bit of the EMG method. For while there's some 15 or so frets and six strings, so 90 or so pitches, the majority of these aren't real big traditional money makers for a blues guitarist. For when you're under the lights bringing the mojo, them extra notes are extra, just not needed to tell the tale. Maybe practice on them later. The point here being, to simply focus on your understanding the blue notes. That's what this guitar lesson does, tries to focus on the keepers, and you do the rest :) Ever see one of these? Example 2.

Probably not the best example of 'no money in those frets', as this old old neck has gotten a lot of the heck played right out of it :) But ya can see some of the high up frets on the left end of the neck that there was just not a lot of loot to be had in that neck of the wood :)

"There is money in those frets ..." Here's a working neck that shows us where the loot is pitchwise. Good to know for up and coming pro leaning artists. See the first fret wear spot? Ya got a letter name for that pitch yet? Got to start somewhere eh ? Example 2a.

Blues improv / just two good choruses. One time after listening to a famous jazz / blues solo while hanging with musical friends, one friend quipped, '... man two good choruses ... if I could just play two great choruses one time through I'd be cool.' We all nodded in agreement. So in this method's building architecture, its key components are wound together to develop and form up a performance format to shape two good choruses of 12 bar blues, back to back, yin yang, got me some blues today then found me some hope :)

So just looking for that 24 bars (2 x 12 = 24) of coolness at a time, to tell our tale. And while that might not sound like a lot, it's quite deep in the everyday tradition of performance of the blues, so a tradition to know, understand and emulate to perfect in each our own way, especially so for those up and coming cats reading here to build on. From the guitar literature, we get two 'perfect', 24 bar length solo's near back to back on one famous live recording, both made with the 'big roar.'

The blues elevator ( takes us up and down the neck and each fret is a different floor ). So if there's no money in certain frets, might as well focus on the pitches that might have a little scratch in them yes? Can you locate these 'G's and 'E's on your fingerboard? If you're on an acoustic, probably quit up around the 12th floor for safety sake :) Example 3.

Two blues notes. These two notes 'G' and 'E' are the first of our six blue notes. In this next discussion, 'E' is the root pitch of our song titled; "The Truth Is", written by yours truly :) We'll also name it the tonic pitch, its number is One, and 'E' is the letter name that identifies our chosen key center. Three solid ways to designate our one center pitch for our songs. Like ... a blues in 'E?' Yep. A blues in 'E.' Folk song in 'G?' Yep. Rockin' out in 'A' minor. One letter pitch to rule them all, been this way for a while now, works just fine :)

The gist of this 'elevator' styled method. So when playing 'blues in E', everywhere there's an 'E' note on the neck, we can make something bluesy happen, simply by focusing on and around this root pitch. With the 'E's as our anchors, we then locate the other blue notes around it. There's always something there to be found. When we find it we'll just know it, we'll hear it and feel that it was there waiting there to be discovered.

While these pitches are further surrounded by the other notes of course, and often tucked into a full scale shape that exhausts that localized area, that's when we bump into the 'there's no money in those frets' idea. How many pitches needed, you'll have to decide for yourself. Here, we're just focusing on the blue notes and shaping our improv stories to two choruses.

Same cell shape. As we'll see in the following ideas, the same sorts of pitch patterns and fingerings quickly unlock the blue magic up and down the neck. Created by the intervals between the pitches as measured from our tonic / root pitch 'E'; we get a b7 a whole step below, a minor 3rd above, a perfect 4th across strings, a perfect 5th a whole step above the 4th, and the essential tritone between 4th and 5th. Patterns, like this next one, moved around to the right spots, can bring just a ton of cool. Example 3a.

So fairly straightforward, maybe try the index and middle fingers? We'll see this pattern again and again through the colors really. There's even a whole tone lick on the 2nd and 3rd strings that uses this four point shape, moving up and down the neck. So from the blues to the wholetone colors, we get a pretty wide spectrum of styles and coolness with just a couple of pitches, all in a repeatable and movable pattern.

To each their own. Each of these different 'E's, and the licks we find around them, while sounding mucho the same also bring their own unique timbre and signature, finding their spots in our vocabulary, becoming aurally unmistakable once locked in. For the rockers for instance, the 'Layla' lick is a fine example of this. While there's a couple of spots for the lick, there's the spot, where its real magic is found as sounded on the original recording. Capture the lick's mojo where it lives and then go on and find more similar mojo coolness for your own ideas, right there in that very spot :)

wiki ~ timbre

That each 'elevator floor' contributes it own sense of depth and color is the blues artist's bread and butter. For always keep in mind that with the blues guitar stylings, there's a ton plus of coolness found and sounded simply by moving one shape up and down through the 12 bar song form.

We've probably all seen cats bring the room down holding on to one note, one cell shape; one lick shape repeated, one scale shape run, one chord shape with 1/2 steps lead ins, whatever, and in 'E', deftly moved from open position, to 5th position for Four, 7th fret for the Five chord, and then on up to 12th and back to One. Too common not to run a few times, if not master, over the years.

Going up ? Here's the elevator lick. Need a blues jump start? Get your ax and sound the open 'E' chord, then jump right up to the 12th. Boom ! Find a lick and let it ring out and fade. Then right back down to sound the open chord again. Bada, then right back to 12th fret and find a note or two. Bing. Back and forth, back and forth, aim for 10 times. Once solid at 12, find the 5th and 7th fret positions at the key points in playing the 12 bar blues form. Get Franz up and running too. Here's the idea and very slowly it goes at first. Example 3b.

Cool huh? You've seen this sort of back and motion before yes? Just maybe not quite as dramatic a move. Here we 'super drama' the lick to get our whole head around the 12 fret jump, two initial ends to our elevator. Just an exercise really. Once solid, we then just fill in the cool spots in between, the spots we're we find the other 'E's and then next in line, the 'G' pitches.

We're just running the shape four note shape around these focal points. Will the 'G's work over the 'E7' chord too? Just might :) Work the process into your shedding, explore and discover. Next up? The rest of blue notes.

Find your fave 'E' blue note? Of the half dozen or so 'E's, did one stand out as bluer than another? One pitch to rule them all ? If not keep going over and over and over the vamp till one 'E' pitch emerges as the one. Maybe push them around a bit with a bend. And it will, just keep trying. ( I'll bet ya find the one pitch, on that particular guitar, in say three tries with the double loop vamp above :) If you're lucky you'll get two, maybe three. Down Explore Road you'll end up adding them all.

Author's note for new musicians. And please remember forevermore that in any endeavors we pursue, that quitters won't win. 'Cause they quit? Yep. We've all quit at something along the way and then have some hindsight that 'I wish I stuck with that. What was I thinking.' So we can know the certainty this truth. That 'quitters don't win.' And yet, while we might not win every endeavor, knowing we tried is a start. And how hard we try is a determining factor in how well we win. And yet, there are some things worth quitting right?

So find one blue note? Maybe two? Cool. This note on your guitar is now yours, you found it and its a keeper of a blue note too for you. Congrats and join the ranks of countless players who also love this blue note. Same note, same spot on their guitar neck, it's their too. We all share the same pitches :) Thus empowered by one, now we can build the rest around this first pitch. How? Well two ways; by adding new pitches around it and second, getting on the elevator and going to a different 'E' pitches up and down the neck.

~ stgc ~

... that just one note can suffice :)

Blue notes over the changes. With the above ideas in mind, let's explore each of the six core blue notes. Moving off into the key of 'C' blues, we create a charting of the pitches to build up the letter names of the One, Four and Five chords, all V7 blues chord types, and match up the blue notes as best we can. Example 4.

scale # degrees
1
2
3
4
#4
5
6
b7
8
C blues scale
C
.
Eb
F
F / F#
G
.
Bb
C
One / C7
C
.
E
.
.
G
.
Bb
.
Four / F7
F
.
A
.
.
C
.
Eb
.
Five / G7
G
.
B
.
.
D
.
F
.

Tonic pitch 'C.' The tonic is the tonic and works everywhere in the form telling the stories. It roots the One chord, is the 5th of the Four chord and is the 'sus4' of V7. Totally cool whenever sounded, we hear more tonic blue notes than probably every other. Same V7 chord shape throughout, just moved up from One to Four to Five. Example 4a.

Blue 3rd / 'Eb.' This blue 3rd is the minor 3rd for 'C' minor. So it rubs hard on the tonic chord, is the b7 of Four and as the augmented 5th of Five, it is very common to honk on the blue 3rd through the first 8 bars then go down a half step to 'D' for the turnaround. The minor 3rd is also a bit flat in equal temper tuning, so push it around and up a wee bit to find its sweetness. Blues in a minor key? The minor 3rd is diatonic golden. Example 4b.

Four / 'F.' The fourth is a 'sus' note over One, the root pitch of the Four chord and b7 of V. Very common to wiggle between 4 and #4 or bend up to Five. Ex. 4c.

Sharp 4 flat 5 / 'F#.' The #4 / b5 is the tritone above our tonic pitch and as such, is a pretty dissonant color. Three 'tones' or whole steps above the root, the tri-tone interval divides the octave perfectly in half and creates very powerful shade of blue. Rare to sound it alone through a whole chorus, it'll weave by half step down to Four and up to Five, while just rubbing the tonic with a bit of a howl. Sharp Four over One, b2 / b9, over Four and the major 7th leading tone of Five. We know the major 7th interval is not a blue note by any stretch of even my imagination, not even close :) Example 4d.

Five / 'G.' The fifth is the dominant note over One, the 2nd / 9th over Four and the root of the Five chord. We don't call this note the dominant for nothing, as it is THE director of where the music is going when confidently handled and passionately expressed. Easily runs the whole chorus solo. Example 4e.

Six / 'A.' Major 6th is a blue note? Most if not all would say nay but hey, it's relative minor to 'C' major, so it gets included here. Six / 13 of One is one of the essential 'jump' blues colortones, it's the major 3rd of the Four chord and the 9th above V7. Isn't V9 the oldtime funk chord from the 70's? There's surely one V9 voicing that ruled the dancefloor in its day. Example 4f.

Sounds more old timey than blues probably. Not to worry, it's a pitch that will hang nicely through a whole chorus on its own, if needed. The 6 down to 5 is a suspension, 6 as the passing tone on One and Five.

Flat Seven / 'Bb.' The blue 7th is a stand alone that'll also run a whole chorus on its own, easily. Cats lean hard on this one to drive the motion up to the tonic. Lot's of nuanced variables pitch wise and bending with the b7 colors. So, b7 of One, 'sus 4' of Four and the #9 of V7. So, a V7#9 combo? Yep, this is the one :) Ex. 4g.

Cool? Yea flat Seven brings the honk :) So running one pitch through a chorus is not uncommon, good way to build up some momentum. In the brighter tempos and towards jazz, holding the one note is something we all love to do, and of course, it gives the rest of the band a chance to go wild to :)

Add em' all in. This last idea simply runs the blue notes top down over the same changes, getting us towards a mojo lick of sorts. Example 4h.

So while running one pitch through a chorus is not uncommon, using a few more notes is way more common. Although in today's hip hop, one pitch often rules the day for the melody / spoken word lead line.

wiki ~ Hip Hop

Ya brand new to playing melodies on guitar? Cool, this next store bought ditty is a perfect way to begin. Consider to totally rote learn and muscle memorize the following pitches, shape, pattern etc. And next time you get to strum a banjo tuned to open 'G', run this shape using open strings for the line of black dots at the top. Surely there will be some sparks after a couple of tries.

For this is the original shape that goes all the way back, I think. So, to the old time banjo (1800's) tuning of open 'G', gets moved over to guitar (1830's). Meaning? There's a ton or two of history and melody lines in this shape :)

'One shape to rule them all' :) Parody of the saying from the realm of 'middle earth', two full octaves of pitches and all of them keepers. Moves around the neck like butter, by root pitch change chords and even keys in a heart beat. In sum looks like this. Example 5.

~ the totally movable blues and butter shape ~

Nice riff huh? Near almost a lightning mojo at 180 :) The following '60 through to180' is about beats per minute, tempo etc. Start slowly and work your way up in facility. You get to decide how fast you want to play. Remember the 'width of the pick, diameter of the string story?' It just takes time and practice, wanting to do it, just do it? Yep, if you want to do it ? Then just start doing it :)

60
80
100
120
140
160
180

In pieces. Two full octaves in range from top to bottom bottom to top, with this one shape we can change chords and even keys in a heart beat. Presented here as a puzzle of sorts, there's three smaller shapes that combine into the whole six string, two full octave shape covering the whole movable tamale. Here's the first piece, and now thinking in the relative key centers of 'C' major and 'A' minor. Example 5a.

Five different notes in this loop. Here the 'C' major?' The pitches of this first bit make for the 'C' pentatonic scale. This next bit leans to 'A' minor. Example 5b.

Here the 'A' minor?' Cool. No? Keep clicking it'll come around. Major / minor pairing of the same pitches ... hmm ... must be in the intervals, or spaces between the pitches, that makes it so. Example 4c.

Low 'C' shape. Back to 'C' major for the lower pitches of the shape. Example 5d.

Low 'A' shape. Back to 'A' minor for the lower pitches of the shape. Example 5e.

Two codas (tails). The last piece of this puzzle finds us following the pitches descending to our two root notes, represented by the open circles of 'C' and 'A.' Ex. 5f.

The one shape to rule them all whole tamale two tails and ... diamond studded. This next idea looks to make a mess of all of the above. Just sort it out by keeping track of the root pitches and fret # / letter names of the pitches. Thinking blues in 'A.' Example 5g.

Anything speaking out to you ... ?

Diamond studded :) Notice the 'diamond' studs in the last chord diagram shape? Recognize the addition? Cool. No? No worries. See the mini 1/8th notes in the above notation ? Looks like this. Example 4h.

This little 1/8th note 'D#' is a grace note, so named as its presence brings us a 'grace' or hint of a color, which in this lick is the grace of the blues hue, that helps us wash off the dust of our everyday lives and refortify our spirits for what's to come tomorrow. It's that blue hue that quickly sets, or resets, a mood. Explore here if need be.

Thinking blues in 'A.', those in the know will know that we are deftly adding in the 'one pitch tritone', the 'D#', as a blue note. Very common and classic tone color in our blues tradition. Click the link to the right to begin to deep explore of this unique and potentially super important color and way essential evolution theory cog.

For the electric git players reading here with lighter, bendable strings, artistically leaning stylistically towards anything bluesy and on into the rock and beyond genres, super lots and and maybe even tons of lots of coolness in this one spot. Run this idea through the 'elevator' program, finding this pitch in different spots over the range of your instrument too, see what shakes loose.

Rock originated from blues n'est-ce pas? Pairing this shape with the 'open G' tuning colors we get a whole tamale for those so inclined. And lest we forget that with just the five pitch melodies, we're leaning children's melodies and folk songs of all the lands too.

Find the three root pitches. In this next idea we run the pitches in the shape and end our riff on the root pitch of one of the three principle chords; One, Four and Five. Very very handy licks they are, to tell everyone where we're at in the music. Convincing? Yep. Example 5i.

Finding the root pitch, and thinking from the root pitch, can make all the difference in getting our ideas across.

Made in the USA. In all of the music from around the world that we might hear, which nowadays is way easier to do of course, there is really no music like our blues. Originated by the merging of two unique cultures, each with their own way of tuning up the same pitches, the blues melts them together enabling a new music truly capable of spiritually washing off the dust of the everyday life of our Americana ancestors.

The emerging musical sounds have stunned the musical world time and time again, in so many different settings. Solo artist, small combo, big band and orchestra, all have transported the blues to a wider world beyond our shores. For there's really no other musical culture that ever had this combination of pitches. And that's just one half of the music's theory; there's the other half made up of the swing time and various rhythms that motors the blues is probably more of the true 'de-duster' here. That really any style of music swinging right along gets feet tapping, smiles happening and folks up dancing. For when the band swings Americana blues, and folks are up dancing together to their grooves, everyone smiles.

For guitar and probably bass too, blues and rock are just about the same thing pitchwise, lickwise, riff wise etc. Surely in single note, lead guitar playing, there's just a ton of crossover. In creating an understanding of the musics, in Essentials, we consider blues and rock just about the same thing most of the time. The same licks just a stomp box click away from adding on the edgy sounds and tones needed for modern rockers today.

For in the full fabric of Americana musics there's a wide weave of the blues. The same basic guitar we play today goes all way back to the very beginnings of this music, where it picks up from where the banjo leaves off the blues and moves on to other styles. When tuned up in the open G pattern carried over from the banjo, and with or without a slide, within 20 minutes or so of focused searching, if we can hear and conjure some blues in our muse, we'll likely produce some of the same original blues sounds of our ancestors did. Very cool.

In performance. For many seasoned players, there just might not be an easier or more fun music to gig than the blues. For our blues begins with a couple of chords and a couple of pitches, often wailed through whatever rig is handy. And while the repetition in the style can be legion at times, there's a vast degree of improv and personal expression in the blues, and the listening folks often totally dig this consistent spotlighting of the soloists. I've been a part of this scene many many times, mainly as a bass player now, and still often marvel at the degree of magic the blues creates in the room.

I think part of this magic is that the deep rooted history and simplicity of the blues gives everyone in the room a super solid chance to follow along and really know and feel where the band is in the music, where it might be going, thus clearly follow right along with its form, intros, endings, etc. Answer this one please ... Is listening to live music more exciting if we know the well worn pathway it will follow, yet have no idea of how the story will unfold in the process of getting there ? Is our musical experience more exciting if we know more about the theories that create what we're hearing ?

Surely a best part of the blues is how easy it is to include everyone and jam with other artists. If need be, new players of really any stylistic stripes can learn its form and chords of the whole tamale blues in minutes. And if for no other reason to learn and perform the blues, it usually gets folks up dancing. For the dancers just seem to love the blues, the stories resonate deep and that they might never ever miss a beat and that feels awful good :)

No real theory of a diatonic source for the blues. In discussing the theories of pitches and their organization through our styles, we always use the idea of 'diatonic' to determine where any pitch or chord might be sourced from. Not so with Americana blues. Yet, at the core of our blues music, there's a theory 'rub' that while running a bit counter to what our core ideas of diatonic imply, this 'theory rub' shines a faint light on the blues' magic.

For in our diatonic theory we want to use the same group of pitches to create the melody line that we do with the chords and vice versa. This simply does not happen in the blues. A problem? Nope. Our pitches, their tuning and our instruments are equally capable of creating both diatonic and non diatonic musics, either individually or woven together.

But in blues theory, there is the 'rub.' Blues melodies are traditionally based on the blue notes. These are essentially a minor pentatonic scale with an added tritone pitch, at the perfect middle of an octave span. Compare the letter names of these groups of pitches. Minor pentatonic and blues thinking from the root pitch 'A.' Example 6.

minor pentatonic scale formula

root
.
- 3rd
4

.

5
.
b7
8

'A' minor pentatonic

A
.
C
D
octave midpoint
E
.
G
A

blues scale formula

.
.
- 3rd
4

tritone

5
.
b7
8

'A' blues scale

A
.
C
D
Eb
E
.
G
A

Easy enough eh? Rote memorize these pitches. The scale shape used is probably the most common of the 'box' scales, one of five shapes that combine to cover 12 frets on the fingerboard. Find the tritone in the second lick? That pitch is really the key one to bring the 'blues hue' to any melodic line, might just create the strongest of our various pitch 'true blue rubs.'

Each of the pitches of the blues scale are of course blue notes too, each having a special place in the music. Explore each in the links to the right.

'Just a half step away from our nearest tritone'. That was a joke among me pals at music college. And sure enough in the blues colors, both the Fourth and Fifth notes are each a half step away from the tritone. So in bringing the blues, might we 'slip' into Four from a 1/2 step above? Or super blue energize the already dominant Five from a half step below via our 'nearest tritone?' Next, we add in some 'blue tritone grace' for an otherwise vanilla sort of stepwise idea. Example 6a.

Wow! That pops some blue hue eh :) Yea sure does. Ton of creative miles on this blue road. Do put this into your blues elevator lick generator, find these half steps and pick up and create your licks. Those here that bend the pitches / strings / notes take note; wide wide nuancing of pitch (tuning) available here, which creates the various blues rubs we love :)

So are these last few bars the most important of the 'understand your music' in this Essentials work? For some it will be. And for those that pursue the tritones, they provide and create multiple theory pathways for development towards becoming a 'modern guitarist.'

Making the blues rub. We make our various rubs when we sound these single blue note pitches against the pitches of a blues chord. Blues chords have been traditionally a dominant 7th chord type. V7 in the common spectacular vernacular lingo extraordinaire. And while there's also a tritone in this chord V7 chord, it's created a wee bit different than the 'octave splitter' tritone of the minor pentatonic group. Here thinking from the root pitch 'A', examine two common V7 tritone bearing blues chords. Example 6b.

s

So far so good? Remember the pitches of the blues scale? So although we have a single pitch tritone in our scale, and a two pitch tritone in the chord that supports it, neither of the three are the same or even share a similar pitch. And as said in days now long past that, therein 'lies the rub.'

blues rub = massaging pitches of different tunings to sound bluesy cool together :)

 

A basic blues tamale. So a basic recipe for any blues tamale is generated by melodies that are sourced and spiced up by the blue notes supported from chords we create with the pitches of the diatonic major scale. Examine and compare the pitches from the root pitch 'A' please. Example 6c.

A blues scale

A
.
C
D
Eb
E
.
G
A

A major scale

A
B
C#
D
.
E
F#
G#
A

Quick review. Wow ... just the three pitches in common. And aren't these the root pitches of the One / Four and Five chords? Yes indeedy :) So in theory, this blues 'rub' is simply created by rubbing (sounding) different pitches up against one another? Yep that's all it is. Is there any other kinds of indigenous music music around the whole wide world that expressly rubs such tuned pitches together like this ... to make their hair stand up?

wiki ~ indigenous music

Music where cats are simply honking and honking and honking on that 'wrong' note, when theory viewed to what chords and notes the band is playing? And this with the audience just rooting them on for more and more?

For there's surely 'tuned in' dissonance in other musics. Eastern 'just' intonated musics have dissonant leaning pitch rubs though without vertical harmony, there's no chords per se, they play their lines over pedal tones, termed a drone pitch.

And surely some modern AmerAfroEuro 20th century style musics have dissonance, such as the '12 tone' and serial styles. Yet this music is most often written out and rehearsed to get the max for dissonant effects and ... folks don't generally dance to this music :) As our blues is improvised together in real time, created by our collective rote memories, there's just no telling when or where the rubbing will occur. And folks love to dance to the blues, always have and always will.

wiki ~ dance music

So theorywise the blues is different? Yep. While in its very core DNA it mixes the same elements common to all musics, it does so like no other. It differs from all of our other Americana styles, and most Euro classical, which are tightly diatonic wound, with equal temper tuned pitches that create melodies and harmonies.

That is, until there's a bit of, or a lot of the blues rub added. For even in 'jazz blues', it's often more about 'running the changes' than finding the rub, well most of the time anyway.

Blue nut and shell. So, a V7 chord with a major triad and a two pitch tritone interval between 3 and b7 supports melodies from a minor scale with a different single, one pitch tritone? Yep. That the more deftly, subtly and confidently we rub the blue note pitches into the chord, the deeper in the blues we all get to go. In the hands of the jazz leaning masters more so, any of our 12 pitches are really ready, willing and able to be 'pushed' around out of tune, to find its own special sort of 'rub' and blueness. Some blue notes just coax it up easier than other ones.

And that really is the gist of 'blues theory' in this text. Upon this 'rubbing of the pitches', theorywise UYM / EMG moves quickly to chord substitution, so more jazz leaning. Now 'soloing through the changes', more than 'soloing over the changes' becomes the new fascination, brighter tempos and more chords in 12 bars that everyone knows rock solid, creating a different sort of story line than the 'three chords and the truth' of the more more traditional, original blues songs and stories.

Blues chords / finding the rub. In a traditional three chord blues song, the One / Four and Five chords are all basic, run of the mill V7 / dominant 7th chords. So a major triad with an added blue or minor 7th. These chords come with a built in, two pitch tritone interval. This is the harmony half of the 'blues rub.'

Blues songs in a minor key use use the same 7th but over a minor triad. There's generally not a whole lot of variation from this initial basis, so learn these two basics super solid in a couple of keys. Starting with the triads, examine these two open chords. Example 7.

Look familiar? Have them under your fingers? Know which is major and which is minor? Seriously, go no further till this major / minor distinction is heard and eventually mastered. For it is the basis of a lot of our theory. Let's add their blue, minor 7th's. Thinking blues in 'A.' Example 7a.

In comparing the two, both have a perfect 5th interval between the root and 5th of both the minor and major triads. In the A 7 chord, the tritone between the major 3rd 'C#' and minor 7th pitch 'G' is the rub.

Quick review. And this alone is the 'blues rub' in the chord? Yep, that's all it is.

Two pitches ...

three whole steps apart ...

sounded together = a tritone interval

creates the blues rub within V7

Remember always though, that this 'blues rub' is what makes a V7 chord a V7 chord, a magically energized chord that plays huge in all styles of Americana music.

That the V7 / dominant harmony color is the key center, tonic One harmony basis of the blues, is what sets the blues music apart from any other of our styles. For none other of our musical styles have this V7 basis as their tonic chord, let alone using dominant harmony for all of the chords. The one exception here might be modern jazz harmony, whose 100 years or so of evolutions also have a V7 basis.

So the two pitch tritone is what makes V7? Yep. And the V7 chord is the core of blues harmony? In blues songs in major, the One / Four and Five chords are all V7 type chords; major triad + blue 7th. The common call for a 'blues in A' implies using these chords.

Is the 7th of V7 the only colortone associated with blues chords? No, while we almost always have a b7 in the chord, we've an array of harmonies. For as the blues merges towards jazz all 12 pitches are in play to 'enhance' both our melodies and harmonies.

Examine the 'major' / V7 blues / jazz chords. Here we simply spell out common chords we find when playing a 'blues in A.' Examine the rather wide disparity of pitches of the blues scale layered over the diatonic major scale pitches, for herein lies the rub. The voicings chosen for the examples here find the common blues chords for One / Four / Five in 'A', all around 5th position.

All of these chord voicings are root position, so fully movable chords. The spellings in the chart are visually in 3rds (tertian) and generally match the arrangement of pitches or voicing in each chord shape. Thinking blues in 'A', with all the 'enharmonic equivalents.' Example 8.

chromatic scale

A
A# / Bb
B
C
C# / Db
D
D# / Eb
E
F
F# / Gb
G
G# / Ab
A

scale degrees

1
#1 / b2
2
#2 / b3
3
4
#4 / b5
5
#5 / b6
6
b7
7
8

'A' blues scale

A
.
.
C
.
D
Eb
E
.
.
G
.
A
.

'A' major scale

A
.
B
.
C#
D
.
E
.
F#
.
G#
A
.
chord
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
A7
A
.
.
.
E
.
G
.
C#
.
E
.
A
C# -7b5
C#
.
G
.
B
.
E
.
.
.
.
.
.
D7
D
.
F#
.
.
.
C
D
.
.
.
.
.
D9
D
.
F#
.
.
.
C
.
E
.
.
.
.

E7#9
E
.
G#
.
.
.
D
.
.
G
.
.
.
A6
A
.
C#
.
.
F#
.
.
.
A
.
.
.
A13
A
.
.
.
.
.
G
.
.
C#
.
.
F#
A7+5
A
.
.
.
.
.
G
.
.
C#
.
.
E#
A7
A
.
.
.
.
.
G
.
.
C#
.
.
E
?
                           

Know a few of these chord shapes? Cool. Here's a brief description of each chord as listed just above and links deeper into their theory.

1) 'A7' / This is a common movable barre chord that is based on an open E chord shape, it was the power chord of the 60's when overdrive distortion colors were created by tubes 'over pushed' by the real wires carrying too much juice in analog circuitry, with a channel volume squeezed by a master volume. Super nice shape for the '5, 6, b7 lick of basic rock and roll rhythm guitar. Play just the lower two, maybe three (?) pitches for shredding with modern overdrive gear and electronics.

2) 'C# -7b5' / This little beast is a super cool sub chord for any of the V7 choices. Tight pitches packed need a cleaner sound to speak nice and clear. And it'll be any of the three principle chords in a 12 bar blues? Yep, pretty much. Labeled here by its lowest pitch 'C#', it's what we commonly label as a chord in '1st inversion', as its root pitch is still 'thought' to be 'A', i.e., thinking from the root. Its color tones theory making it into a V9 chord. Very cool chord that moves rather adroitly by half steps.

3) Vanilla 'D7' from the open 'C' chord shape. Very common, very traditional, works like a charm every time either finger picked or strummed. Great shape for finding melody ideas. Find the shape, strum the chord, pick out one chord tone and rhythmically generate some new magic to find yourself a new line.

4) This roving V9 chord shape is the funk chord shape from the funk styled music of the 70's and forward. If there is such a thing as the essential 'funk' V 9 chord, this voicing is it. A rhythm guitar player's essential funk, V9 voicing learn it here if need be please. Super energized by half step lead ins, this one shape has powered endless funky styled jamms dancing for almost 50 years now.

Note. That the upper four pitches make the -7b5, so all of that applies here as well. The 'x' marks the spot to add in its 13th colortone, upping the dance funk ante even a wee bit more. Maybe write a bluesy jam vamp featuring this chord shape and the 13th color tone upgrade.

5) The V7#9 is probably the strongest sounding of our bluesy chord choices for setting up the return to the top of the form to start a new chorus. Thus perhaps the most common of our blues turnaround chord. Equally strong in both major and minor blues. A dominant chord's very own 'dominant chord', so a very common chord color in blues / rock, with a super distinctive sound character once learned and under the fingers. This is the 'Jimi' / 'SRV' chord? Yep.

6) This tonic 'A6' chord voicing is a rockabilly chord to get things jumping right now. Also loved by country artists, tight and bright, works super magic with the four finger / four string 'pluck' 'start and stop' technique of max string control.

7) This 'A13' shape is a jazz players bread and butter in a blues environment. Super slide and half step ability in a root position chord enable this chunk to drive the swing of the thing, hard. Tricky shape well worth mastering with one finger per pitch.

8) The 'A7 + 5' chord is based on an augmented triad. This is a perfect shape to get us into the minor key, minor tonality, minor tonal environment of anything really, and at any time in any style, groove, song or vamp etc. Simply, confidently sound this chord here rooted on 'A' and aurally go with perfect historical and tonal correct to anywhere where 'D' minor is setting. Fully movable, up a whole step sets up 'E' Dorian, who's pitches and their placement on the guitar neck are constellated by the fret markers / dots. Now just how cool is all of that ... ?

9) Well sort of back to where we started really, a vanilla 'A7' and voicing that's as solid as the rock of Denali. A wee bit lighter than the barre and its doubling, barre across and 'hammer on' the 'C#' in the middle, creates a classic blues lick. Its top three pitches make a 'pyramid' shape, which not only rocks right out, but also moves and slides easily in half steps, thus holding big swing potential. Flip the pyramid around to add the '9' color and find more pure blues chord butter we hear on the now 'old' recordings, what's not to love :)

wiki ~ Denali

Examine the minor blues chords. Now thinking of 'blues in A minor.' Continuing the process, localized around the 5th fret, just handy chord shapes to find some 12 bar blues in 'A' minor. First to examine the closeness of the pitches of the blues scale reflecting off the diatonic natural minor pitches. All bread and butter shapes of Americana old and new, and all these shapes are movable too. Example 9.

chromatic scale

A
A# / Bb
B
C
C# / Db
D
D# / Eb
E
F
F# / Gb
G
G# / Ab
A

scale degrees

1
#1 / b2
2
#2 / b3
3
4
#4 / b5
5
#5 / b6
6
b7
7
8

A blues scale

A
.
.
C
.
D
Eb
E
.
.
G
.
A
.

A minor scale

A
.
B
C
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
chord
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
A -7
A
.
E
G
.
.
C
.
E
.
.
.
A
A -7
A
.
.
G
.
.
C
.
E
.
.
.
.
D -7
D
.
A
C
.
F
.
A
.
.
.
.
.
E -7
E
.
B
D
.
G
.
B
.
.
.
.
.
A -9
A
.
.
G
.
.
C
E
.
B
.
.
.
D -9
D
F
.
C
E
.
.
A
.
.
.
.
.
E 7#9
E
G#
.
D
.
.
G
.
.
.
.
.
.
A -
A
.
E
.
.
A
C
E
.
.
A
.
.
A -/ maj7
A
.
E
.
G#
.
C
E
.
.
A
.
.
A -6
A
.
.
.
F#
.
C
E
.
.
A
.
.
A sus 4
A
.
E
.
G
.
D
E
.
.
A
.
.
A -11
A
.
.
G
.
.
C
D
.
.
.
.
.

Know a few of these? Cool. Here's a brief description of each chord as listed just above. Thinking chords for a blues in 'A' minor, in and around 5th position.

1) 'A -7' / This minor 7th barre might be the most common as it comes from the open E minor form. Playing any part of the chord will generally work, if you have a bass player, just lay off the root. The upper four pitch barre is a great reggae chord for chunkin' on the off beats or even the 'one drop.'

2) 'D -7' / Evolving as a barre chord from the open A minor shape, this 'D-7' is a solid solid shape for bringing the minor colors. Here in relation to the key center of 'A' minor, it is a diatonic Four chord color.

3) 'E -7' / Same shape as just above here built on Five of 'A' minor. Very common to see this chord as a tonic, or relative minor Six from 'G' major. We hear this shape as the opening chord with an added hammer on style lick as the classic intro chord for 'Listen To The Music" by the Dobie Brothers, which features Tom Johnston on guitar. Surely a 'top 10' intro in its day.

wiki ~ Tom Johnston musician

4) 'A -9' / This wonderful little chunk of harmony gets us up beyond the 7th and into the 9th, allowing for a bit more jazz into the mix. These minor 9th chords are just a bit more moody really and as such, handled accordingly. Fully movable and barre shaped, this chord gets a lot of miles for the jazz leaning players as the one finger barre opens up ways to play additional ideas over the sounded pitches of the barre chord.

5) 'D -9' / A direct bro of the V9 funkster above, this shape gets a lot of work in the jazz leaning styles. Moody and dark, it's a wonderful tonic chord and quite quickly sets an unmistakable 'yearning and loving' mood. Works like a charm for playing "Take Five", hear it in action here as the base of operations in a Jacmuse original composition "Sky Is Blue."

wiki ~ "Take Five"

6) V7#9 / While based on a major triad, 'E' and 'G#', the #9 is a minor 3rd.

So a major ... and a minor 3rd in one chord? Yep. Blues rub? Totally.

V7#9 is probably the strongest sounding of our turnaround chord choices for setting up the return to the top of the form to start a new chorus. Super common in minor, thus perhaps the most common of our blues turnaround chords; major and minor. Equally strong in both major and minor blues, a dominant chord's very own dominant chord. A very effective intro chord, it's easy to over use too, too much of a good thing :) Jimi and Stevie loved this shape.

wiki ~ Jimi Hendrix
wiki ~ Stevie Ray Vaughn

7) 'A-' / passing 7th. Big chunk of pure minor triad right here, with lots of doubling created from the open 'E' minor chord shape, just moved up and barred. In this presentation, it is also a common first chord of a 'passing 7th' motion in a minor blues, which follows here chord by chord top to bottom.

8) 'A -' / maj 7th. Extracted from the last idea, this is a bit of a rare gem and while used as a tonic chord in minor. Here's the basic barre chord shape. Maybe find the voicings on an upper course of strings i.e., from the fifth and fourth strings too.

9) 'A -6' / This little beast has an 'old world' flavor to it as historically we can find it used more in early our Americana than from the 40's onward. As the last chord in the 'passing 7th' series, we can see how it can easily slip into the minor 9 shape. Or a second inversion V9 chord ya say? Yep it sure is. See the half diminished chord of the top four pitches? Cool, cause it is in there. Round and round the theory goes in our perfectly closed loops of pitches.

10) 'A 7' / sus 4. This chord has summoned dancers since all the way back to the gigs when we first had chords and dancers in the same club space. So ... into the wayback for open 'G' tuning times? Probably, late 17 into the early 1800's or so. Since then and up to today, which luckily now can include a stack or two, the 'sus 4' sets whole stadiums of folks in motion together. A sense of 'sus 4' community? Absolutely. Click to hear.

This six pitch whopper barre chord, with its root and fifth doubled, adds b7 and simply has moved its minor third up a whole step to Four, thus enabling the 'sus 4' sound and designation. Now with no true third (Three) to make a triad; either major or minor, we get to float between the major ~ minor / Ying ~ Yang balance of it all.' Sus' empowered, our composition can and will go on quite forever, till we 'resolve the suspension' by moving Four to Three. Or forever, if we never 'de-sus' the pitches. This 'in between sus float' brings respite to those magical forces of tonal gravity, which come to life and are set in motion just by counting it off.

For by choosing one pitch to be the tonal center, we set our music flowing with one pitch coming after another, sequenced in moving time. Now their spatial relationship to one another creates varying degrees of true physical and emotional sensations of this tonal gravity, of being at rest or some degree of distress, and moving towards the sense of 'rest' that resolution of tension can bring. How clearly we as listeners hear and sense this tension / release we can term the 'aural predictability' of the music. We can 'spectrum' our sense of predictability; from 'very predictable' in songs for kids to 'zero predictability' in modern jazz.

As these boundaries tonally shape how we tell our stories, including a humorous tale of some magic for kids, a work song, a romantic tale of tale of teen love, recounting a historical event into a true song thus preserving now to be passed from generation to generation, or a song that captures our own introspections and thinking of our simple humanness, our musical styles evolve. Each with its own unique sense of the 'pull' of tonal gravity, their aural melodies, chords and rhythms all combine to characterize the 'how predictable' of a song in any style of music.

As we theorists survey the quite predictable nature of children's songs to the aural uncertainties of modern jazz, we simply look to understand the nature of our musical elements where we find them in the music, their artistic balance of function and form.

Mobiles might offer a visual representation of musical composition as they balance gravity in motion with essential symbols, musical sounds in our case as musicians. Wind chimes of various pitched tones also become a magical source for melodic ideas; the motif as they might say in academia :)

11) 'A-11' / Easy to see how the minor 11 shakes loose from minor 7, in these two shapes we lower the 5th by whole step to form the natural 11. Notice that there's also a minor 3rd in this chord along with -11 ? And no tonal dissonance? Nice. They pair right up as they are a whole step apart and sound very warm and full even when placed adjacent to one another.

That we're up from the root past the octave above gets our numbers to 11. Like the amp :) ? Yep, our numbers here go to 11 and a bit beyond too :) The 'A-7' shape we used to locate this 'A -11' is a key Two chord shape used in various Two / Five cadential motions. So this minor 11 shape can easily follow along in those footsteps, as a Two chord in various resolving motions paired with Five. This Two / Five pairing is an essential cadential component for jazz and a bossa nova classic pairing.

Stand alone, this minor 11th chord voicing is as stable as they come, evenly straddles the mm / YY like a high wire pro and when sounded for a spell, with a steady beat, can create and build up a wonderful sense of anticipation of the forthcoming coolness.

Blues chord voicings. Click off for the basics of chord voicings and if a piano is handy, then we can plunk out all the notes of really any chord, using the sustain pedal to sound them together. We fretfull string players need to work a little harder and outsmart the physical of our gits to get a chance at all of the pitches, each hopefully in a couple of ways. Nothing heavy here but there are some theories to weave together to understand stacking up the pitches into chords.

These often include the relationship between how many different pitches in a chord and the musical style where we most often find it, in following the wide intervals of the lower notes as in the natural aural phenomena of the overtone series to avoid the muddy sounds of bass notes close together. And where we can create suspensions between tones, passing bass lines, a melodic idea or arpeggio shape that jumps right out of the voicing. Imagine that, already under our fingers! Explore.

Jazz blues harmony. Jazz players dig the blues for it creates some super common ground that rarely ever breaks down during improvised performances among regular bandmates or even cats that just met. No limit to the substitutions that are available or accelerating the tempos. Artists such as Charlie Parker back in the 40's carved up the diatonic pie in slices so thin you'd think you need more than the basic 12 pitches to make sense of it all.

Actually, theorywise Mr. Parker simply blazed new ways to get from One to Four and along the way filled in the space in between with common, mostly diatonic jazz cadential motions. That he never lost sight of the Americana true blue in his saxophone single line melodic improv, is part of the amazing music he pioneered.

And today? No end to the machinations as the V7 blue color energizes our modern approach and evolutionary ways. So kind of back to the future and where we started, as V7 has traditionally cored the harmony of Americana blues and jazz together.

Quick review. Chords used in creating the blues are based on the theory principles of the dominant chord / V7 harmony. Blues chords rely on having a minor 7th above either a major or minor triad. While other colortones are common, there's almost always a blue, minor 7th in the mix. For when paired with the major 3rd of a major triad, we create a two pitch tritone interval in the chord between the 3rd and 7th, this is the harmony side of the 'blues rub' energizing our Americana blues.

wiki ~ Americana blues

So with three V7 chords to basically fill out the 12 bar form, we get three pairs of tritones, major 3rd paired with b7's, which in themselves have created about a gillion licks over the last millennia or so. The basic goes like this. Variations? Endless. Thinking three sets of 'tritones' of a three chord blues in 'A.' Example 10.

Historically just an essential catalyst for the jazz leaning cat maybe looking for some substitute changes.

Twelve bar form. As in most of our main musical styles, there's usually a common musical form that shapes the telling of the stories. In today's creation of traditional Americana blues, the 12 bar form is probably the most common form. Wynton Marsalis has talked about how this commonality allows us to collaborate music with other players we might not ever have yet met before. Yet with a snap of the fingers to count it off, we find ourselves on common musical ground negotiating with a common language, the 12 bar blues of Americana.

Three / four bar phrases. As its name implies, the 12 bar blues is comprised of 12 bars or measures. These are broken into three / four bar phrases. We could extract one of these and create what is generally known as a 'modal' blues. This is a four bar cycle or form. Hen's teeth rare in recordings, simply one four bar phrase repeated. If there's a harmony involved, it would just be the tonic blusey V7 chord of the chosen key. Here's an idea of a modal blues in 'A' with some walking bass added. Example 11.

Cool ? In expanding a four bar modal blues into a full 12 bar blues form, we use the One / Four and Five chords to generate some forward motion and create the three, four bar phrases that builds up the 12 bar blues form. So with 'three chords and the truth', the 12 bar blues form evolves. Here's a chord chart for a 12 bar blues in 'A.' Example 11a.

Look familiar? Bluesy sounds coming right off the chart for you? This above realization is perhaps the most common in all of 'Bluesdom.' Been that way for near 100 years now. And isn't this also the same song form of the earliest rockin' hits from the 50's onward? Super solid and absolutely yes, a direct crossover. Variations? Tons upon tons of chord substitutions but 12 bars strong.

Minor blues variations? Maybe a ton too. Simply make all the chords minor in this last arrangement for a start point for blues songs in a minor key. Thinking blues in 'A' minor, written here with a repeat. Example 11b.

Is there a difference between these two chord charts? No not really, mostly the same; 12 bars, roots of the chords are the same and change in the same measures. So the difference? The ' - ' sign in the chord symbol. Major is 'A7' minor is 'A -7.' Subtle for sure so we have to look closely as the sounds are each quite unique.

Major and minor chords together? If you hear it play it, write the tune the way it needs to be and school up bandmates. Do consider learning the changes to the classic blues song "Stormy Monday" for starters, for a classic blues / gospel diatonic mix of stepwise major and minor chords. For there's no limit ever to the mix and match if it all works.

The 12 bar form is so deeply ingrained in Americana we can stuff it with any old chord changes any old way and usually still find the top of the form when bringing our muse to life, in real time with like minded artists. If it gets really crazy, simply count measures to keep track ... ... 1234 2234 3234 4234 5234 6234 7234 8234 9234 10 234 11 234 12 234 top :) Easy.

"Muddy" lick. Named here for Muddy Waters, famed bluesman pioneer of the 50's and forward, this next lick is probably the most common turnaround we'll hear in the Americana blues styles. And as a turnaround it also becomes a rather common intro for kicking things off. Not sure if this lick is Mr. Waters invention but his bands sure used it an awful lot, as well as everyone else who heard it. And this 'everyone else' is an amazingly long list of our Americana 'who's who' in the blues.

wiki ~ Muddy Waters
wiki ~ list of blues musicians

Luckily I learned it in the free lesson that came along with the purchase of my first electric guitar. The two versions which follow are the basic pitches and rhythm. First just the melody, which works just fine as a bass line too, and then as a chord sequence using the One, Four and Five chords in support the turnaround pitches, to take us back to the top of the form. So thinking blues in 'A.' Example 12.

Once this basic idea is under your fingers and you play it 10 times or so while making your music, once it sets in you'll start to vary it in pitch and rhythms. Once this 'variate from the basic' begins, sky's the limit in possible variations for this lick. In your blues listening too, over time you'll hear that each artist will often have their own special twisting of these exact same pitches, and that they all achieve similar results ... the closing of one chorus to set up the beginning of a new one. Stringing choruses together creating longer solos is a natural development for improvising artists.

The 'muddy' lick is now a cliche, that everyone in the band will usually know. If not try to teach it to them. No better way to learn it for ourselves, to teach it to another. And for those readers here going pro, surely run this through a couple of keys, string sets and positions up and down the neck, even with a capo, no limit to the variations that this lick has spawned through the decades now and up till today.

This next idea finds the 'muddy lick' expanded to cover the whole octave on the one string, on just the high E string. Thinking blues in E. Example 12a.

Once these core blue notes are solid solid solid and in the mud mud mud, use them as a basis to find other coolness in this more linear fashion. As opposed to scale shapes? Exactly. The balance of the two can feed the improv bulldog everyday.

feed the bulldog

'Reverse Muddy' lick. Super make-your-ownian slang used here in trying to name up this next idea. Going to the exact same spot in the music but simply from the opposite direction. Back in 'A' blues, starting at 5th position then on down to second. Example 12b.

This last lick is also the written tag on the jazz standard "Take The A Train" by Bill Strayhorn. Rote learn and then forever onward, having these two licks under your fingers. Very handy in tons of spots and infinitely reshapable. Find both the lines around with various strings groups for the popular key centers. Here in 'C' blues. Example 12c.

wiki ~ Billy Strayhorn
wiki "Take The A Train"

'12 bar Muddy chorus.' In this next evolution we simply put the two versions of the 'muddy' lick into a 12 bar blues form. In 'G' blues. Example 12d.

who's who

Here the chord changes in the line? Try it again, and again, if needed. The steady quarter notes 'walk' the pitches through the changes. Put this through a couple of the more common blues keys? Good idea, for the 'muddy and reverse muddy' licks work every time. Every time? Yep. If the players in your mix are confused as to where this line is going, at any point in the 12 bar form, teach em' up and they'll be pals forever :) Common blues keys; 'E and A' towards rock, 'G and C' of course, and add in 'Bb and F' for jazz the leaners as it puts the 'Bb' horn players in 'C and G', so go figure. What's a couple of more keys anyway, there's only 12 total, easy :)

'Elmore' intro. Not totally certain that this is the right name for this next lick but it's the name my band leader used and asked me to play a while back. Regardless, one rather early source of it comes to us today in recording from blues legend Elmore James from his early 50's hit of "Dust My Broom", played by him with a slide.

wiki ~ Elmore James
wiki ~ "Dust My Broom"

The opening double stop as presented here became a super clarion call rock and roll cliche lick. Its most popular spot might be as the first part of the opening idea to kick off the classic rockin' "Johnny B. Goode" by guitarist Chuck Berry.

"Johnny B Goode"
wiki ~ Chuck Berry

So in theory these next pitches create an 'A' major triad. By adding these up; a sliding into all of the pitches from underneath that gives them a sort of nice and 'greasy' blues hue, the repeated triplet kicks the 'gallop' rhythm right on in, maybe even dial in some dirty crunch if ya got it too. Kaboom ! These three smaller pitch nuances add up to big fun. Played with authority it can surely light a room right up. Here's the basic idea, blues in 'A.' Example 13.

Cool? A simple idea yet a bit tricky to initially find the pocket and as with the 'muddy' lick above, just a ton of variations by players sounding this idea over the decades. Speaking of which, did you catch the bit of the 'mud' in the measure four just above? Setting up the motion to Four? Cool, tis' a very very common bass line, one all Americana players might want to know.

12 bar blues in 'A.' This next idea is what we might conjure up when performing a vocal blues number and for our arrangement, we use one 12 bar chorus 'out front' as an intro before getting into the words, hook etc. Here both the 'muddy' turnaround and the 'elmore' intro are paired up. Example 14.

Pretty notey chart for a three chord blues. Ah, the bene's of rote memorization :) All of us Americana gitfiddle players could benefit by having this 12 bars of music or something similar under our fingers. It sure comes up a lot at jam sessions, folks sittin' in, easy 'common' ground to find among blues leaning artists. All of its parts are movable, so fungible into different keys, string sets too.

Now cliche, create your own version for kicking off your own blues. For yet another new adventure in your musics find a slide to add another dimension of what a major triad can bring to table. Regardless, consider mastering this lick as time permits, vary it to your own tastes and have a 'light it up' intro for a wide range of Americana songs.

'BRRG' / A 'bluesy rockin' rhythm gallop' lick. So this next idea is an essential core of playing blues rhythms any time there's a chance to put in a little or a lot, for that matter, of rock and roll. Extracted from the last 12 bar idea, the first fingering works off an open A chord and creates motion between One and Four using the same lick, up to 7th position. Example 15.

Slow and steady wins this race to get the hand motion down and once under the fingers, you are thusly newly empowered to 'rock on out' to whatever tempo and rhythms you might ever conjure :) No limit really.

Expanding from just the 5th. Here's the same idea reworked in a couple of ways. First is simply to extract the root / perfect 5th motion to find the theory of the lick. We simply gradually enlarge the interval between to root and the three pitches of the idea; root, perfect 5th, major 6th and b7. Super, super common nowadays cause of all the fuzz on tone since the 80's I guess.

The second two measures show two common ways to encapsulate the riff in two of our essential barre chords. For younger players coming up, these barre chord fingerings are a wide wide stretch so don't beat your hands up trying to do it. Start with the 5th's and grow into the barre chords. Easiest finger solution? Might be to find a bass player :) Again the motion is One to Four. Example 15a.

Feel the drive? Cool, this riff goes all the way back to our Americana 'stride' and 'boogey woogey' styles, which on guitar we might call 'rockabilly.' Again, for some this chord riff motion can be a tough stretch for the fretboard hand, the 5'ths work just fine starting out. The barre chords are 'power chords' and we know what they do. So laying this riff into full chords with the big roar surely fills the dance floor :) Also, thinking along the lines of having bass, keys, a second guitar in the mix is sure to power up the band.

wiki ~ stride piano
wiki ~ boogie woogie piano

In this next idea we bump up the tempo, play the reduced versions of the chords through the 12 bar form and toss in a 'fast Four' in the second bar. Already the evolutions begin :) Rockin' blues in 'A.' Example 16.

This last bit is just hoot to play in lots of settings. Tons and tons of variations. The excitement itself in the playing of it tends to shake things up as it's easier for someone in the group to 'get too excited' and veer off a bit and find some new way of playing it, I know I do :)

Call and response. The next topic on this blues guitar lesson theory page is about a historical core component in its phrasing dynamic. The now the age old back and forth format of 'call and response.' It's long being a central part of the blues art form and its performance. As the term implies, the 'call' makes a statement that encourages a 'response.' Simple as that :)

wiki ~ call and response
phrasing

A 'call' can a be a lot of different things that all stimulate a response for those so inclined to chime in. A couple of pitches or more, a rhythm idea, surely words in telling stories work fine. Call and response between us and the drummer. Or bass player. Call and response between horns and soloist, termed a vamp line. 'Trading fours' is a call and response. Ever been to church ? Somebody say amen. Call and response :) Just no limit here.

Here are a few ideas from call and response. With a couple of pitches. Example 17.

Call and response with a rhythm. Example 17a.

Call and response with words, blues in 'A.' Example 17b.

Did we just write a 12 bar blues song based on the call and response phrasing of a melodic idea and words? Yep. Three / four bar phrases is the charm in any of our 12 bar blues songs. Got the hook now just need some verses. Maybe ya got a story to tell about your own loves, both lost and found, to help write a few verses and bring this hook around.

Pop hook / call and response. This next idea is more of just a pop / reggae hook to kick things off. This two bar lick / vamp idea is for the lyrics; the call; "Heard You Talking Voodoo ... the response; 'Bout Me", by moi Your's Truly :) Mostly a blues in 'A' minor. Example 17c.

So with this 'call and response' interplay we create dialogue between participants in creating our musics; get to tell and teach stories, get folks thinking on the same page together creating a 'likemindedness' of intent, and we can build up artistic and emotional tension, which when released, create memorable moments of joy and excitement for those who partake.

King Joe Oliver shout chorus. This next idea comes right off the Ken Burn's "Jazz" series. History reveals that Mr. Oliver was a mentor to Louis Armstrong in so many ways, thus the encouragement here to internalize the power of the blues by mastering this lick by all who seek to invoke this color.

So just a couple of pitches but really more about rhythm and tone. In the KBJ series, this 12 bar chorus is played behind the still picture of a very proud group of well dressed folks, standing on a very ancient stretch of sidewalk in old New Orleans. Example 18.

wiki ~ King Oliver

Just a great old idea for the last time around :)

'Mojo' lick. Got yourself a 'mojo' lick yet? Included here for beginners mostly, a 'mojo' lick is a four bar phrase we each get to discover and create for ourselves. Down the road we'll have a bunch of these but need to have one to get started yes? In this text, it's simply a four bar phrase that we come up with that just feels super natural to all of what we each bring to the music, in pitches, rhythms, creating hooks, chops etc.

Its creation often starts out by running the pitches of a scale shape. Something we do when shedding anyway, might as well put it into a musical context eh? In this case, the 'mojo' sound is the minor pentatonic group with the tritone upgrade. Got this scale shape solid? Here's a 'mojo' lick to help get started. Example 18.

Cool? As a four bar phrase, one idea could easily become a hook for a song in the 12 bar blues form by playing it three times. Easy. Maybe find some words that tell a story of yours. Revisit one of mine from earlier days of true heartbreak just above.

For up and coming players, just running the shape and finding the 'x' brings the blues. As we each develop there will be one or a couple of 'licks' we just' invent.' Chances are down the road these ideas become our own sort of organic 'mojo' licks, licks we can play perfectly at the drop of a hat and brings some 'blues power.' Add these in to the ones we lift off the records and we've got ourselves some mojo :)

wiki ~ mojo
wiki ~ "Blues Power" song

Moving the one shape up and down. The last stop on this blues theory page could easy be at the top, for it is about as core as it gets among some cats who could probably care less about understanding the theory of this blues music. Why? Well for guitar and even bass too, there's no need really. For the one core scale shape moves right along with the chords and a whole lot of the 'blues hue' an artist may ever need is always right under their fingers. Exact same shape for every occasion :)

Why, there's even a 'major 6th' sub that slips into the traditional blues minor color, exact same shape, same strings bends even. So we're just blues 'elevatoring' the one entire shape? Yep. Just following the roots of the chords to get us in the right spot on the neck, yep. Just following the dots? Yea in some keys, just follow the dots :) Thinking blues in 'E', moving one idea. Ex. 19.

Cool with the idea of moving one shape around? Kind of mojo huh ? Or three times and out with a bit of calypso :) As cliche as cliche as cliche as it might ever get on the bandstand. Last lick going out stops the band on a dime too. So same shape simply relocated to the One / Four and Five spots in 'E'; so 'E, A and B', open, 5th and 7th, then up to the 12th fret / octave dot for our tonic pitch 'E' to close. And we get all this by finding the same lick, from the same shape and the same fingering, just moved to the exact spot.

Is this why guitar is the most popular stringed instrument on the planet ? That there seems to be more guitar players than ever nowadays? Too easy? Naa, but that's the fun of it. One shape, a couple of chords, start the motor and the music begins, stories get told and folks listen, and we're building community with music, something folks from all walks of life can share together. So moving just the one shape around, probably won't take those so impassioned all that long to get it together, get on the bandstand and under the lights and begin true testimony and have some fun :)

That's all for this chapter folks. All good with the idea of a 'blues rub?' That's the gist of the method and theory here. Finding the blues rub with a couple of pitches with in a couple of super select spots. Then pushing the pitch a bit to see if there's some blue hue in its magic.

And tritones away as they say ... the rest is just making DANCE music with a couple of pitches and a couple of chords to tell the stories. Once mastered and the evolution begins, no limits to the influence to and fro for the blue colors in the Americana fabric of musics.

Review. We theory artists types get to rub two different tritones, a one pitch octave scale splitter with a two pitch'er from within V7, to provide the initial built in aural rub for the magic of the blues. As the 'three chords and the truth' that help power the blues are all each V7, we get the built in blues hue every beat of the way, ole !

The blues is an oral tradition, passed down by listening and learning by rote. In today's magics of music, no real limits to what we can hear blueswise, lifting the cool ideas to build or own vocabulary. This is the way its been done since we started, start now and there will always be more to learn.

"Live every second of every day to its maximum potential, but also to accept the inevitable. Always look ahead, always assume you will live forever, and if you don’t, you don’t."

from NYT / 08/22/2018

wiki ~ Hilary Lister ( sailor )