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Piano Fact

Week 14: The Blues Scale: The Relation to Minor Chords
The blues scale isn’t just for blues players. Once you master this simple little scale in a few keys, you can use it to add flavor to all kinds of songs. Jazz pianists have used the blues scale throughout the years with great frequency and effect.

One handy trick is to play the blues scale against minor chords. One might think that one of the minor scales we are all expected to know — pure, harmonic, or melodic — should or could be used as improvising material against minor chords. Yet try them, and you’re almost certain to be disappointed. The three minor scales you learn about in theory class tend to sound outdated with modern sounding tunes of Twentieth Century pop and jazz music.

What sounds better? The blues scale.

Remember the blues scale contains a minor third, just like all the minor scales. But unlike the traditional minor scales it also contains a flat fifth (G flat in the C blues scale). Here’s what the whole scale looks like.

C - E flat - F - G flat - G - B flat - C

Those three flatted notes are what gives this scale its charm and sets it apart from the minor scales of classical music.

So where do you use this blues scale? How about with just about any pop tune written in a minor key. That’s a lot of songs. Go ahead and try it with the chord progressions to such tunes as Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Blue Skies, Feelings, Blue Bossa, My Funny Valentine. The list is endless.

So what blues scale do you use in these situations? Good question. For starters use the same blues scale as the minor key. If the tune is in C minor, use a C blues scale. If it’s in A minor, use an A blues scale. You get the idea.

Can we expect this blues scale will sound great throughout all the chord changes in the song? Of course not. But we’ll leave it up to you to determine how far you can go with it. It’s all a matter of using your own good taste.

This leaves us with a few unanswered questions. Most important right now is how do we make a blues scale in another key? And where else can we use the blues scale? Can it be used in songs in major keys? Absolutely.

We’ll address these concerns in an upcoming installment. In the meantime, you have something to work on.

For more information on the blues styles see Deluxe Blues/Boogie-Woogie and the Blatantly Basic Blues video.

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