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Piano Fact

Week 16: The Blues Scale: Using it in Major Keys
In the last few installments we covered the Blues Scale and its various uses. Primarily it’s used in blues songs. But it’s also used with great effect in songs in minor keys. The blues scale is a type of minor scale and seems to work better than the various minor scales you might have learned in your classical studies (natural minor, melodic minor, and harmonic minor).

Will the Blues Scale work in non-blues songs in major keys? Definitely, if you know how and where to use it. Here’s some ideas.

Many songs in major keys have minor chords in them. Other songs in major keys drift into the minor mode for a significant number of measures (the bridge to Georgia On My Mind, for example). Here’s where you have some great opportunities to use the Blues Scale.

We analyze the above mentioned Hoagy Carmichael standard at length in our cassette program Continuing Chord Piano. You’ll find a copy of the tune there too. In the tune (key of F) you find a Dm chord in measure three. Here a D Blues Scale works wonderfully for right hand improvisation. The bridge centers around the key of D minor. Here the D Blues Scale works well for all the measures up to the G7 chord (seven measures worth).

Here’s another idea. For a gospel sound you can play a Blues Scale based on the sixth of the key when you come across a II7 chord. This means in the key of C you can play an A Blues Scale against a D7 chord. Try it and see if you like it.

There are many times a blues scale isn’t the best choice to be played against a minor chord. For example, don’t play a Blues Scale against a minor sixth chord. It also is not too effective in a ii - V - I situation.

But the only way to tell ultimately is to experiment. Try out the Blues Scale in situations where you think it might work. If it doesn’t sound all that good, don’t use it. Once again, let your ears be the judge.

For more information on the topic covered here see Deluxe Blues/Boogie-Woogie and the Blatantly Basic Blues video. Also Continuing Chord Piano.

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