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Blues Guitar Lessons: Blue Notes

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Now we've developed a basic approach to
melody, which is we've got our five
note scale, the minor pentatonic.
And we've got this idea,
rhythmic organization.
We've got a few techniques for
working through the scale and so on.
But what I'd like to do over the next
couple of lessons is really get inside
that scale and turn it from the mechanical
scale, which is the dots on the neck and
this fret and that fret into the musical
quality that really attaches it to blues.
As I said in an earlier lesson, blues
melody didn't come from people sitting
down with a staff and a pen and saying,
let's come up with some melodies here.
It was people singing based on their
experience, their cultural background.
The influences from Africa,
a different melodic concept than
was current in Europe at the time.
It's not diatonic, it fits in the cracks.
And so for example, when we look
at the relationship of the minor
and the dominant seventh
we see that there's an apparent
mismatch there,
this is not supposed to happen.
Minor scales [SOUND] are supposed
to go with minor chords and
major scales are supposed
to go with major chords.
But we've got a chord with a major
third and a scale with a minor third.
How can that be?
Well, the answer is that there's
actually a note in between and
this is true of a lot of blues melody.
It doesn't fit exactly on the staff,
it's kind of that in between sound.
And that's what we know as bluesy.
We recognize it right away.
Now, you can imagine 100 and
some years ago when
people were first
encountering blues outside of
the rural districts where
it was a fact of life.
Well, the guy that's given credit
is the father of the blues,
WC Handy, was an educated musician,
band leader, African-American.
He was traveling through the South and he
told this now-famous story of waiting for
the train in Tutwiler, Mississippi.
And he noticed down at the end of the
platform there was this raggedy looking
guy sitting down playing a guitar,
rubbing a knife up and down the strings.
He was going,
It's like, what the heck is that?
And he became intrigued, he said it
was the weirdest music I ever heard.
But he got fascinated by the sound of it.
This is a guy who grew up, he was in
an African-American culture in the South.
But he hadn't encountered
that sound before.
And so
what fascinated him was both the lyrics,
what's he singing about, the presentation,
he's playing a guitar with a knife.
I mean, what's that about?
And the melody is just kinda,
it's in between there.
And so he started to capture these songs
and write them down, write arrangements.
And he wrote some very famous blues songs,
one of which we're gonna
examine in a little bit here.
And so this idea of blues melody
kind of fitting in the cracks is
one that's been fascinating musicians for
a long, long time.
Now, starting with the singers
we hear the singers do
this constantly and what you hear is this
We recognize that sound, we say,
well, that sounds kind of bluesy.
It's not quite on the fret,
it's a little bit sharper,
that minor third.
That is the blue third.
It's the note in between the minor
third [SOUND] and the major third.
Now on the guitar,
we have the luxury of bending a string, so
we can find a note [SOUND]
by just changing the pitch.
All I gotta do is pull that string down.
Now, I'm using my index finger on that
note, [SOUND] pulling it slightly down.
Now, here's the deal is that you
don't wanna pull it too far,
[SOUND] that's too far.
Now, compare it to the major third,
there's the major third.
If I bend the minor
third to a major third,
[SOUND] I'm pulling it quite a distance,
[SOUND] The blue note
[SOUND] is right in between.
So minor third, major third and
[SOUND] blue third.
Now, if you're playing a piano you can't
do that, you can't bend that note.
So what do piano players do?
[SOUND] They crush it, as they call it.
They quickly [SOUND] whip the finger
from one note to the other,
you know, like a black key to a white
key and [SOUND] black, there you go.
So it's a combination of the minor
third and the major third and
that's also a common
technique on the guitar.
You know,
it kind of comes back in reverse so
we can play a blue third by [SOUND]
bending the note a little bit.
By hammering on from the minor third
to the major third to kinda create this
hybrid effect.
by sliding [SOUND] from the minor third to
the major third, they all work.
The hammer on [SOUND] and the slide
[SOUND] sound almost exactly the same.
So the choice of techniques there is
really sort of how the context works out.
But the essence of the sound is
to get that feeling of [SOUND].
Always giving that minor third a little
bit of a shading toward the major third.
Now, this becomes a habit to the extent
that whenever you play the minor third,
wherever you are in the neck, whatever key
you're in, it's gonna have that shape.
Now, I played three minor thirds in there.
There's the first one.
Here's the second one.
And there's the third one.
So wherever I find that
note within the scale,
I'm always gonna give it
a little bit of an extra flavor by bending
it slightly.
now that adds a little bit more of
the emphasis on the major third.
But it's still kind of
that blue note sound, and
this will sort of take us a little bit
later on down into the question of how
do you create different emotional effects
and they center around the third,
the minor third, the blue third,
and the major third.
They all create slightly
different emotional effects and
they all relate to the harmony
in different ways as well.
So we're kind of opening the door to this
sort of more advanced level of melodic
Now, what I'm gonna do right now
is I'd like to play some phrases,
and we'll do the call and
response thing as we did before.
And I'm gonna emphasize the blue third,
and I'm gonna use the different techniques
that I just described, the bend,
[SOUND] and by the way, the bend,
all you've gotta do is press down hard and
pull that finger toward the floor.
[SOUND] You can also push it
toward the ceiling, [SOUND] but
in the context of most
phrases in that position,
that note on the third string is
gonna work better toward the floor.
Now, when you play the minor
third on the first string,
if you reach up to that high C there,
[SOUND] use this supportive fingering,
that technique that we talked about
before, three fingers on the note.
[SOUND] Doesn't take that much strength,
but it adds an extra degree of confidence.
So, let's do a little call and
response here.
I'm gonna use the different techniques,
you'll hear how they sound, and
you have a chance to recreate
them right on the spot.
And then of course,
you can loop this interaction here.
And we're gonna concentrate
on the blue third,
integrating the blue third into
the minor pentatonic scale.
Okay, here we go.
Your turn.
Now check
this out.
we're on.
Combination of both.
Emphasize the major
third in the chorus.
Add the blue third.
All three fingers.
Yeah, could keep going but
that covers some ground right there.
So you heard as I was playing,
and as you can see,
in some cases I'm using the [SOUND]
the bend and I'm using the hammer on.
[SOUND] I didn't use
the slide there at all
Now sometimes when I put a rhythmic
on the major third it is definitely major,
it's not a blue third so much.
But by having the minor third in front
of it, it creates that sort of mixed
quality where we have both sounds
kinda blending together in your ear.
You retain them both as
you listen to the phrase.
Now, another little aspect of
the blue third is that we often,
in blues phrases, we surround the third.
And what I mean by that is
you've got the root here,
[SOUND] you've got the fourth, [SOUND] and
you've got the minor third, [SOUND] and
you've got the major third,
which combine to create the blue third.
So a typical phrase, for example.
Right, so
I'm playing
and so on.
We'll be using these phrases
a lot as we go forward.
So the idea there is that
you've added a little bit,
actually a new note to your vocabulary,
[SOUND] two new notes.
The quarter tone, which is the halfway
point between the minor third and
major third.
And then the combination by hammering on
of the minor third and the major third.
[COUGH] Now, we're gonna talk about this
more later but
because of this sort of diatonic hangover,
the concept that the minor world and
the major world are separate and
forever held apart from each other,
and it's either one or the other.
If you have that thought in mind,
then you might be thinking, okay,
when I go from the minor third to
the major third I'm changing tonalities or
I must be using a different scale.
No, I'm playing within the blues tonality.
The blues tonality encompasses minor and
major, that's what makes it special.
It's a third way.
It's not one or the other, it's both.
And that's the unique quality of blues.
And once you kind of get that sound
in your head and that understanding,
it makes life a lot easier because
you're not juggling scales all the time,
you're just say, no, it's just blues.
It shoots right down the middle.
And that's the reality of the sound.
Okay, mess around with that blue third for
a minute and then when you come back,
we'll tackle the next note in the scale.
Inside the blues scale,
we looked at the emotional qualities.
Well, every note tells a story, it's
pretty amazing when you think about it.
And one of the notes that has the biggest
story to tell is the flat five.
In many senses that is regarded
as the blue note, in my view and
a lot of other people would agree.
There are several blue notes,
it's a way of shading the scale
to create the blues sound.
But the flat five,
[SOUND] could call it the sharp four, but
nobody ever does,
is the note halfway between the 4th.
You got the tonic or the root,
[SOUND] the minor 3rd,
[SOUND] the 4th, [SOUND] and
then the flat 5 is the note one fret up.
[SOUND] And then there's the fifth,
so in either direction,
going up [SOUND] or going down.
[SOUND] You got this note
that sits halfway in between.
Now, what's the story of the flat five?
Well it's this.
[SOUND] Right, that sound, that interval,
you hear that and
what's the feeling that you get?
[SOUND] It isn't like I'm sitting
back relaxing at home, right?
It's kinda like, [SOUND] uh-oh,
something's happening,
this is not good, right?
The flat five interval or the tri-tone,
because it's made up of three whole steps,
one, two, three,
was called back in the day.
We're talking the middle ages almost and
the devil in music,
that was the term that was used.
The devil in music.
It was literally forbidden [SOUND]
by those who wrote music for
the church to use that interval because
it was thought that that interval
incites passions that are not proper
within the religious context.
It's a little too human,
it's a little too disturbing.
And it represents
the pull of the devil on,
otherwise good men and women,
so you stay away from that.
You stick to the more consonant intervals.
Well, blues has been called
the devils music, and
so I guess it makes sense that that
interval plays a key part of it.
Now, [COUGH] phrasing the flat five is
a lot like phrasing the blue third.
We can [SOUND] hammer on.
We can slide, [SOUND] or
we can bend [SOUND], right?
But either way we're deliberately aiming
for a note that is outside the chord it
does not fit the structure
[SOUND] of the dominant chord.
It's as dissonant [SOUND] is as
dissonant as you're gonna get,
that half step right in there.
Clashes, and
the clash is very deliberative.
It creates that feeling
of kind of discomfort
that is it's really part of
the bluesy motion emotional spectrum.
It's not that it's sad,
we think of blues as sad.
No, blues is the truth, that's
the way Albert Collins described it.
That's exactly what it is,
and what's the truth?
Well, you don't go around feeling happy or
sad, you're a little bit of both.
And blues describes that,
you can incorporate all
those sounds into a single phrase.
By manipulating the notes and
understanding the emotional
qualities that they have.
So the blue third and the flat five go
together invariably in blues phrases.
Now, let's do a little call and
response here, and
I'm gona use the flat five in
combination with the blue third.
And play some typical phrases, and
you'll hear how it sounds, and
also how it feels under you fingers.
And I will use the different techniques,
[SOUND] I'll slide, or
I'll [SOUND] hammer on from my third
to my fourth finger, or I'll bend.
[SOUND] And see how that sounds
in these two bar phrases.
So I'll play the call,
and you answer me back.
Play the same phrase I'm playing.
Now, once you're confident about
the phrases, mess around with it and
answer me with something different.
But for right now,
start out by playing exactly what I play.
Okay, here we go.
Yeah, I was stretching out a little
bit there using some combinations
of notes that we haven't explored much.
In other words,
skipping over notes of the scale like
[SOUND] that last little lick there,
[SOUND] right?
And the result of that is
I'm using the blue third and
then [SOUND] jumping up to the octave.
The very common sound in blue's phrasing,
so by adding the blue third sound.
Which is really a range of sounds, and
the flat five sound,
we're starting to open it up.
And starting to hear the phrases in
the minor pentatonic as being more vocal,
they have same quality as that
guy singing all by himself.
You can start to match
the inflections of a singer and
that's what makes it sound like blues.
That's what we're going for on the guitar,
is to sing through the instruments.
So this really all adds
up to the same result.
All right, we're gonna look at
one more in the next lesson.
So have fun with that minor third,
flat five, the blue third.
Put it all together and
then we'll explore one more note.
Now the last of the blue
notes is the seventh.
Now we've already been playing the seventh
because it's built into the scale.
Minor pentatonic.
There's the seventh.
In the dominant seventh chord,
there's a seven built in,
so there's a match between the scale and
the chord.
So what makes it a blue note is that when
you hear phrases that include the seven,
this is vocal phrases as well
a guitar phrases, saxophone.
Any instrument that has that ability
to Inflect the note like that.
You hear a shading on the seventh,
which is pushing it slightly sharp,
in other words, like this,
here's an example.
Now, as I played the seventh there,
I use my third finger because now I'm
starting to add some inflection to it.
So I need the strength
of the third finger, and
I use the supportive fingering,
three fingers all together.
And I push the note not all
the way up to the octave,
in other words I'm not
bending it a whole step.
I'm not even really
bending it a half step.
I'm bending it a quarter ton,
like the blue third.
But by pushing it up a quarter tone
it creates the effect in your ear you
fill it in and you hear it as linking
that note up to the high pitch.
So that's built into
a lot of blues phrases.
It's a subtle sound.
And it's one that you might hear and
not even really recognize it.
But it's another example of something
where you hear something, you play it, and
you say, it's not quite matching up.
And I can't figure it out.
It's that kind of subtlety that
you have to learn to recognize.
So, If I was to hammer on from
the minor seventh to the major seventh,
[SOUND] no, it's too much, right?
[SOUND] That's not a blue note,
that's just a bad note,
[SOUND] you know what I'm saying?
[SOUND] Right?
The bend is what give it the subtlety.
So that's the one technique we're
gonna use for the blues seventh,
if you wanna call it that.
So we got the blue third,
the blue seventh,
the flat five
Now there's the seventh
again in a lower octave and
I'm playing with my first finger.
So by using those inflections
on three of those notes,
what we've done is take a scale
that fits on the staff.
It, you know, you can line it up and
the notes go right in there.
Suddenly you've got a sound that
doesn't fit on the staff anymore, but
it reflects the actual sound of how
blues is played and how it's sung.
And the type of phrases that
we want to learn to cultivate.
So lets do some call and
response again, with the same track.
And I'm gonna incorporate
all three notes now.
We got the blue third, the flat five,
and that blue seventh.
And build them all in there, and
you'll hear how they sound in context.
And by the time we're done with these
notes, and we put them all together.
It's like, well, that's pretty much
what blues guys play, you know?
Now, there are other techniques,
of course.
But that's the heart of the blues
melodic vocabulary over one chord.
Let's give it a shot.
Now, once again, it's a cross section and
you could go on for
a long time exploring all the different
combinations of those phrases.
Now I used a couple of techniques.
I cheated a little bit.
I jumped the gun and
used some techniques that we haven't
talked about yet, which will be coming up.
But, vibrato.
That's a way of putting a finishing
touch on a phrase, very important, but
we'll get to that technique soon.
And also, I kinda bent the string a little
bit more than a blue note, in some cases.
So, we'll learn both of those
techniques very shortly here, and
be able to add those to the vocabulary.
The idea is that by using the blue notes,
the little bends, the hammers on,
and so forth.
You expand your melodic vocabulary and you
also make the phrases have a flow to them.
That feels like the notes kind of
run into each other in the same way
that you hear with a singer.
So with the blue note vocabulary
added to the minor pentatonic.
The result is what I call
the blue note pentatonic.
Its not five notes really
its five notes plus.
But it's based on that core
of the minor pentatonics.
So we have a very solid kind
of framework that we build on.
And then by adjusting each
of the notes a little bit
we come up with a lot of
different shades of color.
That make that simple melodic pattern
sound very complex with
a lot of emotional content.
And it helps you get to the heart of
the blues sound much quicker than
learning a bunch of different scales,
trust me on that.
Okay we'll come back and
sum up this whole thing in the next lesson
Now to kind of sum up this
whole discussion of blue notes.
There's a term that I like to use
to describe the blues sound as you
hear it expressed by an experienced,
accomplished blues guitar player.
And that's three dimensional phrasing.
When we think about playing solos,
the guitar player kind of default
thinking process is what scale do I play,
where's that pattern on the neck, right?
Its all focused on melody and
in certain styles of music, you know,
if you have no chord changes and
its a certain kind of a groove.
The scale pattern is the melody.
It's running through that pattern and
that's kinda the effect
that you're going for.
But in blues it's not like that.
You're looking for less notes, more music.
Three dimensional phrasing
means it's the combination,
the balance of rhythm, melody, and touch.
Now, there are some players
that you listen to that
emphasize one of those
aspects more than another.
Some players are very fluid.
They use melody a lot.
They get around, you know,
and they're very fast.
Or very smooth in the way
that they adjust the notes.
Other players don't play as many notes but
they get that strong rhythmic groove that
feels like everything just lays in
that pocket in such a cool way.
And other players, it's like they
just hit one note, and it's [SOUND].
You say, yeah, man,
there's no melody there to speak of.
Just lays that one note
on the downbeat and
it just, I like to hear that note again,
you know?
That's touch.
So we've touched, if you will,
on each of those topics.
We know about rhythm because
we've studied rhythm guitar.
We know how to organize the rhythms,
we've used the horn section voicings and
all that kind of stuff.
To create the two bar phrases, call and
response, essential
idea in blues phrasing.
We know about melody because we have
that minor pentatonic scale and
we've adjusted the notes now that we
can create more of a real blues sound.
And we know about touch.
We've figured out how to put
the fingers on the neck and
how to maximize the grip that you
have on each of those notes to
make it fully realized,
that's what you're looking for.
Is you wanna give each note it's
full value by holding onto it
as long as you need to hold onto it and
not cutting it off before it's done.
So with that three dimensional idea and
with the concept of call and response,
you've really got the basic vocabulary
that you need to play any kind of blues.
It's all a matter of how you apply it.
The tempo changes,
the tonality changes, whatever.
We're gonna learn how to move up and
down the neck.
We're gonna learn a bunch
of other techniques.
But that's kinda the essence, the core.
A blues phrasing.
And the way that people have
learned to phrase blues,
to play blues forever is by imitation.
There's nothing negative about
imitating another player.
Every great blues player
that you are aware of.
B.B. King, everybody knows B.B. King.
How did he learn how to play so good?
Well he imitated the heck
out of T-bone Walker.
He wanted to be T-bone Walker but
he wasn't and it frustrated him.
And so he imitated T-bone and
he realized he couldn't do that, but
he came up with something of
his own as a result of that.
And that's true of almost every great
Blues player, when you read their
interviews, their biography, you find that
there was somebody that they listened to,
they tried to be that guy, they wanted
to be that guy, but they didn't, and
in the end they came up
with their own voice.
So imitation is an essential
part of learning the phrase.
That's how you learn To
speak that language.
Learning from people that
how to speak it well.
Improvisation, is taking the language
that you've learned and learning how to,
and reorganizing spontaneously.
You know, if you learn a new
language like learning Chinese for
me, I would be struggling to figure
out how to ask where's the bathroom?
I would have to think really hard.
I can't improvise in that language.
I have no vocabulary.
I can't put words together spontaneously.
And in blues, it's the same thing.
You learn that language.
You have to live with it for awhile
before you can organize it spontaneously.
So imitate, you can copy me,
as you start to hear other players and
understand how they
organize their phrases and
be able to visualize where they
put their phrases on the neck.
Use your ear and
understand the relationships of the notes.
You'll hear the in many cases
they're doing exactly what I'm doing
here with you, but they're just doing it
a little faster, maybe a little fancier.
They're adding some other
techniques that we'll get to.
But the core of it is exactly
what we're talking about here.
So you're in a position right now to
start building your vocabulary and
learning directly from the players
who inspire you, whoever they may be.
And what I want to get from you now,
I want you to come back to me
with a 12 bar, blue note solo.
I want you to use all the stuff
that we just talked about.
The blue notes, the dynamics,
the different picking techniques.
Whatever kind of strikes your fancy.
And I want you to put
together a 12 bar solo or
you could do two choruses if
you want to play that long.
And show me how you're thinking.
I wanna get that reality check on
how you're taking these ideas that
I'm explaining.
And how you can put them together,
and create your own music.
Cuz you've got all the raw
materials now to do that.
It's just hooking your
imagination up with your fingers.
Use your voice, create that intermediate
step there and it'll definitely help you.
And so, send me a video of yourself
playing a solo using these raw materials.
Pick any rhythm track you like.
And put it over top of that, and
then I'll get back to you and we'll talk.
All right?
See you then.