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Blues Guitar Lessons: Minor Blues

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For all the twists and
turns that we've taken so far,
one thing has been consistent.
Everything that we have played has
been over the same basic harmony.
That's the dominant seventh chord.
Classic sound of blues.
Now we're gonna change
the harmony a little bit and
see what happens when you have another
chord quality other than dominant seven.
And the most common variation
that you'll hear in blues,
getting away from the dominant
seventh is minor.
Very simple, if I'm in the key of A,
A dominant seven.
A minor.
Now, rock tends to be a minor keyed style.
Lots of songs as your minor keys.
So the players that have
grown up listening to rock,
it's a natural gravitation
toward that sound.
And there's a benefit to the minor
sound from a soloing standpoint,
which is you don't have to
make choices about the third.
The minor third, the blue third,
the major third, how do I wanna color it?
Which way should it go?
Is it happy or sadder?
Once you get that minor chord in there,
it's dark.
It's going to stay dark.
So your solo is gonna lean on that
dark side, which means the minor.
Now, it's still blues, and so
even that minor third has that
little twist slightly toward major.
You can't take it too far
because it gets a minor chord.
If you really lean on that major third,
it can sound a little bit disconcerting.
So, minor but with just a little bit of
a nudge is about as far as we need to go.
And then the rest of it, minor pentatonic
of course is tailor made for that song.
The seventh.
The blue note on the seventh is perfect.
The flat five.
Now we've got our color notes.
The second, yeah,
the second sounds is very nice over that,
one minor chord it gives
a little bit kind of
a mysterious quality,
I guess I would call it.
Now the note that might cause a little
bit of consternation is the sixth.
In the key of A.
There's the fifth.
There's the 7th.
Now if I'm gonna fill
that in should I fill
it in with a minor sixth or a major sixth.
Which one is gonna sound right?
And the answer is they both
work in the sense that they can
sound convincing musically,
but the decision about which
one to play is often contingent
on what the next chord is.
If I'm in a minor key,
I'm playing a minor 12-bar blues,
more often than not, the 4 chord, and
here we're in the key of A,
the 4 chord would be D minor.
So I look at the D minor chord and
say, how is that chord put together?
Root, fifth, root, third, the third is
F natural, that's the minor sixth.
So instead of playing the sixth that
I would play over a dominant chord.
The major sixth, in a minor blues,
if the four chord is minor,
I'll play a minor sixth.
Now, practically speaking,
if you're not sure which is the right one,
just avoid it.
Because if you hit the wrong one,
it can just throw you off and
it won't sound right.
But if you can hear it coming
then the six becomes a very effective
note cuz it really adds a color.
We talk about these color tones.
That's a serious color right there.
And when the four chord arrives then that
note also sounds very sweet because in
respect to playing chord tones and
sort of following the changes and so on,
that becomes a target over the four chord.
Now what about the five chord?
Well, as often as not in a minor blues,
the five chord is dominant still.
So you get one minor,
four minor, five dominant,
back to one minor.
And that five dominant has that
quality where it's sort of,
it has the energy to push you to
the next chord and that's true for
the minor chord just as much
as it is the major chord.
However, the five chord may B minor and
how do you know which one is gonna be?
How do you know which is the four chord
minor or it could even be dominant.
The five chord could be minor or
dominant, how do you know?
It's the song.
You listen to the song,
you listen to the arrangement.
Unlike standard 12-bar blues,
that's all dominant chords,
minor chord songs are more
like compositions.
They have their variations, and so
you have to listen to the specific
song and figure out the harmony.
So, minor 12-bar blues will
have the same three chords but
the qualities of the chords
are a little bit variable.
Now, there are different
ways that traditional,
sort of classic blues players
have played minor blues.
One of them is to combine minor tonality,
the minor harmony with
a different kind of rhythm.
The most famous example by far
would be The Thrill is Gone by B.B.
King where you've got the
You got this kinda funky groove,
[SOUND] it's not a traditional
blues groove at all.
Now, he took that song, that The Thrill
is Gone was done many years before,
and it had been done originally
as a minor 12A group.
Like that.
And B.B. took it and said, well,
let's update it a little bit.
Let's make it sound a little
bit hipper for more modern.
So he combined the same basic song,
the lyrics and so forth with a,
other minor blues like famous minor
blues from the blue's repertoire,
you might combine the minor
groove with a Latin groove.
Now we'll talk about
Latin grooves later on.
We'll talk about the thrill is gone,
actually that groove and that sound,
that feel, later on.
But for right now we're gonna stick
closer to home and we'll take the minor
harmony and we'll pair it up with
a shuffle, our old pal the shuffle.
And the best known example of that,
that I could think of a minor blues
shuffle is one of the biggest
hit records of the early 1960s.
And it was an instrumental.
And it was called Green Onions.
And Green Onions was
really based on an organ,
Hammond organ melody group
was Booker T and the M.G.'s,
the guitar player in that band was Steve
Cropper, and it was this kind of a groove.
[SOUND] Still a shuffle but
got very distinctly minor bass pattern.
The organ pattern
that was very catchy was that.
Now that song has been covered, and
recovered, and
re-re-recovered about a billion times.
But it's still a classic and
it's still a great model to use for
how to approach a minor blues,
we can come up with an alternate
rhythm part that isn't the organ part.
One way to play rhythm
on a song like that,
would be the double the bass pattern.
Or another really good way would be.
Kinda play the same lick.
One, three, four, one, three,
four and move it up an octave.
So it's more like the midrange parts,
the riff chords, and so
forth that we've been using.
Now when it goes to the four chord,
still minor.
Just move the pattern up the neck.
Now in the case of that song,
the five chord is minor.
So the same rhythm part will apply to
each of the three chords.
You don't have to change a thing,
just move it up and down the neck.
A part that I came up with too, the sort
of a you call it this like the combined
part where it's sort of like two
parts in one, we'll check this out.
There I've
got the chord.
I've got the chick, accenting the second
beat along with the snare drum.
And then I harmonize the bass pattern.
Bass goes C to D, and
I add make it a double stop and
add that extra note on top.
For D,
That's not on
the record,
that's just
a made up part.
But that's my way of sort of thinking,
how can I create a rhythm guitar part that
fits the mood of the song,
follows the harmony.
Pays attention to the bass pattern and
the form.
And there it is, so
that's just kind of an invention.
But I'll show you how to play that,
give you some notation.
There's D and E.
Now, Green Onions came out in 1962 or
It's kind of the dawn of the rock
revolution, and you could
say this was a bridge between more
traditional blues and a more modern sound.
It had some of those more modern
elements to it in terms of the feel,
the groove and so on.
So it's a shuffle but it's kind of a hip,
contemporary shuffle,
as opposed to the down home,
old school shuffle, it's a lot of fun.
Now, soloing-wise,
it's just blues but it's minor, so
I have to now be careful about the third,
don't emphasize the major third.
Watch out for that four chord.
Now I know in this
particular song it's minor,
so there's my minor sixth that
matches the minor third of D.
And my five chord is minor as well which
just means I can stay in my key sign
and rage.
So let me give you an example
of a solo over this kind
of progression and
we'll talk, here we go.
on and
on and
on and
It's a lot of fun to play over that thing.
So I was listening to it.
I kind of picked up on the moodiness
of it, the minor sound.
It has that smoky, dark quality, and
I thought, what's smoky and dark?
Yeah, yeah, the pedal tone.
[COUGH] Hybrid picking.
Using all those different little
techniques that we developed, and
not trying to force them in there,
but as I learn them and I get them in
the back of my mind, I'm thinking,
it just sounds like, yeah,
that would be appropriate at that point.
So I use the
I forget exactly what
I played in there.
Right another
application of the pedal tone idea.
I think the second time around.
I went up to the four chord
in the tenth position, D minor.
And actually played the arpeggio, and
then I played a lick based on D,
and then I used that lick
from a while back that I was
talking about playing in E and
Freddie King and Jimmy Rogers and
Stevie Ray Vaughan.
And I said, I steal that lick.
That way of getting from this area back
down to that area following the chord.
And then.
And then using a version
of chicken picking.
Not in the comical way, but
sort of create the emphasis.
You get the idea, once you have all these
techniques and sounds in your head and
you sort of get them under your fingers
then you just sorta can pull them out.
And create an amazing variety
of textures and colors.
[COUGH] Now I'd like to hear
you play over this thing.
And I want you to just let
your natural style come out.
Don't feel like, I should do this or I'll
force the pedal tones in there, whatever.
I just wanna hear you play the way that
you feel is your strongest over this
My experience has been as a teacher that
when I introduce a progression like this,
a lot of students go, [SOUND] finally,
something that I can relate
to from my own background.
But it isn't this like blues
stuff from another planet.
This is really like a natural groove and
I hear those chords like second nature and
I can really be myself.
That's what I want you to do is be
yourself over these changes, and
let me hear what you sound like.
And then we'll talk after that.
So have some fun.