~ the blues ~

~ the blues and jazz ~

~ the blues hue ~

~ the blue notes ~

~ blues chords ~

' ... the original three chords and the truth'

own some blues

hearts and hands

call and response

got a mojo lick ?

tritone 145

blue notes

jazz blues

blues chords

jazz blues

12 bar blues form

jazz blues
tritone sub
blue notes
melodies
soloing
blue 3rd
blue tritone #4 / b5
blues
blues hue
blues
hear the top
the blue 7th
Joe Oliver lick
blues
blues elevator
blues
blues
blues

 

'... streamlining the process of learning our harmonic spectrum of colors with basic nuts and bolts theory and movable shapes ...'

'Can here it all a comin' ... :) Everyone wants to love the blues. For in the blues there's something of each of us. Everyone also loves the blues in part because its easy to hear where the music is going as it moves on through time. Once initiated, we can hear and sense where the form of the blues is going and often eagerly anticipate the way we are going to get there. Thus the magic of the blues artist; to spin their tales in such a way to keep the dancers and listeners right on the tips of their toes and edge of curiosities. Purely Americana, now spanning the globe, a global language to tell the story of the worlds in which we each uniquely inhabit.

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, their rather disparate musical systems of tuning theories melted together enabling a new music truly capable of washing off the dust of everyday Americana life.

The emerging musical sounds have stunned the musical world time and time again. For no other musical culture ever had this combination of pitches. And that's just one half of the music theory; the swing time rhythms that motors the blues is probably more of the true 'de-duster' here. That really any style of music music swinging right along gets feet tapping along. When the band swings Americana blues and folks are up dancing together to their grooves they all smile.

swing
dancers

In a nutshell. 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. When tuned up in an open G pattern carried over from the banjo, and with or without a slide, within 20 minutes or so, if we can hear and conjure some blues in our muse, we'll likely produce some of the original blues sounds of our ancestors.

Americana musics
today's guitar
open G
a slide
our muse
video finding a lick

In performance. For many seasoned players, there just might not be an easier or more fun music to gig than the blues. For in basic reality, our blues is 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 listening folks often totally dig this consistent spotlighting of the soloists. I've been a part of this scene many many times as a bass player now and still often marvel at the degree of magic the spontaneity of the music creates in the room.

blues bass

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, and thus clearly follow right along with its form, intros, endings, etc. So 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?

tell a story

Surely a best part of the blues is how easy it is to jam with other artists. If need be, new players or really any stylistic stripes can learn the form and chords of the whole tamale 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 as the pulse goes deep, the stories resonate and that they might never ever miss a beat feels awful good.

Overview. One 'theory lesson' shapes the basics of the blues discussions here. It'll help keep it all straight when we locate the blues styles and influences in our linear spectrum of musical styles. Then there's a couple of structural topics; blues' time and feels, its pitches, the chords and their substitutions, and the basic three, four bar phrases of its 12 bar form, to cover basic the theory and generate its associated vocabulary.

spectrum of styles

No real theory of a diatonic source. 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. At the core of our blues music, there's a 'rub' that runs a bit counter to what our ideas of diatonic imply.

diatonic

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.

non - diatonic

Blues 'rub', core blues theory lesson. Blues melodies are traditionally based on the blue notes. Which are essentially a minor pentatonic scale with an added tritone we measure as being smack dab in the middle of an octave span. Compare the two groups thinking from the root pitch A. Example 1.

minor pentatonic scale
octave span
root pitch

minor pentatonic scale formula

.
.
- 3rd
4

tritone

5
.
b7
8

A blues scale

A
.
C
D
Eb
E
.
G
A

minor pentatonic 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, creates the strongest of our rubs.

box scale shape
blues hue

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 vernacular. And while there's also a tritone in this chord V7 chord, it's created a wee bit different that the 'octave splitter' tritone from the last idea. Here thinking from the root pitch A, examine two common blues chords. Example 2.

dominant 7th
chord type
V7

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, neither are the same or share a similar pitch. As said in days long past, therein 'lies the rub.'

a one pitch tritone

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 created from the pitches of the diatonic major scale. From the root pitch A. Example 2a.

chords
diatonic major scale

A blues scale

A
.
C
D
Eb
E
.
G
A

A major scale

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

Quick review. So this theory blues 'rub' is simply created by rubbing 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 pitches like this to make our hair stand up? Where cats are simply honking and honking and honking on the 'wrong' note against what the band is playing? With the audience just rooting them on for more? Globally ... ? Nope, none that I'm aware of.

a 'wrong' note

There's surely dissonance in other musics; Eastern 'just' intonated musics but they haven't the harmony, no chord changes, they play their lines over pedal tones, termed a drone pitch. And surely some modern AmerEuro 20th century style musics have dissonance, yes perhaps but this music is most often written out and rehearsed to get the max dissonant effects and folks don't generally dance to this music. As our blues is improvised together in real time, there's no telling when or where the rubbing will occur. And folks love to dance to the blues.

Eastern tunings
pedal tone / drone
AmerEuro
20th century modernes
dance music

So theorywise the blues is different? Yep. In its very core DNA it mixes elements common to all musics in its own unique ways. It differs from all of our other Americana styles, which are tightly diatonic in melodies and harmonies, that is until there's a bit, or more, 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.

running the changes

Nut in shell. So, a V7 chord with a two pitch tritone interval supports melodies with a different single pitch tritone? Yep. The 'wrong' 3rd of the chord is prominent in many blues melodies. That any pitch really is ready, willing and able to be 'pushed' around out of tune to find its own special sort of 'rub.' Crazy I know but that's the low down basic theory rub of Americana blues. And that really is the gist of 'blues theory' in this text. Cool? Theory empowered to understand its 'rub', continue your blues journey by choosing a path to explore.

pushing pitches
blue notes
blues chords
12 bar form
'Muddy lick'
mojo lick
'Elmore' intro
a 'brrg'
call and response

Blue notes. As examined above, the quick theory version of the blue notes finds them grouped into the five pitches of the minor pentatonic scale with the one pitch, tritone upgrade. And while three of these are chord tones in relation to the V7 chord type that supports them, three are not and can create quite a rub. Thinking blues in A, examine these pitches. Example 3.

chord type
V7

Chord tones. Well in the first three measures we're 'inside' the chord with our melody pitch. In measure 4 we start the blue notes and the gradually increasing degree of the rub.

Blue notes / 3rd. The blue 3rd is no other than the minor 3rd which rubs up against the major 3rd found in the supporting chord. So a major and minor 3rd in the same stack of pitches? Yep, rub them right together.

Blue notes / 4th. The blue 4th is probably a stretch theorywise, but it's such a key player in the middle of things. Players will bend either 3rd to find the 4th, or sound the 4th the bend it up to #4 or the 5th or beyond.

Blue notes / #4 / b5 / tritone. The #4 carries quite a bit of rub. If strings are bendable chances are that's how we'll get there. For jazz players with heavier strings, while the bend is doable, chances are it will be fretted, thus a bit more definite in its actual pitch and degree of rub with the chord supporting it.

Blues scale shapes. In this book, one main shape is the basis for all in regards to the blues scale. I've seen more blues coolness out of this one shape than any other ever; from teachers, performers, on video etc. Time again this one movable shape is the blues workhorse and all of its notes love to get bent, ground and pushed around. As mojo licks come out of this for you, simply find the idea in other spots on the fingerboard.

Simply transfer the same pitches as best you can to other spots on the neck with the exact same pitches and look for additional coolness in that new localized position. Here presented as a blues scale in A, centered around the 5th fret with the 'x' marking the tritones in the pitches of its minor pentatonic basis. Run this shape around a few times up and down if needed.

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.'

dominant 7th chords
triads
blue 7th

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 basis so learn these two super solid in a couple of keys. Starting with the triads, examine these two open chords in A. Example 4.

minor triad

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 mastered. Let's add their blue, minor 7th's. Example 4a.

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 and minor 7th is the rub.

perfect 5th

And this alone is the 'blues rub' in the chord? Yep, that's all it is. Two pitches three whole steps apart sounded together. Remember always though, that this 'blues rub' is what makes a V7 chord, a chord that also plays huge in all our styles of Americana music. That it is the harmony basis of the blues is what sets the blues apart. No 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 is modern jazz harmony.

whole step
V7
tonic
modern jazz harmony

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.

call

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, a few solid very variations and lots of pitch combinations. For as the blues merges towards jazz all 12 pitches are in play to 'enhance' both our melodies and harmonies.

color tones
array of harmonies
variations / inversions
12 pitches

Examine the blues chords. Here we simply spell out common chords we find we playing a 'blues in A.' Examine the rather wide disparity of pitches of the blues scale with the diatonic major scale, for herein lies the rub. The voicings chosen for the examples here find the common blues chords for One / Four / Five in A, around 5th position. All of these chord voicings are root position, so fully movable chords. The spellings in the chart are visually in 3rds and match the arrangement of pitches or voicing in each chord shape. Example 4b.

spelling chords
voicings
movable chords

chromatic scale

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

scale degrees

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

A blues scale

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

A major scale

A
.
B
.
C#
D
.
E
.
F#
.
G#
A
.
chord
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
voicings
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 chords? Cool. Here's a brief description of each chord as listed just above.

1) A7 / This is a common movable barre chord shape that is based on an open E chord, was the power chord of the 60's when overdrive distortion was created by tubes pushed by 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 pitches for shredding with modern gear and electronics.

open E / barre chords
power chords
rock and roll rhythm

2) C# -7b5 / This little beast is a super cool sub chord for any of the V7 choices. So 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 making it into a V9 chord. Very cool chord that moves rather adroitly by half steps.

-7b5
chord inversions
think from the root
half step lead in

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 a new line.

finger pick
strum
find melody ideas from chord shapes

4) This V9 chord shape is the funk chord 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 is it. A rhythm guitar player's essential funk, V9 voicing. Energized by half step lead ins, this one shape has powered endless funky free styled dancing for almost 50 years now.

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.

funk
dance music

5) The V7#9 is probably the strongest sounding of our 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.

# 9th colortone
turnaround

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

rockabilly / jump
four fingers / four strings
'start and stop'

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.

jazz chords
swing
'start and stop'

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 dots. Now how cool is that ... ?

augmented triad
Dorian
the dots

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, its top three pitches make a 'pyramid' shape which not only rocks right out but move easily in half steps, thus holding big swing potential. Flip the pyramid around to add the '9' color and find the pure blues chord butter we hear on the old records, what's not to love :)

vanilla

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 with diatonic natural minor; again the bread and butter of Americana old and new. All these shapes are movable too. Example 2c.

diatonic natural minor

chromatic scale

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

scale degrees

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

A blues scale

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

A minor scale

A
.
B
C
D
.
E
F
.
G
.
A
.
chord
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
voicings
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.

open E minor
bass players
reggae rhythms

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.

open A minor
minor colors
diatonic Four

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.

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 ideas over the sounded chord.

9th
jazz guitar

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 mood. Hear it in action as the base of operations in an original composition "Sky Is Blue."

"Sky Is Blue"

6) V7#9 / While based on a major triad, E and G#, the #9 is a minor 3rd. So a major and minor 3rd in one chord? Yep. Blues rub? Yep. 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 :)

#9
turnaround chord

7) A- / 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.

doubling
open E minor
a passing 7th

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 etc.

V 7
techniques

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 that 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.

second inversion
half diminished
perfect closure

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. 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.

This six pitch whopper 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 YY 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 can bring. How clearly we as listeners hear and sense this tension / release we can term the 'aural predictability' of the music.

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 preserved now to be passed from generation to generation, or a song that captures our own introspections and thinking of our humanness, our musical styles evolve. Each with its own unique sense of the 'pull' of tonal gravity and the aural melodies, chords and rhythms which combine to characterize the 'how predictable' of the 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; the artistic balance of function and form. Mobiles might offer a visual representation of musical composition as they balance gravity in and motion with essential symbols, sounds in our case as musicians. Wind chimes of various pitched tones become a source for melodic ideas; the motif as they might say in academia :)

first chords
dancers
wayback
open G tuning
stacks
suspensions
triads
mm ~ YY
"Maiden Voyage"
tonal gravity
count it off
one pitch center
moving time
aural predictability
telling stories
first chords
'sus' chords
tonal gravity
aural predictability
musical emotions
mobiles
wind chimes
motif
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 -11. Notice that there's also a minor 3rd in this chord along with -11 ? And no tonal dissonance, nice. Nope they pair right up as they are a whole step apart and sound very warm and full together.

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.

Stand alone, this minor 11th chord voicing is as stable as they come, evenly straddles the mm / YY like a hire 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.

11
numbers
Two / Five
cadential motions

mm / YY

Chord voicings. 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.

chord voicings
anything from anywhere

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.

style / # of pitches
overtone series
suspensions
bass lines
melody
arpeggios

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 cats that just met. No limit to the substitutions that are available. 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.

chord substitutions
12 pitches

Actually, theorywise Mr. Parker simply blazed new ways to get from One to Four and along the way filled in the space 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 V7 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.

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.

Americana blues

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, find ourselves on common musical ground negotiating with a common musical language; the blues of Americana.

form in music
Wynton Marsalis talks ...
count it off

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. Not too sure where or how this modal form originated and it hen's teeth rare in recordings. Simply one four bar phrase repeated. If there's a harmony involved, it would just be the tonic chord of the chosen key. Here's an idea of a modal blues in A with some walking bass added. Example 5.

a walking bass line

In expanding a modal blues, we use the One / Four and Five chords to generate some forward motion and create three, four bar phrases. 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 5a.

forward motion

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 song form of the earliest rockin' hits from the 50's onward? Super solid and absolutely, a direct crossover. Variations? Tons upon tons that we as theorists simply call 'substitutions.'

realizations
12 bar rock and roll tunes

Minor blues variations? Maybe a ton. 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 with a repeat. Example 5b.

Is there a difference between these two chord charts? Well 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; A -7. Major is A7 minor is A -7. Subtle for sure so we have to look closely as the sounds are each quite unique.

chord symbols

Major and minor together? Maybe half ton of this but it's often tricky to negotiate. 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 "Stormy Monday" for starters for a classic blues / gospel mix of diatonic, stepwise chords. For there's no limit ever to the mix and match if it all works.

"Stormy Monday Blues"

And who decides this ... ? Well we all do as the music is created and we adjust to our muse. 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. Count measures to keep track following new pathways ... sure why not :)

muse
the top

"Muddy" lick. Named here for Muddy Waters, famed bluesman pioneer of the 50's and beyond, this lick is probably the most common turnaround we'll hear in the style. 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 lots, as well as everyone else who heard it. And this 'everyone else' is an amazingly long list of our Americana 'who's who' worth exploring.

turnaround
an intro
who's who

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 and then as a chord sequence using the One, Four and Five chords to create the turnaround which would take us back to the top of the form. So thinking blues in A. Example 6.

Once this basic idea is under your fingers and you play it 100 times when making your music, once it sets in you'll start to vary it in pitch and rhythms. Once you do sky's the limit in variations. In your listening too, over time you'll hear that each player will often have their own special twisting of these pitches to achieve similar results of closing one chorus and starting a new one.

one chorus

Stringing choruses together creating longer solos is a natural development for improvising artists. The cool part today is the historical clarity and recognition of the 'muddy' lick and how its become cliche, that everyone in the band will usually know. If not try to teach it to them. No better way to learn if for ourselves; have 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, with a capo ... no limit to the variations that this lick has spawned.

evolution of the artist
cliche licks

This next idea finds the 'Muddy lick' blue notes and then some on just the high E string. Thinking blues in E. Example 6a.

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.

video

'Mojo' lick. Got yourself a 'mojo' lick yet? For beginners mostly, a 'mojo' lick is a four bar phrase we each get to discover and create for ourselves. 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 etc.

four bar phrase
hook

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 7.

scale shapes

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. Here's one of mine from earlier days of true heartbreak. Example 7a.

'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 "Dust My Broom", played by him with a slide.

double stop
"Dust My Broom"
slide

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 Chuck Berry.

12 bar blues rock songs

So in theory these next pitches simply 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 in the 'gallop' rhythm, add some dirty crunch if ya got it too. 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 8.

major triad
triplet / gallop

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 common bass line.

blues bass lines

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.

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 8a.

Pretty notey chart for a three chord blues. Ah, the bene's of rote memorization :) All of us Americana guitfiddle 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.

rote learning
different keys
string sets

'BRRG' / A 'bluesy rockin' rhythm gallop' lick. So this next idea is probably 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. Example 9.

a gallop

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.

rhythm guitar maestros
Expanding 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. The second two measures show two common ways to encapsulate the riff in two of our essential barre chords. Again the motion is One to Four. Example 9a.
perfect 5th
basic barre chords

For some this chord riff motion can be a tough stretch for the fretboard hand. It might take a while and some experimenting to find a workable hand and fingering solution. If troublesome, thing along the lines of having bass, keys, a second guitar in the mix to sure up the sounds. 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 :) Example 9b.

rhythm guitar maestros
the evolutions
fast Four

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 last topic on this blues theory page is about a historical core in its phrasing; that the age old format of 'call and response' has long been a central part of its form, in its creation and performance. As the term implies, the call makes a statement that encourages a response. Simple as that. 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. No limit here.

double stop
"Dust My Broom"
slide

So with this 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.

double stop
"Dust My Broom"
slide

Here are a few ideas from call and response. With a couple of pitches. Example 10.

Call and response with a rhythm. Example 10a.

rhythms

Call and response with words, blues in A. Example 10a.

lyrics

Did we just write a 12 bar blues song based on the call and response phrasing of a melodic idea and words? Yep. Three's a charm in 12 bar blues. 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 your hook to life.

hook
verse
chorus

Pop hook. This next idea is more of just a pop hook to kick things off. This two bar lick / vamp idea is for the lyrics; "Heard You Talking Voodoo ... 'Bout Me", by moi Your's Truly :) Blues in A minor. Example 10a.

pop hook
lyrics

Lot of ways to evolve this sort of idea into a complete song. The one included is more of a vamp / spoken word arrangement with a couple of diatonic chords and a pulse of a 2 and 4 conga beat.

arrangement
"Heard You Talkin' Voodoo"
2 and 4

That's all for this third chapter folks. All good with the idea of a 'blues rub?' That's the gist of the theory here. 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 magic 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.

... so what's next ?
"Music washes away the dust of everyday life." wiki ~ Art Blakey
"Do your work to the best of your ability and you'll get through." ~ Mary Lou Williams
Footnotes:

(1)Burns, Ken. Jazz, vol.1, Gumbo @ 32 minutes. www.pbs.org

(1) Isacoff, Stuart. Temperament ... The Idea That Solved Music's Greatest Riddle, p. 40-42. USA Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2001

(1)Duffin, Ross W. How Equal Temperament Ruined Harmony, p.32. USA W.W.Norton and Company, NY, New York. 2007.
(2)Aebersold, Jamey and Slone, Ken. The Charlie Parker Omnibook. New York: Atlantic Music Corp., 1978.

Russell, George. The Lydian Chromatic Concept Of Tonal Organization. USA Concept Publishing Company, Cambridge, Mass. 1982

Burns, Ken. Jazz. USA Concept Publishing Company, Cambridge, Mass. 1982