~ the mediant ~ minor third ~

~ flat Three ~ b iii ~

~ blue third ~ b3rd ~

~ sharp Two ~ aug (+) 2nd ~

~

'The core pitch in relation to One and Five that brings forth all the minor tonality.'

~

 

Theory names; mediant, minor third, blue 3rd, b3. Officially known as the mediant in our diatonic major / relative minor grouping of pitches, the minor 3rd is of course the essential key to our entire minor tonality. The Blue third is the pitch that can coax forth the tears, the depths of sorrow, that keening sense that lives at the core of American Blues. Examine its position in relation to the 'C' diatonic scale. Eample 1.

diatonic scale
natural scale
scale degrees
root / 1
2
b3
3
4
5
6
7
8
minor 3rd
.
.
D#/Eb
.
.
.
.
.
.
C major scale
C
D
.
E
F
G
A
B
C

In discussing musical styles, the term blue third becomes key when deciphering the theoretical relationship between melody pitches and their supporting chords. In this text we call it the 'blues rub.' The term flat Three is often used when descending chromatically and most often used with chords and progressions.

Relative minor / relative major. Within our various minor groups of pitches, the minor third interval above the root is where we locate its relative major. This relative major / minor relationship is a very big part of so many cool songs from the American song book. Examine the pitches. Example 1a.

scale degrees
root / 1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
A minor scale
A
B
C
D
E
F
G
A
C major scale
.
.
C
D
E
etc.
.
.

Interval. The theoretical distance between One and flat Three / sharp Two is a minor third / augmented 2nd. This interval is a whole step plus a half step. Example 1b.

Where in the music. In really any song, scale, arpeggio or chord in a minor key, the minor third is the essential pitch. This would include all of our musical styles. Of course the blue note minor third denotes a blues influence so, blues, blues rock, country blues, jazz et all. The sharp Two passing diminished motion is really all about jazz. Of course like all of our components, 'anything can be anywhere.' And for composers, this is kind of the holy grail maxim.

Where in history. The minor 3rd must go all the way back for we can hear this pitch included in the minor pentatonic grouping of pitches of indigenous groups globally. We Americans can examine our Native American musical roots to locate these pitches, especially on the flute.

Two divisions of the minor third. There are two ways to divie up our minor third interval; whole step / half step and its reverse, half step whole step. These two possibilities come in handy when we examine the diminished scale and various ways to use it in improvisation. Examine these two divisions. Example 2.

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
b5
b6
6
7
8
whole step / half step
C
D
Eb
.
.
.
.
.
.
half step / whole step
C
Db
Eb
.
.
.
.
.
.

A flat Three melody. This oldtime song from wayback, "Go Down Moses" from the traditional American library, features the minor 3rd in the first phrase. Jazz guitar sensation Mark Whitfield covered this on his 1991 release "Patrice." I sang this tune in my elementary school. Easy line, super powerful pitches and a large leap ( minor 6th ) into the line are usually a great combination. Example 2a.

Do you remember this song and melody? Nice mix of natural and harmonic minor to create the magic. Beefing up the dominant to V7 lends some emotional as well as tonal gravity to the shape of the line. Do consider learning it here if need be.

Additional melodies. Any tune in minor needs this b3 / blue note minor 3rd interval to set the tone of the piece. Gershwin's "Summertime", covered by everyone including Blues Rocker Janis Joplin, whose version is 60's raw and very powerful. "Greensleeves" is another minor toned melody we aspiring pro guitarists should know because just about everyone digs the tune. Many of the The Doors melodies are right in this minor mode. Classics "Stairway To Heaven", "Layla", nearly all of Carlos Santana's library are in minor keys.

Minor triad melody. This next melodic idea goes deep into our American roots. Built upon the pitches of the minor triad, the b3 set the tone. Pickup note into our tonic pitch A, motion up a minor 3rd the to Five. in the second bar. Example 3.

Sound familiar? "House Of The Rising Sun" has been with us for a quite awhile. Probably as core a minor pentatonic line as we have, lots and lots and lots of cats have testified upon its pitches. Us too? Yep.

Harmony. The quality of the third of any chord determines its tonality as being major or minor. As its name implies, the minor third defines the core of our minor chords. Example 4.

In the above example we see the evolution from an A minor arpeggio pitches stacked into an A minor triad. The chord in bar three is the essential open A minor chord. Surely among the first chords most guitarists first learn. I'm on that list. Learn it here and now if it is new to you. It's a classic we can find in lots of classic songs. Why, the opening chord to "Angie", the classic Pop Rock ballad of the Stones is none other than ...

Simply amazing? That the power of the third can still ring true and define the chord quality even when outnumbered and surrounded by tonics and fifths. In the above open chord the root and 5th are what we term doubled. There are two A's and three E's in the six note chord. Yet ... the C natural, the minor third interval above the root, rings out to make the minor magic happen. We theorists have examined the power of these thirds for centuries and where at the center of our 18th century keyboard tuning dilemmas, Even we modern guitarists still might struggle a bit to find a 'cool' third on any given day when tuning our gits :)

Sharp Two / augmented 2nd. The idea of sharp Two is nearly always about a passing diminished chord moving up to a diatonic Three or down to Two. Finding sharp Two as a dominant chord, #2 / b3 often becomes a pivot chord as we modulate to flat Six, a fairly common destination in the minor and not quite so common to the major tonalities.

Sharp Two diminished / # ii diminished 7th. In this next idea, we simply slip in a diminished chord between our diatonic Two and Three in the major tonality. This is surely mostly a jazz thing as the passing chord seems to accelerates the overall motion of the progression. When paired with the sharp One diminished passing chord the following motion evolves. Example 4a.

As rare a hen's teeth. Do notice the small circle in the numerical chord symbols, this simply implies diminished. About the hen's teeth ... mostly hard to find. I've seen this motion written in Bebop pianist Bud Powell's cooker titled "Webb City." I'm sure it's elsewhere too. When fully energized in the shed, this last motion might be a good one when burning the midnight oil. The idea of slipping a diminished color between all of our diatonic chords becomes quite an exercise in both chops and thought process.

Flat Three diminished / b iii diminished 7th. In this next idea, we work our way down from Four heading towards One in a major key. Along the way we find a stopping point at flat Three and build a diminished 7th chord there before moving on to Two / Five / One. Here in 'F' major, reminiscent of "Here's That Rainy Day" by James Van Heusen. The 'Ab' dim 7 chord is the b3 dim 7. Example 4b.

Flat Three / V7 of VI. This next following idea is fairly common although again mostly in the jazz language. Here we build a dominant 7th chord on flat Three, which redirects by modulation our music to the natural Six of the minor tonality. Starting in the key of 'A' minor then quickly modulating to 'F' major. Thus, 'C' is the flat 3rd of 'A' minor. Example 4c.

'Sus' chords. In the last example we included a 'sus' chord in modulating to F major. All this implies is that one or more pitches of the chord were suspended (sus) from their normally tertian spelling. They're tricky to name sometimes, this above shape labeled C7(sus) is also Bb/C, which represents a Bb triad, Four in F major, over a C bass note. Superimposing one triad over another can put us on the road to polytonality, another key asset in creating our tonal gravity / aural predictability formulas.

Suspensions can play a huge part in the music, especially the epic rock of the mid 60's and onward. VanHalen loves this sound. Their big hit "Jump" opens with sus chords. Beatles? "Hard Day's Night." The pinball wizard? Exactly. Pinball wizard Tommy loves to windmill the 'sus chords.' We'll use them both melodically and harmonically, in all of our styles as they are so very cool indeed :)

Improvisation / blue third. Where to begin ... as this pitch gets huge mileage in the American sounds. Not really a Folk color unless the tune is in a minor key, but of course in the blues and beyond into every nook and cranny of the American song book. Improvising players in all of the blues infused styles lean pretty hard on this pitch. At its core, the blue third is the center of what I often term 'the blues rub.'

The blues rub. The idea of a 'blues rub' simply describes the dissonance ( the rub ) of using a blue melody note that is not found in the chord that supports it. The initial blues rub is simply when we use a minor third melody note over a blues chord that has a major third in its construction.

The actual rub is therefore the minor 3rd melody pitch clashing with the major 3rd pitch in the V7 chord, as the pitches are a half step apart. This happens all the time in nearly all of the styles to great delight of the players, dancers and listeners alike, it's a blues thing. Example 5.

Blue coolness. An Eb melody note over a C7 chord, whose pitches are C, E, G, and Bb. Here the rub or dissonance between the pitches? That's the blues its spice and character. While very mild in the above example, under the right conditions, these rubs become spicy hot ferocious. Originally a vocal thing, then to slide and then to electric guitar, which through a stack can really roar. We theorists know ... "it's only rock and roll but I like it." :)

blue 3rd roar video

Compare parent scales. A rather dramatic difference in the two groups of pitches no doubt. But building chords is 'locked in' pitch and theory, blues lines have that magic variable of pitch. And that my friend is the core of the rub. We each get to find our own rubs, make us weep when needed. Example 5a.

scale degrees
root
.
- 3
4
b5
5
b7
8
C blues
C
.
Eb
F
F#/Gb
G
Bb
C
scale degrees
root
2
3
4
5
6
b7
8
C 7 Mixolydian
C
D
E
F
G
A
Bb
C

The numbers. While sharing some common pitches, these two groups do have their issues. The core C minor pentatonic plus the F#/ Gb tritone evolves to a basic C Blues scale. Both of these are strong Blue notes. The Eb minor 3rd as discussed above and the octave splitting F#/Gb tritone, which we'll get to soon. These two combined with a pushed out of tune tonic for the core pitches to create the blues rub. Then of course there is the rhythmic motor that drives it all.

Review. 'Learn that poem ... learn that poem' ... here becomes 'learn that pitch ... learn that pitch.' As kids growing up we watched The Little Rascals. One episode is about the young fellow that misses school to go fishing. Caught playing hooky, he couldn't go back till he learned a certain poem. So there he is, fishing at the river, watchin' his bobber and his inner voice is saying ... 'learn that poem ... learn that poem.' If you aspire to anything Americana guitar ... learn this pitch and the near endless nuance of rubs created by the minor 3rd.

For the minor third, and all of its incarnations, just by proximity creates big planetary pull with the tonic. As I write this the sound of bluesman Buddy Guy comes to mind, explosively staccato in so many ways, blue 3rd rubs by bent colorings all over the music. In creating shear force of power, emerging players could also spin some of Duane Allman's improv / jamming lines for coolness while building incredible degrees of sonic emotional pressure.

wiki ~ Buddy Guy
wiki ~ Duane Allman

Listening. Lucky as musicians listening to music as part of our daily bread. For we not only can enjoy the process but it's often work related too. Time and time again in reading the biographies of the legends, does the importance of listening to music come into the dialogue. 'Sing the line, play the line', I've heard that often enough. I learned to swing by singing note for note my favorite solos. Internalizing the pocket and the where the line sits in the groove. For some it is ALL ABOUT TIME.

The blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding.

wiki ~ Willie Dixon
1
#1
b2
2
b3
3
4
#4
b5
5
#5
b6
6
b7
7
8
b9
9
#9
-10
10
11
#11
12
b13
13
b14
14
15
#15
Footnotes:

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