• An Introduction To The Chromatic Harmony Of The Blues Scale

    in Blues music,Chords & Progressions,Experienced players,Piano,Scales,Theory

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    If you’re interested in learning about the chromatic harmony of the blues scale, then this lesson is for you!.

    While listening to blues music, one thing you can’t deny is that bluesy feeling that hits you either from its dramatic melody or its chromatic harmony. Although the harmony of the blues is chromatic, it sounds good in other styles, especially gospel and jazz.

    You’ll be learning about the chromatic harmony of the blues, but before we proceed, let’s talk about blues music.

    A Short Note On Blues Music

    The cultural origin of blues music is from Afro-Americans who lived in the southern part of the United States of America.

    Although nobody can tell you when blues music started precisely, it was used in the 19th century as a medium of expression. The slow and dramatic nature of the blues made it effective in the expression of melancholy.

    One of the distinct features of blues music is its 12-bar form, which has several variations and extended forms like the 16-bar blues, 24 bar blues etc.

    Blues music can be vocal, instrumental or both, featuring instruments like the banjo, guitar, piano, etc., and has influenced a variety of other popular music styles especially gospel and jazz.

    Suggested Reading: Jazz Blues Form, Bass-Lines, Licks, And Crossover Licks.

    Before we proceed into the chromatic harmony of the blues, let’s expound on the blue note and scales.

    The Blue Notes

    Blues music in it’s cradle age was practiced by musicians of African descent, who incorporated notes from the African scale system. These notes sound slightly out-of-tune compared with the notes (aka – “pitches”) on instruments like the piano and guitar and were called blue notes because of the feelings they convey.

    Although blue notes cannot be played with European instruments, there are notes on the piano that are closer to its pitch. Notes like:

    • the b3
    • the b5
    • the b7

    …in any major key are the closest to the blue notes, consequently, they are considered as blue notes.

    In the key of C:

    …the blue notes are Eb, Gb, and Bb:

    …which are the b3, b5, and the b7 tones respectively.

    Suggested Reading: One Of The Simplest Methods To Determine Blue Notes In Any Key.

    The Blues Scale

    Another unique feature of the blues is its scale. Here’s a typical blues scale in the key of C:

    In addition to the blue notes:

    …which are the b3, b5, and the b7 tones of the major scale, the blues scale contains the 1st, 4th, and 5th:

    …tones of the major scale.

    Although the blues scale is used in the major key, it fits in perfectly into the minor key. The distance (aka – “interval“) between the first and third tone of the minor pentatonic blues scale is a minor third.

    Using the C minor pentatonic scale:

    …as an example, you can see that the interval between the first and the third tone (C and Eb respectively):

    …of a minor pentatonic scale is a minor third interval.

    Besides that, the blues scale and the minor pentatonic scale are closely related. The difference between the C blues scale:

    …and the C minor pentatonic scale:

    …is the Gb note:

    Notwithstanding the relationship between the minor pentatonic blues scale and the minor key, it (the blues scale) is used in the major key. The mixture of tonalities (major and minor) results in an unpleasant relationship between notes (dissonance.)

    The Traditional Harmony Of Blues Music

    In traditional blues music, primary chords are basically used (that’s the chord of the first, fourth and fifth degrees).

    In the key of C:

    …we have C:

    …F:

    …and G:

    …as the first, fourth, and fifth degrees, consequently, the C major:

    …F major:

    …and G major:

    …triads are used to harmonize in blues music. Dominant chords of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees are not left out. For example, the C dominant seventh chord:

    …the F dominant chord:

    …and the G dominant chord:

    …are used in blues music to make the harmony richer and bluesier.

    In a nutshell, blues harmony consists of triads and dominant seventh chords of the first, fourth and fifth degrees. However, we’re going beyond the traditional harmony of the blues scale in this lesson. Read on!

    The Chromatic Harmony Of The Blues Scale

    The chromatic harmony of the blues scale can be understood as a collection of dominant chords, formed on every scale tone of the blues scale. Using the C pentatonic blues scale:

    …as a reference, here are the dominant seventh chords of the blues in the key of C major:

    • Cdom7
    • Ebdom7
    • Fdom7
    • Gbdom7
    • Gdom7
    • Bbdom7
    • Cdom7

    “Check Them Out…”

    On the first tone of the blues scale is the Cdom7 chord:

    On the second tone of the blues scale is the Ebdom7 chord:

    On the third tone of the blues scale is the Fdom7 chord:

    On the fourth tone of the blues scale is the Gbdom7 chord:

    On the fifth tone of the blues scale is the Gdom7 chord:

    On the sixth tone of the blues scale is the Bbdom7 chord:

    …and back to the first tone of the blues scale with the Cdom7 chord:

    Putting all these chords together should give you a perspective to the chromatic harmony of the blues.

    In addition to the dominant chords of the first, fourth, and fifth degrees, are the dominant chords of the b3rd, b5th, and b7th tones.

    Harmonization Of The Blues Scale

    The blues scale can be harmonized using the dominant seventh chords we learned in the last segment. To harmonize the blues scale, play the first inversion of the dominant seventh chords.

    For example, the first inversion of the C dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes C:

    The first inversion of the Eb dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes Eb:

    The first inversion of the F dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes F:

    The first inversion of the Gb dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes Gb:

    The first inversion of the G dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes G:

    The first inversion of the Bb dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes Bb:
    The first inversion of the C dominant seventh chord:

    …harmonizes C:

    Final Words

    Do your best to practice the chromatic harmony of the blues scale in all twelve keys. Thanks for the time you invested in reading this blog and see you in another lesson.

    Until then!

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    Hello, I'm Chuku Onyemachi (aka - "Dr. Pokey") - a musicologist, pianist, author, clinician and Nigerian. Inspired by my role model Jermaine Griggs, I started teaching musicians in my neighborhood in April 2005. Today, I'm privileged to work as a music consultant and content creator with HearandPlay Music Group sharing my wealth of knowledge with thousands of musicians across the world.

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