• One Of The Simplest Methods To Determine The Blue Notes In Any Key

    in Blues music,Jazz music,Piano,Scales,Theory

    I’ll be showing you the simplest method to determine blue notes in any key with.

    Blue notes are the slightly out-of-tune pitches that you hear in blues music. The blues music tradition is one of the most influential styles in American popular music styles. Traditional styles in jazz and gospel music all have blues influences.

    Let’s get started with this study by taking a look at the long-established blues music tradition.

    An Overview Of The Blues Music Tradition

    Although the cultural background of blues music is traceable to the Afro-Americans in the southern part of the United States of America, nobody can say precisely when blues music started.

    The blues was the music of slaves and ex-slaves, who used it not only as an art form, but a medium of expressing their anguish, pain, and melancholy. It started as vocal music and gradually evolved into a style with its characteristic form, harmony, rhythm, tempo, articulation and notes.

    “Here’s a short note on some of these characteristics…”

    Blues Form: Although there could be variations of the basic blues structure. For example, the blues can also have a 16 bar or 24 bar structure, blues music is known for its 12 bar structure.

    Blues Harmony: Blues music uses primary triads – chords 1, 4, and 5. Dominant chords are also used to create tension. In the 1940s, bebop players expanded the basic blues harmony and used extended and altered chords.

    Blues Melody: Blues melodies are derived from the major and blues scale. The blues scale features notes that sound slightly out of tune. These notes give blues melodies the distinct melancholic feeling they are associated with.

    Blues Rhythm: Blues music is syncopated and has the swing feel. The blues is relatively slow when compared to other later styles like the boogie-woogie. Despite the slow tempo, blues music still sounds dramatic to say the least.

    Now that we’ve covered what the blues music tradition is all about, let’s take this study to another level by taking a look at blue notes.

    The Blue Notes

    The practitioners of the blues because of their African descent sometimes used notes [based on the African scale and tuning system] that practically sounded out-of-tune because they sound slightly lower than the normal pitches on instruments like the piano and guitar.

    Those notes are known as blue notes or informally as worried notes. They were used to express melancholy and sadness. In the major key, the blue notes are usually the b3, b5, and the b7 tones, which for all intents and purposes are chromatic.

    In the key of C:

    …the pitch of the blue notes are closely related to Eb, Gb, and Bb:

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

    Determination Of Blue Notes In All Twelve Keys

    Now that you know the blue notes, let’s take this study to another level by looking at how they can be determined in every key on the keyboard.

    The Challenge

    The blue notes are chromatic. They are not like the regular tones of the scale that can easily be identified. It takes a knowledge of the 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones of the scale to know the b3, b5, and b7 tones of the scale.

    In the key of B:

    …it is from the 3rd, 5th, and 7th tones of the scale (which are D#, F#, and A#):

    …that the blue notes (which are D, F, and A):

    …can be derived from.

    Although it’s one of the ways of determining the blue notes in any key, there’s an easier approach to it that I want to show you.

    The Method

    The blue notes can be determined in any key using the half-diminished seventh chord. Due to the fact that the half-diminished seventh chord is not commonly used like major and minor chords, you may think this approach is difficult, but it’s relatively easy.

    An Overview Of The Half-diminished Seventh Chord

    The half-diminished seventh chord is the seventh chord of the seventh degree of the major scale. In the key of C:

    …where the seventh degree of the scale is B:

    …formation of the a seventh chord from B using the C major scale produces the B half-diminished seventh chord:

    …and transposing the B half-diminished seventh chord to C produces the C half-diminished seventh chord:

    A closer look at the C half-diminished seventh chord:

    …shows its relationship with the C minor seventh chord:

    Long story short, if you flatten the fifth tone of the C minor seventh chord:

    …which is G:

    …by a half step (to Gb):

    …this produces the C minor seventh flat five chord:

    …which is also know as the C half diminished seventh chord.

    From our discovery that the half-diminished seventh chord is a minor seventh flat five chord, we can form the half-diminished seventh chord by lowering the fifth tone of any known minor seventh chord.

    “Here’s how it works…”

    Lowering the fifth tone of the E minor seventh chord:

    …which is B:

    …by a half step (to Bb):

    …this produces the E half diminished seventh chord:

    Following the same procedure, the half-diminished seventh chord can be formed in all twelve keys. Check out the half-diminished seventh chord in all twelve keys…


    C half-diminished seventh chord:

    C# half-diminished seventh chord:

    D half-diminished seventh chord:

    D# half-diminished seventh chord:

    E half-diminished seventh chord:

    F half-diminished seventh chord:

    F# half-diminished seventh chord:

    G half-diminished seventh chord:

    G# half-diminished seventh chord:

    A half-diminished seventh chord:

    A# half-diminished seventh chord:

    B half-diminished seventh chord:

    “Here’s How The Blue Notes Can Be Determined In Any Key Using the Half-diminished Seventh Chord…”

    In the key of C:

    …playing the C half-diminished seventh chord:

    …will show you the blue notes in the key of C…

    • Eb
    • Gb
    • Bb

    …without any extra effort. The good thing about this method is that you don’t have to derive the notes from scale tones or apply any extra mental effort. It’s as simple as it sounds – playing the half-diminished seventh chord.

    Final Words

    If you’re still finding it difficult to form the diminished seventh chord in all twelve keys, I want to recommend that you check out this lesson on the half-diminished seventh chord, which is part of our comprehensive 16 week chord revival program.

    I appreciate the time you invested in this lesson; thank you and see you in another lesson.

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    Onyemachi "Onye" Chuku is a Nigerian musicologist, pianist, and author. Inspired by his role model (Jermaine Griggs) who has become his mentor, what he started off as teaching musicians in his Aba-Nigeria neighborhood in April 2005 eventually morphed into an international career that has helped hundreds of thousands of musicians all around the world. Onye lives in Dubai and is currently the Head of Education at HearandPlay Music Group and the music consultant of the Gospel Music Training Center, all in California, USA.

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