Back to the Serious Business of Scales

Back to the serious business of scales!!


No stupid stories about John Lee Hooker thinking I'm a Mormon, or Bo Diddley tuning his weird square guitar (he had stomp boxes built inside it,BTW), no, no, today we're back to the serious business of scales. You may remember our trip through the so-called “minor pentatonic” (Bill Russell's quote- “If I wanted to avoid everything in America that I considered racist, I'd lead a hermit's life” comes to mind, but I digress already)....anyhow, we're on to the so-called “major pentatonic” know, the country scale.....non-musicians, think of the song “Yakity Sax”....or, oddly, the start of “My Girl”. In the key of A (psst, non-musicians....that means song probably starts, and definitely ends with an A chord accompanying whatever else is going on) that scale would be : A, B, C#, E, F#...and again, there would frequently be passing tones, especially C, used as we climb from B to C#....and, remember what this looks like on the guitar (with no black keys, guitar reminds us that some of our conventions like no black key between B-C and E-F are, guitar world, it's always: do we go up one fret (½ step) or 2 frets (whole step)....all keys work the same, visually as well as audio-wise)....oh, yeah, we were remembering: up 2 frets from A to B, up 2 frets from B to C#, next string same fret as B gets us E, 2 frets up gets us F# (and if we want octave A, it's next string, same fret as E). Now, here's where it gets really interesting....the blues scale for F# would be:

F#, A, B, C#,E (F# octave).....ain't them the same notes???? Starting on F#, with an F# chord in the background, they sure sound different!!! But guitarists have now found the ultimate 2 for 1 sale!! Because the fingering for the blues scale near the standard “first position” A chord, will conveniently also get us the F# country scale....right near the “third position” F# chord....and vice versa (see accompanying video for clarification). If keyboard players are now lost (never mind non-players), let's look at key of C: Blues scale would be C, Eb, F, G, Bb.....same as Eb country: Eb, F, G, Bb, C.


Advanced players may have spent hours learning other “modes” in order to solo over more complex chord changes....especially Dorian/ Mixolydian against II-V changes beloved by jazz guys. Note that, in Key of C, Dorian would be D,E,F,G,A,B,C....but C country would be: C,D,E, G,A, which approximates Dorian.....and Mixolydian woud be

G,A,B,C,D,E,F...which it also approximates, especially if we drift back into blues scale and pick up that F...F to G whole step helps us cover those changes with our 2 fingering patterns! We're not working harder, we're working.....dumber!!


Where this applies directly to blues is, it gives us a lot of interesting color in our soloing, and adds subtlety to our stock phrases...if you've always thought, for example, that B.B. King is playing the same solo or intro every time, try playing'll find that he's a master of drifting from one scale to the other to create something that seems both familiar and yet interesting and new. B.B. has studied those jazz modes as well, and actually goes there from time to time (but not enough to hurt his playing, blues-wise!). Confused? Remember rule number one: If you land on a real klunker while fret either way will be a good note....and if you land on the klunker so strong that you can't slide over, repeat the phrase with the klunker and then slide over one fret...people will think you did it on purpose!.....oh, and the other rule #1: always trust your Cat!!


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