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A different way to think about blues changes - forget they exist

Pete Thomas

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Well, not quite.

But when you look at basic blues changes you have I7, IV7 and V7

So in C think about the C7 to F7.

The absolute crucial thing to me is going from E on the C chord to Eb on the F7 chord. I never really think about the F root because on a blues I have no problem with plenty of Fs all over the place.

What I mean is you can just think about the changes from major to minor and back rather than the actual chords themselves.

That's the way I see it anyway...
 

rhysonsax

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A similar way I was told about in a workshop (if I remember it correctly) is to think of the whole form as in C (for example) and then:
  • On the I7 play C Mixolydian - flatten 7 (Bb)
  • On the IV7 play C Minor - flatten 7 and 3 (Bb and Eb)
  • On the V7 play C Major - natural 7 and 3
It certainly simplifies things for me.

Rhys
 

brianr

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Well, not quite.

But when you look at basic blues changes you have I7, IV7 and V7

So in C think about the C7 to F7.

The absolute crucial thing to me is going from E on the C chord to Eb on the F7 chord. I never really think about the F root because on a blues I have no problem with plenty of Fs all over the place.

What I mean is you can just think about the changes from major to minor and back rather than the actual chords themselves.

That's the way I see it anyway...
Yes, it is a nice way to think.

and yes, that E to Eb is a biggie.

I would also add as being important, the Bb to B change from bar 8 into 9.
and then the B to Bb or the F to E change from bar 12 back to the bar 1
 

AndyB

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Thanks for posting this Pete. It's reassuring to hear that you use this approach.

This is one approach to blues improv that Scott Paddock teaches too. Each different way to slice the blues orange seems to give you different flavors and a way to keep it interesting. I am drawn to the one theme per chorus approach, this "change notes" approach being one.

Another that Scott teaches that I like to practice is dividing the 12 bars into 3 phrases, each with a front 2 and a back 2 and changing thematic material in 2-bar groups. Like 2 bars of mixolydian + 2 bars blues scale. Or 2 bars of thirds and sevenths + 2 bars mixolydian. Or 2 bars of arpeggio-based melody + 2 bars of scale-based melody.

And then there is the mixing tonic major and tonic minor pentatonic approach by chord change. Lots of different ingredients makes the gumbo good.
 
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brianr

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A similar way I was told about in a workshop (if I remember it correctly) is to think of the whole form as in C (for example) and then:
  • On the I7 play C Mixolydian - flatten 7 (Bb)
  • On the IV7 play C Minor - flatten 7 and 3 (Bb and Eb)
  • On the V7 play C Major - natural 7 and 3
It certainly simplifies things for me.

Rhys
hi Rhys.
I kind of get that, but I’m not sure it is great !!!!

Running scales is in my view, not the way in to this stuff.

I like Petes idea of knowing where the “ important“ individual notes are, and the important places where they change.
 
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turf3

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Well - and of course Pete knows this - this is just basically the "guide tones" approach to improvisation in jazz/blues/rock/etc.

The idea being that the notes that are key to identifying what chord you're in, are the third and seventh. So if you go from C7 to F7 by playing first an E and then Eb, you've moved from a C7 guide tone to an F7 guide tone and you've very effectively outlined the movement from one chord to the next. Playing G then C, for example, so fifth to fifth, would not be nearly so effective.

In the blues form those sevenths are particularly important to the "bluesy" sound.

If we look at the three chords of a basic 12 bar blues in C, we get these note collections:

C7: C D E F G A Bb
F7: C D Eb F G A Bb
G7: C D E F G A B

The point is, that playing those changes vanilla (without flatted thirds etc.) there are only TWO notes that change - E/Eb and B/ Bb. You can get a lot done with that framework, then you can start adding passing tones as your ear tells you to.
 

rhysonsax

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hi Rhys.
I kind of get that, but I’m not sure it is great !!!!

Running scales is in my view, not the way in to this stuff.

I like Petes idea of knowing where the “ important“ individual notes are, and the important places where they change.

It isn't supposed to be a scalar approach, although it might seem that way from how I explained it. It's just a way of making it easy to remember the important notes that change with the chords. So when you hit the G7, make sure it is B natural, when you hit the F7 make sure B and E are flattened and when you play the C7 make sure B is flattened.

Rhys
 

AndyB

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Well - and of course Pete knows this - this is just basically the "guide tones" approach to improvisation in jazz/blues/rock/etc.

Can't it extend further than just guide tones? For example repeating lines but altering what I am calling the "change notes" based on the harmony?
 

turf3

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Can't it extend further than just guide tones? For example repeating lines but altering what I am calling the "change notes" based on the harmony?
Well, flatted thirds are common, so the "blues scale" that beginners slather all over everything like ketchup (and sounds about as good) would give you an Eb in C7, which isn't in the chord but sounds OK (or not) depending on context. Flatted fifths are a good passing tone as well. Yes, it can be an effective device to play the exact or nearly exact phrase over two successive chords, altering notes as needed. Of course like any device, using it once is cool, but using it a dozen times in succession probably isn't.
 

AndyB

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Well, flatted thirds are common, so the "blues scale" that beginners slather all over everything like ketchup (and sounds about as good) would give you an Eb in C7, which isn't in the chord but sounds OK (or not) depending on context. Flatted fifths are a good passing tone as well. Yes, it can be an effective device to play the exact or nearly exact phrase over two successive chords, altering notes as needed. Of course like any device, using it once is cool, but using it a dozen times in succession probably isn't.
I think I didn't describe what I meant well. This is probably a dumb line but the idea here is that you have a line that you can repeat 3 times inside the 12-bar chorus on the I IV and V chords applying the change notes to alter the line. Here the "change notes" don't always fall on down beats the way I think of guide tones.

For example repeating the line on measures 1, 5 and 9.
Example.jpg
 
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jbtsax

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Aren't 3rds and 7ths the most important chord tones in any type of changes? That's what I was taught.
 

turf3

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I think I didn't describe what I meant well. This is probably a dumb line but the idea here is that you have a line that you can repeat 3 times inside the 12-bar chorus on the I IV and V chords applying the change notes to alter the line. Here the "change notes" don't always fall on down beats the way I think of guide tones.

For example repeating the line on measures 1, 5 and 9.
View attachment 19142
Well, that's a perfect example of how guide tones define the changes. If you played those three bars, but you just left out the E/Eb and B/Bb notes, there would be no implied chord changes, except that the G7 part would probably feel more like F or C. The last pattern, the one in G7, is especially interesting as it starts and ends on a particularly weak tone, the major fourth. If you actually play that without accompaniment it's going to sound like C major, not G7. In the real world, you'd probably change the first and last notes to D and then the G7-ness of it would pop out. So it wouldn't be an exact replication of the line.

There can be places where playing the exact same line is effective - if you don't play E natural you can cover C7 and F7 with a single line - this is oh so common in the call-call-response of traditional blues lyrics. Then the G7-F7-C7 return in the third line, you have a different melodic line.

When you see me comin' heist your window high
When you see me comin' heist your window high
When you see me goin' hang your head and cry
 

turf3

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Aren't 3rds and 7ths the most important chord tones in any type of changes? That's what I was taught.
I'd say yes except when it's not the case.

There are times when the right thing to do is to play the root.
 

jbtsax

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I'd say yes except when it's not the case.

There are times when the right thing to do is to play the root.
Wouldn't that be the "root cause" of boring solos? :p
 

AndyB

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Well, that's a perfect example of how guide tones define the changes.
Ok, thanks. Probably a guitar carry-over in terminology on my part. In guitar solos you often employ "3/7 or 7/3 guide tone chord stabs" on certain beats of the solo to imply the harmony in that measure.
 

hedgehog

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Thanks for this informative thread. I notice the chords referenced are all dominant (C7, F7, G7) so major in nature. But what happens when the chords are mostly minor, or even diminished, such as in this blues by Hal Crook at Berklee. The first four bars:

Fm7 C7 Fm7 Cdim F7

etc. Would you tend to play Ab and Eb in the first bar, as they are the guide tones?
 

Wade Cornell

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Hopefully I don't piss off everyone with this comment:
Blues is about telling a story and having feeling about that come through your playing. I get that in many instances people want to dissect this and examine the how and why, yet IMHO it's not the way to LEARN how to play the blues. Listen (heck how much easier can the changes get?) and sing the line you want to hear.

The proposed alternative of saying to yourself this is in concert E... OK that puts me on alto in C# and which chord tones should I play in mixolydian mode? Obviously that's not the way to think melodically. It's a lot of translation to come up with a few notes that are likely to say nothing.

Hear it...play it. If you can't play the line you can hear or would sing then that's where you need to work...not on more ways to try to translate music into something abstract or visual so that you can wiggle your fingers on a note you can't hear that carries no weight or feeling.

The form is ultra simple yet the possible variations are immense. It's about feeling more than a strict pattern and gives the player the opportunity to give emotional weight to their playing. How does one give emotion and weight to notes you haven't conceived of other than in a mechanistic form?
 

thomsax

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A guy told me not to start my solo on the root tone of the chord. "You can use all other tones but avoid the root tone". On the other side when I played a solo in "Fannie Mae" or "Lonsome For A Dime" I used to start on the root tone of the chord. F# on "Fannie Mae" (used to play it concert E) and C# on "Lonesome For A Dime" (concert B). Just do necessary repetion by playing the the root tone of the chord the first bar ...... and get the groove. I felt safe and "grounded" when I played this. A modern feaking solo is not the way I would play a solo in songs like these. But I was more or less woodshed player that just get out from shed once or twice to play. The rural blues, you know.
 

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