There’s way more than blues-rock fodder buried in the crevices of the most overused scale in music.
- Explain how chords are generated from scales.
- Create unusual harmonies, chord progressions, bass lines, and melodies using the blues scale.
- Demonstrate how music theory and musical intuition can coalesce to create unique sounds from traditional materials.
Last updated on May 21, 2022
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for blues music, but the blues scale can yield beguiling musical results that bear little resemblance to the traditional blues—particularly if one looks at (and listens to) the scale from a different point of view.
The idea of harmonization is relatively simple. It means is to play two or more notes together at the same time. Technically speaking, two notes performed at the same time create a dyad, not a chord. It takes three or more notes performed simultaneously to create a chord, although the one exception, the two-note so-called "power chord" in Ex. 1, skews this theory a bit.
So, which two or more notes should you harmonize? Any you want! But, if you desire continuity in your compositions and playing, it's a good idea to harmonize notes from a specific scale.
Most musicians usually start with the major scale, stacking every other note of the scale on top of each other until a triad is created (Ex. 2).
From there you can start adding, or replacing notes, to create variations from these basic triads, as seen in Ex. 3.
I must point out that you can also arpeggiate these chords, playing the notes one at a time (Ex. 4). Since we are emphasizing harmony in this lesson, it helps to let them ring out.
That's the most common way to create chords, but in this lesson we're looking for something unusual. So rather than being so formulaic, let's proceed with the basic idea that playing two or more notes at the same time will work as long as they all come from the blues scale.
The blues scale is just the minor pentatonic scale with one additional note, which gets labeled #4 or a b5 depending on context. Ex. 5 shows the most common "box" pattern for the A blues scale (A–C–D–Eb–E–G). After getting a hold of this scale, I recommend working on it in the key of E and D since many of the notes can be played with open strings.
There are two considerable disparities when it comes to generating chords from the blues scale as compared to the major scale. First, the blues scale only has six notes and second, the intervals between the notes in each scale are significantly different.
This means that the blues scale creates radical changes in chord construction and nomenclature, the theory of which is far beyond the scope of this lesson. For instance, Ex. 6 is a selection of relatively common chords you can generate from the A blues scale. Later on, we will get into more exotic harmonies.
For now, all you really need to understand about the theory is that, the chords, and the melodies I've composed to fit them, all come from harmonizing notes from the A blues scale.
When Theory, Intuition, and Creativity Meet
Once the concept of harmonization is understood, the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. The following examples are just a few of the endless ideas you could generate. I have designed my examples to imitate the styles of well-known composers and guitarists and broken them down into how they are fingered on the fretboard.
Ex. 7 is a particularly fun place to start as this arpeggio is just the A blues scale, but the notes are displaced into different octaves to create chords.
For Ex. 8 I've rearranged the notes ever so slightly to create a slightly more uniform, pseudo-Slayer progression and melody.
The bent note at the beginning of Ex. 9 immediately made me think of Jimmy Page, so for guitar two, I mimicked Robert Plant's chromatic vocal melody on "Misty Mountain Hop" to create this Led Zeppelin-inspired etude. Note that the first chord is labeled A5(#11) because it contains the D# almost an octave and half higher than the root, making it a #11 in relationship to the A.
Ex. 10 was a happy accident I discovered while playing around with this lesson's concept. It's unashamedly Nine Inch Nails meets Andy Summers. The second chord in the progression is a little tricky to label, so I went with D5(b9) as it contains Eb an octave and one half-step away from the root, making it the b9.
Ex. 11 demonstrates the power of playing unexpected, three-note chords over a static bassline, very similar to funk/fusion keyboard players in the 1970s (think Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea). To provide continuity, I've actually harmonized the blues scale using the same method discussed in Ex. 2. The chord labels I've chosen are derived from a combination of the chords and the bass line, though you'll see there are really only two chords: Cm and Asus4, played with different voicings. And take my word for it, the fact that this progression contains both Cm and Am chords is highly unusual and worth more investigation.
Ex. 12 Is a pseudo-power chord riff a la Fugazi or other bands found in the post-punk/emo genres. I've started here with a variation of the A5(#11) chord. Perhaps this is the defining chord of the harmonized blues scale? The rest of the progression seems to alternate between variations of Am and G, but notice that the bass is playing different notes over the chords, providing harmonic variation. Also pay attention that B and C sections are slightly different.
Comprehend and Create!
I hope by now you've realized that the key to exploiting the harmonized blues scale is to include the #4/b5 in all your progressions. This is the vital element that distinguishes the blues scale from so many others. Make your own progressions, melodies, and songs based on what we've started here. You are only limited by your imagination.
Need an affordable distortion pedal? Look no further.
We live in the golden age of boutique pedals that are loaded with advanced features—many of which were nearly unthinkable a decade or so ago. But there’s something that will always be valuable about a rock-solid dirt box that won’t break your wallet. Here’s a collection of old classics and newly designed stomps that cost less than an average concert ticket.
JHS Series 3 Overdrive
This OD is part of the company’s Series 3 line which offers affordable stomps with simple control setups. Along with volume and drive controls, it offers a body knob that tweaks the EQ and a gain switch that moves between more saturated and crunchier sounds.
Thanks to an extremely dedicated following among Nashville session cats, the other green stomp is now offered in a downsized setup. It can run up to 18V for increased headroom and sports glow-in-the-dark knobs for those extremely dark stages.
TC Electronic MojoMojo
This all-analog distortion offers classic, vintage-inspired tones with a familiar control setup of volume, gain, bass, and treble. The real secret sauce is in the voice switch, which allows you to move between a more natural sound and a bass cut.
Since 1978, the DS-1 has been a go-to for generations of guitarists. It offers a scooped sound that can take you from grunge to shred and has been affordable for decades.
EarthQuaker Devices Plumes
Although loosely based on a classic circuit, EQD has replaced the 4558 IC with a JFET op-amp for a more mid-focused sound. In addition to the standard controls, the toggle switch moves between two different clipping options or no clipping at all for a wide-open clean boost.
Electro-Harmonix East River Drive
A JRC4558 IC-loaded circuit that creates the classic symmetrical overdrive sound, this is an all-analog affair that is true bypass, housed in a rock-solid chassis, and can run on a 9-volt battery—which is included.
Fender Hammerstone Overdrive
One of the newest entries on this list is a retro-looking stomp that offers some interesting features under the hood. The original circuit allows you to control the mids before the gain stage, plus there’s an internal trim pot to wrangle the high end.
Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini
One of the most popular stompboxes of all time has been shrunk down to a mini-sized wonder. With an oversized drive knob and two smaller tone and level controls, this green monster aims to cop all the classic midrange tones of the original.
Pro Co Rat 2
Is it a fuzz? Or a distortion? Or an overdrive? Well, thanks to the famous filter control, you can blur the lines between all the different flavors of dirt. It offers a totally analog signal path, glow-in-the-dark graphics, and the trademark heavy-duty enclosure.
There’s no mistaking that shade of yellow. This dead-simple setup offers output and distortion controls along with a vintage-sounding germanium clipping circuit that does everything in its power to blur the line between overdrive and fuzz.
Ernie Ball Music Man Launches the DarkRay 5-String Bass & the Jason Richardson Artist Series Cutlass
An all-new DarkRay 5-string bass featuring dark glass electronics, plus the latest collaboration with guitar virtuoso Jason Richardson.
DarkRay 5-String Bass
The all-new DarkRay 5-string bass unlocks a new range of sonic capabilities thanks to a growing collaboration with world-renowned bass accessory manufacturer Darkglass Electronics. Available in two new striking finishes, Starry Night, and a limited-to-100 White Sparkle. Starry Night will be available at retail while the White Sparkle is exclusive to the Ernie Ball Music Man Vault. The DarkRay 5 is all about tone and features a new 2-band EQ preamp designed specifically for this 5-string model. It offers three very distinct and useful tones: Clean, Alpha (distortion), and Omega (fuzz), each fully mixable via an onboard gain knob and blend control set to the player’s preference. In addition, the original DarkRay 4 bass will be offered in Starry Night, Obsidian Black, and the exclusive White Sparkle, which is limited-to-25, and only available in the Vault.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_1aRXY5fhY
Jason Richardson Artist Series Cutlass
The 2022 Jason Richardson Artist Series Cutlass guitar collection is the next evolution between the award-winning Ernie Ball Music Man design team, and virtuoso guitarist and composer Jason Richardson. For 2022, the Jason Richardson Cutlass is available in two exciting new finishes, Majora Purple and a limited Empress White. The Majora Purple finish features an exotic burl top, natural wood binding, all gold hardware, and is available through authorized Music Man dealers. The Limited Edition Empress White features a white sparkle finish, black hardware, and is limited-to-25 of each of the 6 and 7-string offerings. These limited edition Empress White instruments are available exclusively in the Ernie Ball Music Man Vault.
Watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mGsfNxn60M
So many varied ways to phase for days.
Sweet, distinct phase voice. Resonance, mix, range, and volume controls expand tone-shaping possibilities significantly. High quality.
Spaceman effects tend to be cherished, treasured, and, in some cases, driven to insane resale market prices because they reliably sound fantastic. But Spaceman pedals are also rare creatures. And even its most popular pedals tend to come and go—often disappearing before real players can beat collectors to the punch. The analog, 6-stage optical Explorer phaser, however, is the unusual Spaceman pedal that is reappearing in the wild after a hiatus. It returns in a more compact enclosure. But this time out the Explorer offers access to six additional waveforms that build on an already expansive modulation vocabulary.
Not So Simply Red
I love one-knob phasers. They are a sure-fire means to mindless fun, and one less thing to worry about when drifting off amid some psychedelic-jam reverie. That mindlessness comes at a cost, of course. A classic Small Stone or Phase 90 tends to sound just like it’s supposed to and little more. So while you can extract everything from rotary speaker sounds to staccato pitch shifting with such a circuit, they’re usually imprinted with a specific voice and phase coloration—what you hear is what you get.
The Explorer brushes aside those constraints in very cool fashion. For starters, the mix control helps you render the phase effect nearly subliminal. That enables you to use pretty extreme phase voices in low-key ways—a beautiful means to apply the effect to add motion in a spare mix. The Explorer also comes with an output volume control. This means you can overcome any perceived volume loss when using intense waveforms. But it also gives your signal a slight—and slightly dirty—bump even when the effect mix is low. The volume gives you options in that direction, too. And although there probably won’t be hordes of players dying to use the Explorer at less than unity gain, the ability to do so opens up interesting arrangement possibilities in which you can move from straight-ahead clean passages to quieter effected chapters in a song without missing a beat. It also gives you a means to mate the Explorer more easily to an unruly or unpredictable fuzz.
The Explorer’s wave-shaping options are abundant and powerful. The rate control generally falls in line with most classic analog phasers in terms of range—moving from molasses sweeps to insectile stutters. Resonance, of course, adds vowelly emphasis to the waveforms. Its effect is strong enough that I tended to leave it in a modest 8 to 10 o’clock range. But it can also help put a phase over the top in a crowded effects mix and help add rhythmic emphasis. The Explorer’s range control is, perhaps, the hidden gem. There’s nothing magical about it. It’s essentially a filter that enables you to thin out or add a low-end bump to the signal. But the extra low end can be a beautiful sweetening agent with slower phase rates (which get chewier and dreamier with more low end) and gives you extra wiggle room for tailoring the Explorer to different guitars, amps, and effects in your chain.
The extra low end can be a beautiful sweetening agent with slower phase rates.
The Explorer isn’t the only contemporary phaser with the option for multiple waveforms. But there is something about the essential sweetness and clarity of its voice that makes the differences among these wave types feel more distinct. The sine wave is smooth-snaky and sounds dreamy at slow rates and sitting low in the wet/dry mix. Ramp-up and ramp-down waves have a pronounced “reset” pulse at the peak of each wave that tends to reinforce certain rhythm-based approaches. Triangle generates pretty, precise, and steady heartbeat pulses that make lots of room for picking detail at dryer mix levels, but it also sounds awesome at more stroboscopic rates and higher intensities. The square wave at a 50-precent rate and with a healthy heap of low end from the range control is another favorite—and with the resonance just right, you can get a very bubbly auto-wah effect. The alternate phase patterns, which are accessed by powering up while holding down the footswitch, are all worth investigating as well. And the arpeggiated phases, in particular, are especially cool—lending textures that evoke everything from bouncing ball bearings to tinkling glockenspiels.
The Explorer often distinguishes itself by living at a cool intersection of organic and mechanical precision pulses and sounds. But the abundant tone-shaping options mean you can fine tune these tone crossovers like a surgeon. It’s fun, too. The right sound rarely feels out of reach or impossible on the Explorer, so the search seldom feels like work. For anyone that has suffered the limitations of 1-knob phasers but been intimidated by more complex alternatives, there are a lot of cool compromises here. The Explorer is expensive. But it’s a high-quality U.S.-made pedal that reflects a lot of thought and experience. It may just tempt you to sell the rest of the phasers in your collection, too—a smart, constructive way to offset the cost, if you ask me.