I’m a huge fan of many different types of blues guitarists—everyone from SRV to B.B. King. I’m also a real sucker for jazz guitarists like Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. One of my favorite things is to play blues that’s mixed with the essence of jazz. In order to mix both styles, you need to think about harmony and chord changes more than just burning through scale patterns. I focus on simple ideas and hate to think too much when I am playing. Triads have become a really cool tool for me because they provide the harmonic colors I’m looking for, yet don’t require a lot of over-thinking. In this lesson, we’re going to look at creative ways to use triads in a minor blues.
I often hear my students ask, “What
scales are you playing? How do you make
those interesting lines?” Don’t get me
wrong, I really enjoy playing traditional
blues phrases, but I also want to make my
solo connect with the chord progression.
I think a lot of players have trouble going
beyond playing pure pentatonic shapes.
If you find yourself only following the
same pentatonic scale patterns, then you
may get bored with your solo rather quickly.
Don’t worry! All you need to do is pay more
attention to the chord changes than the scales
when you’re soloing. Triads are some of the
simplest chord forms. This application of
triads will help you outline specific chord
changes while you are playing your favorite
bluesy phrases. Basically, I don’t want you to
become locked into those old minor-pentatonic
The basic blues progression uses only
three chords (I, IV, and V). Blues music
has very simple chord changes, yet is very
deep. The goal is to hear the chord movement
rather than just thinking about the
shape of the various pentatonic scales. Let’s
get a handle on this technique by playing
over minor-blues chord changes. For
starters, we’ll use the progression in Fig. 1.
Make sure to check out the bVI to V chord
movement in measures 9-10. This gives the
minor-blues progression a “jazzier” feel.
Triads consist of only three notes—the
root, 3rd, and 5th. Simple, right? Since
there are only three combinations of the
notes, you can play three different inversions
(or shapes). In Fig. 2, you can see
the inversions of an A major triad on the
top three strings. The first chord is in root
position, since the root is the lowest note in
the chord. Moving up the neck we have the
1st inversion with the 3rd as the low note,
and finally we end with the 2nd inversion
with the 5th in the bass. This 2nd inversion
is sometimes referred to as the “triangle
shape” and looks just like an open-position
D chord, just moved up the fretboard.
Download example 2 audio...
Once these shapes are comfortably under
your fingers, start to move them around
to other string sets. If you think about not
only the note names, but also the degree
names, it will make transposing them to
other keys much easier.
For the minor triads, all we need to
do is lower the 3rd a half-step (one fret).
In Fig. 3 you can see the A minor triad
shapes on the top three strings. My advice
is to try to learn the minor shapes in relation
to the major shapes. That way you
should be able to change from major to
minor without having to rely on only
Download example 3 audio...
Now it’s time to use these triads over
the minor blues progression from Fig.
1. In Fig. 4, I’ve written an easy exercise
using these triads. Play each chord slowly
at first. Don’t think too much when
playing these, but focus on learning the
degree names of each chord until you can
play them smoothly. That’s important.
At first it will sound like an exercise, but
pretty soon (with some added rhythmic
variety), it will become more musical.
Learning these concepts in a very specific
way will allow you to be totally free
when you improvise. Once these shapes
are comfortable on the first three strings,
start to move them to other string sets.
In Fig. 5, you can see these exact same
chords on strings 4-3-2.
Download example 4-5 audio...
These shapes become very useful for not
only comping, but also soloing. Feel free
to add some of your favorite blues phrases
to these triads. Many of them probably fall
comfortably within these shapes already.
As always, listen to such masters as Freddie
King, Eric Clapton, and Buddy Guy to
really understand phrasing and comping in
a blues setting.
Tomo Fujita has served on the faculty of
the Berklee College of Music since 1993
and has mentored students such as John
Mayer and Eric Krasno. His latest album,
Pure, features Steve Gadd, Will Lee, Steve
Jordan, and Bernard Purdie. For more
information about his best-selling books
and DVDs, visit tomofujita.com.
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