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Understanding Blues Theory

Posted by Rex Hamilton III 
Understanding Blues Theory
December 04, 2016 03:50PM
When I play - say A blues - I noodle around with A pentatonic and A blues but I am sure I heard that you're meant to change scales/keys when the chords change. If so, how, what, why?

Also, as blues is made up of domiannt chords, and as there is only dominant chord per key, then when you go from A7 to D7 to E7 you're changing key and not only that but, strictly speaking, going from D to G to A. This is quite the headfuck!
Re: Understanding Blues Theory
April 27, 2017 03:37AM
The blues genre of music originated in the USA in the 19th century and was a form of music developed by African-Americans. It is described as a soulful and emotional music whose themes are primarily about the lives, loves, hardships and hopes of African-Americans. Slowly the blues spread into urban areas which was mainly due to the fact that many rural blues musicians were leaving the countryside to find work in the factories of major cities. By 1920, three major formats of blues were common: The 8 bar blues, the 12 bar blues and the 16 bar blues. Blues also developed various styles, or subgenres, such as Mississippi Delta blues and Chicago electric blues.

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Re: Understanding Blues Theory
April 27, 2017 10:26PM
Rex Hamilton III Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> When I play - say A blues - I noodle around with A
> pentatonic and A blues but I am sure I heard that
> you're meant to change scales/keys when the chords
> change. If so, how, what, why?
>
> Also, as blues is made up of domiannt chords, and
> as there is only dominant chord per key, then when
> you go from A7 to D7 to E7 you're changing key and
> not only that but, strictly speaking, going from D
> to G to A. This is quite the headfuck!

You're trying to apply CPP music theory to non CPP music. Blues in A relates to A as the tonal centre throughout. The tonal centre chord is A7. In a blues context, this is a stable chord. It's not functioning as the dominant 7th of D major, but the fact that it's the same as the dom7 of D explains why it progresses there smoothly.

Similarly, the next chord, D7, is not functioning as the dom 7 of G. It's just the IV chord with a flat 7th 'blue note' - a hallmark of blues. Only the E7 is functioning as a THE dominant 7th. It's the only one in a three-chord 12 bar blues not to contain any out of key blue notes.

There are no key changes - it's in A throughout. Look what would happen if you improvised in the key of E major when the chord changes to E7. You would be choosing notes from the scale of E major: E F# G# A B C# D# . D SHARP!!! against a D natural won't sound bluesy unless it's played very briefly before it has a chance to cause listeners to wince at your obvious mistake. Also D won't be available if you insist on sticking with E major, but it's a very important note you're depriving yourself of.

Of course, you could substitute D for D#, but that gives you E F# G# A B C# D, which is exactly the same notes as A major. (You can call it E Mixolydian mode if you like but that's also not right because the tonal centre of the music at that point is still ASo what's the point?

You can also play major or minor pentatonics on the chord roots and avoid clashes and provide some cool blue notes, but, again, it limits your choice of notes.

Play the notes YOU want. Don't be confined to notes of a scale. I've never heard a master bluesman stick slavishly to the notes of any scale.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/27/2017 10:30PM by Fretsource. (view changes)
Re: Understanding Blues Theory
April 30, 2017 09:39AM
Thanks for that. I'll try and digest over a few more reads. I wholeheartedly agree with playing the notes I want to play and not worry about being confined to notes of a scale but I am trying to understand the theory aspect of guitar playing and have avoided it for so long hence my post. I'll still do what I want to do but am aware of the elephant in the room - my lack of knowledge - and want to be rid of it
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