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3rd or flatted 3rd in blues?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by autobot22, Oct 19, 2013.

  1. autobot22


    Jan 11, 2012
    Hi folks. I've recently joined a blues band and hence trying to learn as such as I can about blues bass. I do listen to a lot of RnB and blues and have rad Ed Fried,ands book cover to cover. Now here's my question which may sound stupid but here goes. The blues scale is sometimes shown as 1 3b 4 5b 5 7b and sometimes the 3 is included as well....so I suppose they are interchangeable.
    My question is, when jamming along to a routine 12 bar (eg highway 49, sweet home Chicago), is it ok to use the 3rd or flatted third freely? When does one sound better than another'? To my cloth ears, in some blues standards the flatted 3rd doesn't quite sound right. I'm trying to invent interesting blues baselines but I often seem to end up in Ed Friddlands ' boogie ' which seems to go well with many blues numbers. That uses the 3rd, not the flatted third and often when I try to include the flatted third it sounds a bit odd. As I said, I've got cloth ears which probably don't help. As you can probably tell I m not too hot on theory....I'm just trying to come up with some basic shapes on the fretboard that will work with any blues song. Thanks in advance!
  2. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota

    The b3 is a hard to visualise on a bass when to use it. On a piano old Boogie Woogie players would use a 3 and a b3 simultaneous to create tensions, the closest we can do is use the b3 as a hammer on/pull off to the 3rd, or a slur/slide through the b3 to the 3rd. Of course all this is reversible, we can go through the 3 to the b3 in the same way we use the b5 in a pentatonic run.

    Experiment with it, and use it where the music allows it rather than just wedge it in to fit. Tommy Shannon used it to good effect in his work with SRV, you can hear it in Stevie's guitar a bit clearer if you have 'cloth ears'.......but they will soon turn to silk the more you listen.:)
  3. Most basic blues progressions are based on dominant 7 chords. In this case the major 3rd is what you would want to use in walking. The flat 3rd is part of the blues scale and can sound nice in a solo (more bluesy sound). So in walking standard blues it's good to stick around mixolydian scales which is essentially a major scale with a flat 7.
  4. Bainbridge


    Oct 28, 2012
    The blues is interesting in that it contains two distinct pitch layers: a melodic layer, and a harmonic layer. These two layrrs don't always agree. Take a standard blues progression in E. You might have the chord changes E7 (E G# B D), A7 (A C# E G), and B7 (B D# F# A), but the melodic instrument may only employ the E blues scale (E G A B♭ B D). Over each of those chords, you'll have a conflict with the scale of some type. The chord says you should play G#, but the scale says you should play G. Which one are we going for, then? My answer to this is to figure out whether you are playing in the harmonic layer or the melodic layer. Harmonic is accompaniment, i.e. You're not playing the melody. Harmonic follows the chords. Melodic is the feature, probably a riff or a distinctive melodic bass line for us. In that case, you probably want to follow the scale.

    Other thoughts: in blues, you're most likely to be playing roots of chords rather than anything else, so you won't have to worry about what the third is supposed to be. Blues also embraces the clashing of conflicting chord members (such as in th 7#9 chord), and therefore the decision is not always so clear-cut. My personal approach as a guitarist is to make everything as chromatic as possible, but try to keep the bass simple in order to hold everything together. Sometimes, the two worlds cross. If your blues doesn't sound gritty, you're not doing it right.
  5. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    The flatted 3rd in a major blues is actually a #9. I tend to stay away from using this in standard blues playing unless it's a riff based bassline (as opposed to walking)
  6. Ric5

    Ric5 Supporting Member Commercial User

    Jan 29, 2008
    I Grow Organic Carrots
    3rd or flatted 3rd in blues?

    Both are used in blues ... depending on the song.
  7. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    This. The "blue note" is a #9, not a flatted third. They are enharmonically equivalent, but to understand something rather than simply memorizing something, it's important to understand the distinction. Sometimes the #9 works, sometimes it doesn't.
  8. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    If you really had "cloth ears" you wouldn't notice that the m3 "sounds a bit odd" much of the time in walking patterns. In most blues tunes the M3 will sound good, unless it's holding up a minor tonality. A lot of standard theory gets bent playing the blues, at least the older material. Go with your ears. If it sounds odd to you, don't play it ;).
  9. Fergie Fulton

    Fergie Fulton

    Nov 22, 2008
    Retrovibe Artist rota
    Not nesssarly so, the #9 has a different function to a b3 by the fact that their pitch is different. Yes they are the same note but their difference in pitch is what seperates their functional use....riff based or walking. :)
  10. Clef_de_fa

    Clef_de_fa Guest

    Dec 25, 2011
    if you play rock based blues, like E7 for four bars then A7 for four bars etc ... you can pretty much avoid the 3rd in your line.

    If you play a blues composed by jazz musician, a walking line is a better choice and well, the chords move a lot more.

    Also your scale is the pentatonic scale with a 5b so it sounds bluesy.
  11. pbasswil


    Feb 17, 2008
    There's lots of good comments already.

    I'll add simply: Blues is an aural tradition (if ever a genre was!). If you listen to the classic stuff, there's a traditonal sound that you absorb, and then you sort of know by feel when to flatten notes and when to leave them simple. I doubt if the early authentic guys _ever_ discussed the topic! They did what sounded good to them.

    But it's also possible to stretch the traditions and try slightly different colors, if that's where your ear takes you.

    Ever check out that weird Canned Heat blues "Goin' To The Country", that was big at Woodstock? It's the strangest take on the blues -- very white bread backing chords (capo'd acoustic that sounds like ukelele? Happy, inane flute?), and then the lead vocal comes in like a eunuch in falsetto, hitting many passing tone # fourths. (Lydian scale)

    It's the dog's breakfast of blues, but they meant it, and people _loved_ it!
  12. phoenixjmw


    Jul 9, 2013
    I know on 6 string guitar this often where a little chromatic 3 note run is done. (sort of a quick walk up). The "blue" note was mentioned by another poster - sometimes on guitar that 3b is in a solo. But I think the sound of that comes from everyone else not playing that note except lead guitar, that bit of dissonance seems to be the bluesy sound it gets. So I wouldn't even play the b3 on bass unless it had to be there for some reason.
  13. Russell L

    Russell L

    Mar 5, 2011
    Cayce, SC
    Here's an example of using b3 and M3 in blues, IF you're playing 8th notes:

    / 1 1 b3 M3 5 5 6 5 /
  14. Lownote38


    Aug 8, 2013
    Nashville, TN
    Use a major third if the chords are of the dominant variety (F7 for example). Most blues is built that way. The chord might be something like a F7#9 chord. That means the soloist (usually a higher pitched instrument) can play a major or minor 3rd (aka #9). Some blues is truly minor, though. An example would be The Thrill Is Gone. The chords to that are i-iv-bVI7-V7. In this case, a minor third would be appropriate on the one and four chords.
  15. Shakin-Slim


    Jul 23, 2009
    Tokyo, Japan

    I cannot think of any blues players who only play roots. The third is intrinsic to almost every blues bassline.

    OP, the b3/#9 is predominately a melodic feature. On the bass it works best as a passing tone (approaching the IV chord for example), or as a part of a riff, as in 'Messin' with the Kid'.
  16. Whousedtoplay


    May 18, 2013
    Yes, use b3 as a passing note (Ex.: b3 to M3); otherwise use M3 when playing a blues (major).

    As "Bainbridge" said, "The blues is interesting in that it contains two distinct pitch layers: a melodic layer, and a harmonic layer.
    Harmonic is accompaniment (bass part).
    Harmonic follows the chords. (M3)
    Melodic is the feature, probably a riff or a distinctive melodic bass line for us. In that case, you (would/could) follow the scale."(b3)

    If you play melodic riff/melody/solo/improvisation, you need to know more about the blues scales.

    As "Lownote38" mentioned, make sure it's not a minor blues.

    The C minor blues scale consists of the notes: C,Eb,F,F#(Gb),G,Bb.
    The C major blues scale consists of the notes: C,D,Eb,E,G,A (which is the same as the minor blues scale of the relative minor, Am)

    Paraphrasing Dan Greenblatt's book, "The Blues Scales: Essential Tools for Jazz Improvisation"
    ...There are two blues scales: major and minor. They consist of exactly the same notes, but differ in their roots.
    "The "standard" blues scale — 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 — minor blues scale. In C this is C Eb F Gb G Bb.
    Take the root a minor third up from C to Eb, and run the same notes — Eb F Gb G Bb C.
    This is a major blues scale.
    In C, the major blues scale is C D Eb E G A. The minor blues scale is C Eb F Gb G Bb."

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