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Blues Scale: Not part of tertian harmony?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by LiquidMidnight, Mar 31, 2004.

  1. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    I've been thinking about this for some time. I never really considered the "Blues scale" to be a proper scale. I've always thought of it as a pentatonic scale with a chromatic note placed between the 4th and 5th degree. It seems, though, that some people consider the blues scale to be a scale all of it's own. This has led me to think that the blues scale is not part of tertian harmony, because I cannot find a way to harmonize the chromatic note to a relative 3rd. If you were to harmonize the F# in a C blues scale to a major 3rd, you will get a Bb, but that's already the relative 3rd of the 5th. If you harmonize it as a minor 3rd, you will get B, which isn't even in the C blues scale.

    What are your thoughts on this?
  2. Howard K

    Howard K

    Feb 14, 2002
    What is tertian harmony? A term I've either never heard, or forgotten!

    Just as you said, I always thought of a blues scale as minor pent with the added chromatic tone, especially given that blues is based on dominant 7 chords and the flat 5th becomes the root of a V7 sub, which is often used in jazz blues (in my, admittedly, very limited experience).

    Also, there were numerous variations on that one blues scale. I've seen blues scales written with chromatics between the min3rd and 4th and min7th and octave, and with a Major 6th, so the scale is
    root, m3, M3, 4, b5, 5, M6, m7, M7.
  3. bump. any takers? :)
  4. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    It's a minor pentatonic with a passing note. You're usually never in a situation where you have to harmonise the blue note.

    You're usually better off considering it as either Aeolian, Dorian or Mixolydian with avoid notes (which one depends on the context) for purposes of harmony.
  5. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    The whole point of the blues scale (and the blues in general) is that it has nothing to do with traditional western harmony.

    Trying to analyze it as such is futile.
  6. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    I disagree. Blues originated amongst people who were certainly familiar with the sounds of western harmony, most notably from church music, who used western instruments and western techniques including tertian harmony (that whole I IV V thing).
  7. I think the origin of the blues goes back a lot farther than that.
  8. I wouldn't say it has *nothing* to do with it. The subdominant and dominant functions of the IV and the V work in the blues in ways not utterly dissimilar to the ways they work in trad Western harmony. I'd say rather that the blues are not completely explainable or analyzable in terms of traditional Western harmony, but you can't deny that some common ground exists.
  9. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    I'd say it's pretty much widely accepted that what can be called blues originated in the 19th century and had no direct antecedents...

  10. I don't know that it's "widely accepted"; that link, though interesting (thanks, BTW), doesn't strike me as conclusive. It's true, AFAIK, that the blues as we know it is a mixture of traditions that occurred within America, and not the direct and unadulterated descendant of any Old World tradition, yet it strikes me that the mixture is not equal, and that there's a very strong strain of it, perhaps even the dominant one, that goes back past 19th century to Africa. Note the comment by Alan Lomax the author refers to parenthetically, to the effect that he knew of very similar songs being found in NW Africa among the Wolof and Watutsi. The author of the articla sorta throws that comment away, but I think it's significant. I have heard something similar. In College I went to a seminar given by Don Cherry. Playing a traditional W. African instrument, whose name escapes me at the moment, he played a traditional tune, then, over the same music, started singing a blues (of the one chord variety--as you know, it's not all 12 bar stuff), whose name again escapes me (it was over 25 years ago). It was clearly nearly the same music. Yes, that's just one song, and no, it doesn't prove that blues is just old African music dressed up (which isn't the position I'd argue for anyway), but I do think that the argument that it was simply a 19th century American development is oversimplified. I suppose it also depends, in a sense, on where you want to put the "starting line."
  11. cowsgomoo

    cowsgomoo gone to Longstanton Spice Museum

    Feb 8, 2003
    I think trying to crowbar tertian harmony concepts (harmony built on the concept of 3rds) into a 'blues scale' framework just sometimes isn't going to give useful results

    in fact some would argue it's not much of a scale at all... is the II of a D blues scale an F, or is that its 3rd?!?

    like the others have said.. think of it as 'scale fragments and a passing tone' and you'll have the most useful handle on it
  12. godoze


    Oct 21, 2002
    The origins of "blue" notes dates back to the slave Era. Africans upon their forced arrival in the US were not used to hearing or singing Western Music. Their musical vocabulary differs from that of the West. The "Blue" notes are the result of slaves integrating their musical vocabulary with that of the West.

    The "Blues" as it is, can be traced directly to the Work Songs that the slaves sung as they toiled in the fields. These songs were later used by other musicians and the style of music known as "The Blues" was born.

    Ethnomusicological field research from the early part of the 20th C. has captured many of these work songs from which the lines can and have been drawn.
  13. NV43345


    Apr 1, 2003
    Growing up in Chicago I was exposed to the "Electric Blues"
    in the 60's.This music was a product of the Delta Blues style
    that was brought into the south side of Chicago by the
    folks that moved north out of the delta,looking for work in
    the Railroad and stockyards in Chicago.
  14. dlloyd

    dlloyd zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Apr 21, 2004
    Interesting points. I've heard (thanks to John Peel) a relatively small amount of African "blues", the obvious example being Ali Farka Toure who has a striking similarity to John Lee Hooker. Perhaps this is due to a commonality of musical traditions dating back to pre-slavery times, perhaps it's been influenced by blues records making their way to West Africa. It's probably somewhere between the two.

    There is no doubt that, by the time blues was defined as a musical style, it had taken on a lot of western influence. Certainly many of the earliest artists we can relate to as pioneers of the blues were fluent in western styles.

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