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Does the Blues Scale have any chords?

Discussion in 'General Instruction [BG]' started by vishalicious, Mar 1, 2014.

  1. vishalicious


    Mar 31, 2011
    Yonkers, NY
    Hi All,

    I have a quick question - does the Blues scale have any chords? It doesn't have the same # of notes as the regular Major or Minor scales, and I was wondering how this affects the usual root, 3rd, 5th, 7th chord tones.

    I searched a bit online and from what I can see, chords specific to the scale aren't mentioned anywhere. It looks like the entire scale (plus any chromatic notes) is fair game when playing in any key as long as you're mindful of the root.

    Am I misunderstanding this, and if not, are there other scales like this, in which no clear chord tones are defined?

  2. Chords are used in the blues for sure. Lots of charts available. But you won't find chord arpeggios in the same way as you might with other forms of music.

    You do need to decide what flavor of blues the tune involves. Some are major blues (say, C7, F7 and G7 as the chords). Some are minor blues (think BB King's "Help the Poor"). Some are ambiguous as to whether they are major or minor, including a lot of the Delta and early Chicago blues.

    Based on the type of blues, there is at least some structure. That will give you your decision on the third (major or minor) for example. Also your decision on the turnaround (walk up or down to the 5, or use 1-6-2-5, etc.)
  3. Yeah, there's nothing really set in stone.

    Minor, minor7, and diminished chords are definitely fair game – they'll never sound "bad" per se when played over a blues scale. Notice how each of these is based entirely on notes from the scale: Root-flat3-5 (minor), Root-flat3-5-flat7 (minor7), and Root-flat3-flat5 (diminished).

    Dominant 7 chords and their alterations (#9, b9, b13, etc) can also work if applied carefully... I say carefully because the flat 5 and the flat 3 of the blues scale can clash with the major 3rd and the altered notes within those chords, which can take away from the groove – especially on a downbeat. The upper three notes of the scale alone (5, flat 7, root) will work with pretty much anything... listening to funk, you'll notice any combination of those chords being played over a bass groove using the 5, b7, and root.

    Hope that helps :bassist:
  4. Stick_Player

    Stick_Player Banned

    Nov 13, 2009
    Somewhere on the Alaska Panhandle (Juneau)
    Endorser: Plants vs. Zombies Pea Shooters
    The "chords" of a scale are created by harmonizing - stacking in thirds - the scale steps. This can be applied to ANY scale, with great to not-so-great results.

    The first scales I would suggest you harmonize, would be the Major and Minor scales.

    An example:

    C Major Scale is C, D, E, F, G, A, B.

    Now stack each scale step, in thirds, and you will create the chords of that key.

    C, E, G, B
    D, F, A, C
    E, G, B, D

    I only harmonized enough to create "Seventh Chords". One could continue stacking until a "Thirteenth Chord" is created:

    C, E, G, B, D, F, A
    D, F, A, C, E, G, B
    E, G, B, D, F, A, C

    Now try that with the Blues Scale: C, Eb, F, F#/Gb, G, Bb.

    You will probably run into some difficulties. ;)

    The Blues Scale is not really a good scale to harmonize, as it is primarily used OVER a chord, or set of chords. And, some of these notes will "clash" with the underlying harmony. Which is the intention. These dissonances are most likely the "Blue Notes".

    Many "riffs" are created with/from the Blues Scale.

    Furthermore, the Blue Notes are supposed to be on the Flat-side. Listen to Blues singers. And listen how they use the pitches. They certainly won't sing, up and down, the Blues Scale.

    This is JUST a primer, as there are many ways to utilize a Blues Scale.
  5. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    Stick Player gets it right.

    The simple answer to your question, from a classic/jazz theory point of view is: NO.

    The alternate answer to your question, from a more open-minded point of view is: PERHAPS.

    You can construct chords from the scale degrees of a blues scale, but they will often suffer from unwanted dissonance (not the good dissonance).

    The blues scale is a scale that works primarily over a Dom7 serving as the tonic. Building chords from the scale degrees of blues scale can be done with judicious input from your sense of melody and tonality, but the blues scale is better served as an alternate scale over a minor or Dominant tonality.
  6. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Yes I agree. I've never thought of stacking a minor pentatonic, major pentatonic or blues scale before, and you do run into some problems doing that. I asked myself why? And decided that to stack a scale we need a full scale to stack from.

    I was of the opinion that you could stack any scale and get the chords for that scale. You can, but, you get some odd chords doing that with less than a full scale of 7 - 8 notes.

    Which brings us to what chords work with the blues? Perhaps this may help. http://www.bobbrozman.com/tip_evol12bar.html
    It is how the blues progression evolved, or a good example of what chords can be used under the blues scale.
  7. vishalicious


    Mar 31, 2011
    Yonkers, NY
    Thanks for the replies, everyone. They helped a lot. Basically, it looks like there are two main answers to my question - let me know if this is correct:

    1. You can build chords from any scale by stacking 3rds, but chords built from certain scales with less than 7 notes might sound weird.

    2. The blues scale is used by bassists more for playing riffs or solos when a more-melodic instrument is playing something chordal (which makes it sound like we're switching roles for a brief period). Generally, we'll still support by outlining appropriate chords.

    And, focusing less on the scale, and more on the blues themselves - there are certain chords and chord progressions that are inherent to the sound, which is explained in a few of your posts and detailed in Malcolm's link.

    Do I have this right?
  8. Clef_de_fa


    Dec 25, 2011
    Let say we have C7 chord which give you this scale:

    then look at the blues scale :
    which is one more tone than the pentatonic scale and it shares many notes with C7...

    So in all ... a blues scale is a major pentatonic scale + min3(blue note)... from there you could start your blues scale on D or whatever.

    If you look closely : major C Pentatonic/blues scale is also A min pentatonic/blues scale ...
  9. bass_case

    bass_case Maintain low tones. Supporting Member

    Oct 23, 2013
    Miami, FL
    The first objective is to figure out if the tune is predominantly major or minor. If in doubt, avoid thirds until it becomes more obvious. Something like 1-5-7 or some permutation thereof.

    Other songs are more structured (e.g. Stormy Monday) and the harmony is more clearly defined. With more"jazzified" blues, the ii-Vs and turnarounds give you something to hang onto. Once you start throwing in some tritone substitutions it can get pretty interesting.
  10. MalcolmAmos

    MalcolmAmos Supporting Member

    Short answer. Yes.
  11. greenrositti

    greenrositti Gold Supporting Member

    Mar 16, 2008
    New England
    The blues scale is really just a minor pentatonic scale with an added passing tone between the 4th and 5th (a.k.a. the last mode of major pentatonic, or aeolian pentatonic). It is a sonic "flavor," and can hence be used in a number of ways, as previously stated. A "blues" over C7, C blues over C7, E blues over C7, etc.

    Not to be a troll, but if you're a beginner, rather than try and find all the applicaitons of a particular scale, why not focus on learning your arpeggios? That way you can build lines and solos by using the notes of the chord as goal notes and any other notes near the chord tones as passing tones to get you to the goal notes. That will give you something like the sound of the blues scale, but you'll actually be making lines that contain more melodic and harmonic information. Consequently, your ears will also get sharper.:hyper:

    One of the only "rules" in playing over dominant is don't play the major 7th or perfect 4th on a downbeat (e.g. B or F over C7). There is one of the inherant problems with the blues scale mentality...(C blues over C7 gives you a big fat F...watch out!).

    For an example of what I'm saying, listen to Chet Baker. That guy was so melodic and blue--mostly by playing simple diatonic chord tones on downbeats and passing tones on upbeats, limited only by the scope of his imaginiation! Robben Ford is another great, albeit more complex, example. The pentatonic blues scale mentioned in a previous post (C, D, [Eb], E, G, A) is David Sanborn all day long (also spelled A blues scale over a C dominant 7 chord).