The next time you're looking for a way to juice up your
blues line, try this: Pick a blues scale, and then combine
it with the blues scale located a minor third (three frets)
below. As you’ll see, this composite blues scale can be
used in several ways.
Let’s begin with a regular C blues scale (C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb,
or 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7). Dipping a minor third below gives
us an A blues scale (A, C, D, Eb, E, G). Now if we absorb
the A blues scale into the C blues scale, we get a colorful
C composite blues scale: C, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, A, and Bb
(see the charts on p. 145). In addition to the C blues
scale’s six tones, we get the 9 (D), 3 (E), and 13 (A). That’s
a total of nine notes -- a plentiful palette.
Shared roots. Ready to dig into some deep chord/scale
relationship? (To streamline the process, bear in mind
that we’ll sometimes spell a scale tone or chord tone
enharmonically. That is, we’ll use C instead of B#, or
perhaps A# instead of Bb. Despite the name change, the
note is the same.)
Composite scales sound great played over dominant
chords built from the same root. Try EX.1, which features
a C composite line played against C7. Alternatively, you
could use C9 or C13 as background harmony.In EX.2, we
drop an E composite blues (E, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B, C#, D)
over an E7#9 (E-G#-B-D-G, or 1-3-5-b7-#9). This is a
perfect application for the composite blues scale. To
liven things up, let’s toss in two chromatic passing tones
-- the 7 (D#) and #5 (B# or C).
It’s not unusual to hear jazz players such as George Benson
and organist Jimmy Smith play a composite blues over a
major - 7th chord from the same root -- despite the fact that
the scale has ab7, which can clash with the chord’s #7.
To hear the effect, try
EX.3: an Eb composite blues (Eb, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, C, Db)
line against Ebmaj7 (Eb-G-Bb-D or 1-3-5-7).
Sometimes “wrong” is funky!
Offset tricks. You can play a composite blues scale over other
chord types, too. The trick is knowing how to offset the scale root
in relation to the chord root in relation to the chord root. (It can be tricky to work out these associations,
so be patient and go slowly.) For Instance, over a minor 7th chord, play the composite scale located a
fourth higher. To improvise over Dm7 (D-F-A-C or 1-b3-5-b7), for instance, you’d play a G composite
blues scale (G, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, E, F).
Notice how, in addition to Dm7’s chord tones, the G composite blues scale offers G, Bb, B, Db, and E.
If you relate these notes to Dm7, you get the 4 (G), #5 (Bb or A#), 6 (B), 7 (Db or C#), and 9 (E).
EX.4 is a G composite blues line played against Dm7.
More offsets. Here’s another way to use the composite blues scale: When you encounter a major 7,
move up a fifth from the chord’s root and play a composite blues scale. For example, to improvise
over Amaj7 (A-C#-E-G# or 1-3-5-7), grab an E composite blues pattern. Along with Amaj7’s chord
tones, the scale provides F#, G, Bb, B, and D. Against the backdrop of Amaj7, this translates as of
6 (F#), b7 (G), b9 (Bb), 9 (B), and 11 (D). To experience the colors of this offset formula, play EX.5.
You can play a composite blues scale over a min7b5 if you begin the scale a minor sixth above the
chord’s root. To solo over F#m7b5 ( F#-A-C-E or 1-b3-b5-b7), for instance, play a D composite
blues scale, which provides the chord tones for F#m7b5, as well as D, F, G, Ab, and B. Using several
enharmonic equivalents, this translate as b6 (D), 7 (F), b9 (G), 9 (G#), and 11 (B). EX.6 demonstrates
Recycle. The offset approach may seam like a lot of work -- and it is a challenge to think in these
terms. But there is a major benefit: Once you’ve mastered a few composite scale fingerings, you can
use each pattern in numerous ways -- thanks to offsets. The more opportunities you have to use a
given fingering, the more effective it becomes. It’s recycling, applied to guitar.
Guitar Player Magazine / January 2001 Issue
The Composite Blues Scale - Jean Marc Belkadi
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