*Scales: Blues Scales

Blues scales are used in many jazz songs. Blues scales convey a funky, earthy feel. Jazz phrases are typically 12 measures long, rather than the usual 4 or 16 that is used in popular songs.

Scales are the foundation that compositions are built upon. Generally when a composition is one key, it remains in that key for the duration of the compositions. However, there are some exceptions where the composition has a key change in the middle of the piece resulting in an emotional change for the listeners. The type of scale you base your composition is important and can change the overall ambiance your composition exudes.

The blues scale may sound strange when it is played straight up or down. Generally, the composer will vary the intervals when creating blues-based melodies. An example of the C blues scale is below.

blues scales

(The C Blues Scale)

The fingering for the blue scale is simple. The thumb plays the C, and then the middle finger plays the next note, and then the thumb plays the next note, etc. This process repeats up the entire scale. Descending the scale uses the same fingering.

It is interesting to note that the blues scale does not have a second or sixth tone. Instead, the third and seventh are flatted to color over the second and sixth tone. Try playing the scale above and get a feel for the sound. Immediately, you should be able to hear the jazzy sound.

Blues scales were created to be harmonized by dominant 7th chords. If you notice, you can harmonize many of the notes in the C blues scale with an E flat dominant 7th chord. You can also use other 7th chords, such as the C minor seventh chord or the E flat minor seventh chord. To learn about seventh chords please visit Seventh Chords and you can read more about them.

Blues scales are great to mix with minor scales. For example, if you are playing in the key of D minor, try throwing in some A flats to get a slight jazz sound. Our song titled blank is an example that does this. (Song only partly written.) The composition starts with a minor key, but then incorporates some of the blues scale notes to give the song a playful feel.