Hey Ben, when you are doing the tutorials I was wondering if you might be able to go over the scale patterns you use…?
No one replied so I will.
Ben is really all over the Blues scale and Major scale…more blues scale though.
If I were to tell a beginner where to start I’s day “learn the Blues scale” and then the major next. Learn them in 3-5 positions and just roll with it.
It’s strange but since I started trying to learn bluegrass, I rarely think “blues scale” when I’m improvising. I tend to work out of the major scale for the chord I’m playing over and consider the blue notes (flat 3, 5 & 7) to be alterations of it. I guess it’s essentially the same thing as using the blues scale. It’s just my reference point that has changed.
Anyway you slice it, Ben sure does add some nice blue notes to his arrangements.
Scales. That is a big subject and often a subject of contention. Many grassers use their ears and learned licks to carry them through the process of taking a break (solo). Some folks (like myself), listen to those common licks and determine, through music theory, what scales/notes are being used and how those scales/notes relate to the chord/harmony being played. In addition, bluegrass is very melody oriented, so the break the soloist takes must point to or fit the original melody closely. You can see why many folks learn bluegrass by ear exclusively. And, in fact, asking even some of the top grassers what they are doing specifically (scale and harmonically) often is met with a annoyed, quizzical look and a response like, “I just play what fits.”
If you are trying to learn how to decipher the musical language of bluegrass, then you can begin to choose and experiment with scales that fit each chord. If you want to play solos/breaks that are diatonic in nature (without a blues tonality), you can stick with scales that fit the chords/tonal center of the moment. For example, over a G major chord you would play a G major scale. And in fact, over any set of chords that fit within the key of G major (G, Am, Bm, C, D7, Em, F#m7b5), the G major scale will work nicely. However, if you would like to deal with each chord as it’s own harmonic entity, you can add blues notes and strong blues movement to that chord. For example, in the key of G major, you could add the Bb, Db and F to a riff while playing over the chord G. However, in the same key of G major if you are playing over the chord C, you could add the notes Eb, Gb, and Bb to a lick over the C chord.
Keep in mind that adding these ‘blue’ notes needs to be done in a proven and thought out manner. Random playing of blue notes will sound just that, random. However, in a major tonality, following the b3 with a natural 3 will give a strong bluesy sound as will following the 1 with a b7 or a b5 with a natural 5.
As to actual ‘patterns’ there are many places on the net where you can find fingerings for major (Ionian), minor (Aeolian or Dorian) and dominant (Mixolydian) scales. These 4 scales make up a large majority of the notes you might use in any given situation. Adding blue notes (b3, b5, b7) to any of these scales can make them sound more “bluesy”.
If you would like to see some simple scale patterns, I can post some that I use if you like. I have a system for learning scales that requires the memorization of just four forms/patterns. From those four forms, you can play in any key (12) in any mode (7) in any fret position (12) for a total of 1008 different combinations of fret positions, keys and modes. However, memorizing those 4 patterns is not the same as learning those patterns. But it is a good start and once you learn those scales, things start to make sense (at least to me).
I was able to locate the scale forms I mentioned above in one of my online storage sites.
Great post Doc. It will take me a while to digest that, in particular using the G scale over F#m7b5 Your post combined with the above posts give a good foundation on all the notes you might hear. Real good thoughts on use of blues notes in a non-random fashion. There are particular ways we typically hear them.
I need to hit Doc’s scale shapes again. They are about as simple an approach to a complete scale cookbook as I have seen.
If someone is looking for something more basic to play around with (maybe somewhere between ear and theory… I’ll call it “theary”)… anyway, the pentatonic with a flat 3rd is a nice subset. For example, in G, you would use the pentatonic notes G A B D E and add the flat 3rd (Bb). That pretty much coincides with the basic “GLick!” You won’t go that route to compose complex melodies, but those are generally “safe” notes to play around with when noodling.
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…It will take me a while to digest that, in particular using the G scale over F#m7b5
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When in college, I started playing in a big band and needed skills to solo over any chord at any moment. Minor7b5 chords are known as half diminished chords and are the 7th chord in a major scale tonality. The easiest way to deal with them is to play a Locrian scale (the scale that starts on the 7th note of a major scale using the same notes). It is also the 2 (ii) chord in a minor key and when you play jazz, you have to be intimately familiar with ii/V chord combinations.
As such, I have a good grasp of spotting harmonic tonal centers, that is to say I can quickly spot what key a set of chord is in. However, bluegrass is not the same in this way. Bluegrass tends to be much more specific. Whereas in jazz if you are playing in the same key as the harmonic center of the chords involved, you are good to go. It is a looser, more free way to express yourself melodically. In bluegrass, you better be starting and ending on some sort of chord tone of the chord that is happening at that exact moment and you better be following the original melody closely or else you sound lost, or like a jazzer .
— Begin quote from "mreisz"
If someone is looking for something more basic to play around with (maybe somewhere between ear and theory… I’ll call it “theary”)… anyway, the pentatonic with a flat 3rd is a nice subset. For example, in G, you would use the pentatonic notes G A B D E and add the flat 3rd (Bb). That pretty much coincides with the basic “GLick!”
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This is a great point! I had a friend in college who was a wizard at the pentatonic scales. I loved his sound; it was smooth, clear and precise. A major pentatonic scale with the addition of the b3 can take you a very long way indeed.
And I love the word “theary”. The word theory with the word ‘hear’ as it’s core. You need to copyright that word immediately!!! At it’s definition, music theory is a set of rules that helps explain what we hear when we listen to and compose music. You could easily drop the word music if you use the word “theary” since it is self explanatory that it is theory about what we hear. Brilliant!
The word “theary” popped up as I was typing the post. I got a chuckle out of it. I am not usually very quick with words, so I had to enjoy it while it happened. Of all the people on the forum who might write a book on guitar theory, I’d say Doc is the most likely to do it. I give you all my blessing to use the word in any future publications. All I request is if such a publication does well, is payment via a cheeseburger.
Doc’s posts are so densely packed with useful information, I feel like I’m reading a text book already.
This is really good stuff. Pieces of the musical puzzle that very few, if anyone, ever completes. Some of this I have seen before but never had it laid down like doc has done. So for now, it is spend more time on the stump!