In my opinion, the hallmark of good blues soloing is the ability to seamlessly blend major and minor scales/licks/runs to exploit that minor/major third ambiguity in the blues. If you feel that your blues soloing isn’t sounding authentic enough, this is probably what’s missing. Most people’s approach to this seems to be either some kind of hybrid major/minor pentatonic scale, or learning a bunch of licks from players that have already mastered the art of blending major and minor. While there’s nothing wrong with either of these approaches, they don’t get to the nuts and bolts of it, which is what I’d like to show you in this blog post.
The hybrid minor/major pentatonic idea seems like a good one in theory – you have all the notes from both scales at your disposal – you just need to come up with some licks and you’re good to go. The problem I see here is that there are too many notes to deal with, and the more notes you give a guitarist, the more they will feel the need to play which leads to uninteresting scalar playing and general frustration.
Learning licks is always good for expanding your blues vocabulary, but the problem here is that the blues masters weave those major/minor tonalities so seamlessly that unless you sit down and really dissect the lick, you probably won’t notice the very thing you’re trying to learn! This also misses out the actual approach as what you’re copying is the result, and the process of getting there is somewhat lost.
The Triad Approach
As with a lot of things on guitar, you’ll find that if you break it down to its absolute essence, you’ll find it easier to learn, or at least hear and be able to start reproducing. This is where triads come in as the essence of major vs. minor is of course the major and minor triads.
Here’s a A Major Triad and an A Minor Triad:
This is the absolute essence of what you’re learning to blend in its simplest form. All the interaction happens around the major – minor third as follows:
Try combining both the minor and major third with the 1 and the 5, bending up to the major third, hammering on to it, slides, or any technique you know. The idea here is to zero in on that ambiguity and own it, or at least make it sound bluesy.
Let’s add the b7 to give you a few more phrasing options:
The b7 should help to make you licks sound more bluesy and there are the right number of notes to force you to play something melodic, rather than a scalar line.
Let’s move the whole thing to another part of the neck:
What you can see here is a 1st Inversion (major/minor) triad with the same options as before. The great thing here is that the positioning of the notes will force you to come up with different licks than you did with the other pattern.
If you’re finding this useful, here’s the 2nd Inversion pattern to practice with:
By now your ear should be latching on to how to blend major and minor sounds in a blues, and you’ll find that when you return to the bigger patterns, this stuff will start to show up in your playing.
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-My Blues Improvisation Practice Routine (Part 1)