Blue Notes

author: UG Team date: 07/31/2003 category: guitar techniques
rating: 7.3 / votes: 6 
If you read my previous lesson on the blues scale, you will remember that the blues-tonality is unstable and unsettled, because you play a minor of scale over major chords. You should also remember that one and a half steps up from the root gives you a minor third, and two steps up from the root gives you a major third. I will also remind you of the VII note, where you have the VIIb note in the blues scale, but a VII note in the major scale and in the chords. The third and the seventh notes are the two most important "blue notes". You can drift from minor third to major third and back, and from minor seventh to major seventh. You can do it with a hammer on (and an optional pull-off), or by bending the strings. [editor's note - the notation below represents hammer on as 'h' and a pull off as 'p'. Refer to the description following the lesson for details regarding these techniques] Without proper graphics, it is hard to illustrate string-bending. But the point is to push or pull the string across the fingerbord, and by that raise the pitch. On the upper 2 - 3 (E B G) strings one would usually push, and pull on the lower (D A E) strings. You can bend the string up one half note, a whole note or even more. Lighter strings make string-bending easier, but it is also a question of strength and technique. Use your third finger, and support it with first and second finger. If you make a long stretch, you can push the string under adjacent strings, lifting them away with your left hand fingers. Listen to the effect of the blue-notes. You should also listen to the flatted fifth, the third of the "blue notes." Practice string bending in the box-positions. Bend IIIb up to III, IV up to V, Vb up to V, VIIb up to VII and VIIb up to I. The 6th Note. The 6th note is an effective note in an introduction. It gives a lick a kick-off, and you have to go on. The 6th is one note (two frets) up from the 5th, or one half note (one fret) down from the minor 7th. Compare the following two licks, both played in E using an open E chord position:
    ___3___      ( tie )
    |   | |      |     |
|---------0------|-----|-------------------
|---0 h 3--------5-----5-------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------

     ___3___     ( tie ) 
    |   |  |     |     |
|---------0------|-----|------------------- 
|---0 h 2--------5-----5-------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
The only difference is that you play the minor (or flatted) 7th on the 3rd fret, 2nd string in the first lick; and the 6th on 2nd fret, 2nd string in the second lick. Listen carefully, and notice how the music is put to rest on the I note (E) in the first lick, and how the 6th in the 2nd lick will push you forward. You should also notice the doubling of the I note, when it is first played on open 1st string, and then on the 5th fret, 2nd string. Let us then play the same kind of lick in A, and add a quick slide from the minor to major third in the opening. A note in () means a grace note:
      ___3__ 
             |   |   |
|------------------5----------------------
|------------5---7-------(8)-s-10---------
|---(5)-s-6-------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
Listen once again to the effect when you play the 7b instead of the 6th:
     ___3__ 
            |   |   |
|------------------5----------------------
|------------5--8-------(8)-s-10---------- 
|---(5)-s-6-------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
I have indicated a slide from the 8th to the 10th fret on the 2nd string. You should also try to bend the tone one whole step up from the 8th fret. You will then start at a 7b (G) and bend it up to the root (A). Listen to B. B. King. He often uses intros like that. We will end our short exploration of the 6th with a third lick, now in G:
    b     b
|-----------------6(7)--6(7)--------------
|--------5----8----------------8----------
|----7------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
b This time the note (7) means that you should bend up to the note: Bending in 6th fret (the 3b of the G-scale) up one half step (equals the note on 7th fret), which means bending up to a major 3, before going back to the root. This lick is based on some Lonnie Johnson playing. Once again, we can substitute the 6th with the min7th, and listen to the difference:
    b     b
|-----------------6(7)--6(7)--------------
|--------6----8----------------8----------
|----7------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
In this lick, you should also listen to the effect of the III note. You bend up to it, and then go back to the root. Listen how the same note works around an open-E chord in E:
   ____ 
   |   | 
|--|---|----------------------------------
|--|---|----------------------------------
|--0-h-1----------------------------------
|----------2------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
By going from 3b to 3 and then to the root (1), you establish the root (tonika) chord very solidly. Particularly if you go from the IV chord to the I chord, a little swing from 3b to 3 very clearly underscores that harmonic movement. The 3 note is very dissonant, and will not work with the IV7th chord, so you are telling very clearly that you are "going home" when you use that note. The Flatted Fifth (5b). The last note I will mention, is the flatted fifth. It is also often used on the "way home". Try this simple lick in A:
|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|---------0------------------------------
|---0-h-2-----1-p-0----------------------
|--------------------3---0---------------
|----------------------------------------
And compare it to one without the flatted fifth:
|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|---------0------------------------------
|---0-h-2-----2-p-0----------------------
|--------------------3---0---------------
|----------------------------------------
I will end this lesson with another lick with a flatted fifth. This is also played in A, and can be connected to the B. B. King like A-intro:
|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|------10-8------------------------------
|-----------9---(7)h8-7------------------
|-----------------------10---7-----------
|----------------------------------------
Techniques: h = hammer-on. You play the first note, then hammer on to the second note with your left hand finger without picking the string. p = pull-off. You play the first note, then pull off the finger fretting the first note, and let the second note ring without picking the string with your right hand. You can either lift your left hand finger right off the string, or you can snap/pick it with the left hand finger that you are pulling off. - Olav Torvund (Olavt@jus.uio.no).
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