IN THE WOODSHED
Expand your Pentatonics and make your Minor blues playing sound a whole lot tastier by ‘playing the changes’. Charlie Griffiths is your guide.
Charlie Griffiths goes down the the shed to discover the merits of ‘playing the changes’ in a Minor 12-bar blues progression.
When playing over a blues the first approach we all take is to jam over the whole thing using the first position of a Minor Pentatonic scale (1-b3-4-5-b7). While this is an excellent scale for the job and a source of much inspiration, there inevitably comes a time when we start to feel a bit stuck in a rut, and lacking in fresh ideas. When this happens it’s always good to take a different view. And so...
In this lesson we will play over a simple Minor 12-bar blues with a view to ‘playing the changes’. This essentially means playing a different scale over each chord. Being that we have three different chords: Am7, Dm7 and Em7, we also need three different scales. To this end we’ll stick with Minor Pentatonic scales and essentially follow the chords. Play A Minor Pentatonic over Am7, D Minor Pentatonic over Dm7 and E Minor Pentatonic over Em7. This works because the scales contain the same intervals as the chords. Any
1-b3-5-b7, m7 chord contains whereas A Minor
1-b3-4-5-b7 Pentatonic has - that’s the same bunch of intervals, plus a 4th. Using this approach is fantastically melodic as it spells out the chord changes so clearly with mostly chord tones and results in a harmonically sophisticated style of blues, and takes inspiration from melodic players such as Carlos Santana, Robben Ford or Scott Henderson.
In the first example we exercise the mechanics of playing the changes. The idea is to play a constant stream of notes and play one scale per chord, while changing the scale to suit the chord. The first bar is Am7, and therefore you would play A Minor Pentatonic. The next bar is Dm7, over which you would naturally play D Minor Pentatonic. You should aim to change the scale on the downbeat of the chord change.
You will notice that all three scales are played in the same area of neck by using first position, fourth position and third positions of the Minor Pentatonics. Interestingly, if you combine all three of those scales into one you end up with the notes A-B-C-D-E-F-G - the A Natural Minor scale. There are a lot of shared notes between all three scales, so it is a good idea to highlight the differences in order to make the changes clearer. The idea is that if you took away the accompaniment, you should still be able to hear the chord changes. For example compare the notes of A Minor Pentatonic (A-C-D-E-G) with those of D Minor Pentatonic (D-F-G-A-C). Notice that four of the notes remain unchanged (A-CD-G). However, the E note changes to an F, so it stands to reason when playing a solo that you should aim to target F ( chord tone) when the Dm7 chord comes around. Similarly, the E Minor Pentatonic has a B (5th chord tone) note that isn’t present in the other two scales, so that’s a good one to aim for when tackling the Em7 chord. It’s so easy but so many players don’t do it.
We’ve prepared a solo for you using this approach, so try learning it note for note while being aware of the chord-scale relationship. Once you have mastered the solo and played it over the backing track, why not improvise your own solo using this same approach.
Don’t ignore the chord tones; use them to sound great!