In The Woodshed
Playing the changes will expand your Pentatonic position playing and make your blues sound more sophisticated, says Charlie Griffiths.
Last month we discovered that ‘playing the changes’ over a Minor blues can yield a more sophisticated sound and generate more musical ideas than the typical approach of jamming over the whole thing using the first position of our favourite Minor Pentatonic scale.
In this lesson we will use the same approach and play over a simple Major 12-bar blues with a view to playing a different scale over each chord. Our blues progression has three different chords: A7-D7-E7, so we will also need three different scales. The chords in a Major blues are typically Dominant 7th,
1-3-5-b7. which has the intervals For the purposes of our exercise we will stick with the Major Pentatonic scale, which has the intervals 1-2-3-5-6. Both the chord and scale share the notes of a major triad (1-3-5), so the Major Pentatonic is a good way of melodically outlining the ‘core’ sound of the chord while the Major 2nd and 6th are fantastic intervallic additions to the melodic melting pot, bringing to mind players like Eric Johnson and Joe Bonamassa.
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 A7, therefore you would play A Major Pentatonic. The next bar is D7 over which you would play D Major Pentatonic. You should change the scale on the downbeat of the chord change and aim to go to the nearest available note of the new scale. This will provide a smooth melodic effect, rather than the disjointed (and predictable) sound that always starting on the root note would produce.
Notice that all three scales are played in the same area of neck by using first position, fourth position and third positions of the Major Pentatonics. The interesting thing is; if you combine all three of those positions into one position you end up with the notes A-B-C#-D-E-F#-G# or, in other words, the A Major scale. There are also a lot of shared notes between all three Pentatonic scales, so it is a good idea to highlight the differences between them in order to make the chord changes more powerful. For example, compare the notes of A Major Pentatonic (A-B-C#-E-F#) with those of D Major Pentatonic (D-E-F#-A-B). Notice that four of the notes remain unchanged (A-B-E-F#). The C# note however changes to a D, so aim to target the D when the D7 chord comes around. Similarly the E Major Pentatonic has a G# that isn’t present in the other two scales, so that’s a good note to save up for the E7 chord (try bending up to it - it sounds great!).
We’ve prepared a solo for you using this ‘one scale per chord’ approach, so try learning it note for note while being aware of the chord-to-scale relationship. Once you have mastered the solo and played it over the backing track, try improvising one of your own using this same approach.
The hammeron doublestop in bar 11 of Example 2