L3: 3rd Position Blues

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The following screen shots of UkeBuddy.com’s scale finder show the C major pentatonic, C minor pentatonic and C blues scales. Each of these scales can be used freely in conjunction with a 12-Bar Blues chord progression in C (in other words, there are no wrong notes in any of these scales when playing improvisatorily against this chord progression). In this section we’ll be focussing on 3rd position, assigning your four fretting fingers to the area between the 3rd and 6th frets. You can still include notes from outside this box, but the 3rd-6th frets will be your home base. Once again, you may ignore the 4th string entirely if you choose, since it repeats the notes available on the 1st and 2nd strings.

C maj pent

C min pent

C blues

In a blues context, if you ever feel like you’ve hit a ‘wrong’ note when improvising on these scales, just remember you’re only a note away from a ‘right’ one. Take the opportunity to milk the dissonance as ‘bluesy’ or slide up (slide down, hammer on, pull off, etc.) to the next note in the scale. As long as you keep a straight face (or even better, maintain a slightly pained expression all the time), no one will know it wasn’t intentional.

CHALLENGE

Earn your Soloing Level 3 patch by demonstrating 3 of the following:

  • After printing out some staff/tab paper (pdf), write out the combined C major pentatonic/minor pentatonic/blues scales up to the 6th fret as one scale. Write the appropriate fret numbers on the tab below the staff (numbers need only appear on strings 1, 2 & 3).
  • Play this scale up to the 6th fret from the bottom note to the top and then from the top note to the bottom. Tempo (speed) does not matter, but keep a steady beat.
  • Write a 12-bar blues melody in 4/4 time using the notes from the C minor pentatonic scale. You may use half, quarter and eighth notes freely, but only two whole notes. Work on this until you’re sure you like it. Keeping a steady beat, play your composition.
  • Record/video an improvisation using this scale over a 12-bar blues progression in C. You may use a backing track, like this one, or have a friend play the chords for you to improvise over (they should be able to maintain a steady beat).

The Extra Mile

A different school of thought on blues improvisation feels you’ll get more musical results by using two blues scales in tandem with each other, rather than combining them into one scale. To improvise using this method you’ll need to know the blues scale for the key your song is in (in our case C) as well as the relative minor blues key (in our case A). Simply switch back and forth between these scales, playing one phase in one and then another phase in the other (or several phrases in one and then one or more phrases in the other, etc.). Use the above referenced backing track, or try it with a slow blues track instead or see the video playlist at the bottom of the page featuring nine different C blues backing tracks. Here are the two scales . . .

C blues

A blues