Playin' the blues.

May 2, 2010 at 03:04 PM ·

Hello, I am a beginner violinist. What are some recommended steps that can aid me in playing some jazzy blues. Or some bluesy jazz. Whichever you prefer!

Replies (44)

May 2, 2010 at 04:50 PM ·

A blues scale consists of

  • the root (first note of the scale)
  • lowered (minor) 3rd (no 2nd scale step)
  • the 4th
  • lowered 5th
  • natural 5th
  • lowered 7th (no 6th step)
  • root (octave higher)

    So, for example, a blues scale in C would be:

    C - E flat - F - G flat - G natural - B flat - C

    A blues scale has seven notes and includes a flatted 3rd, 5th and 7th. These three flatted notes are often referred to as "blue notes." See: Essentials of Music Theory: Complete Self-Study Course, p. 111.

May 2, 2010 at 07:23 PM ·

Slide into and out of the blue notes.

May 2, 2010 at 08:45 PM ·

The scale described above, without the b5, is called a pentatonic (5 tone) minor scale.  It's the scale used, often with the addition of the b5, by most blues guitarists and will yield that raunchy chicago/delta style bluesy sound.

Violinists often use the relative MAJOR pentatonic scale when they play blues-- same notes but starting on the second note of the minor pentatonic.  Now the scale degrees are 1-2-3-5-6, skipping the 4th and 7th notes of the major scale.  It should sound like the Temptations "my girl".  You can add the "blue note" with this scale, but now it functions as a b3 and the chromatic portion of the scale is 2-b3-3.  Use of this scale when improvising yields a more jazzy, country blues sound.

The thing to remember about blues is that the accompaniment can, and often does, consist of nothing but dominant (7th) chords, which combine a major 3rd with a minor 7th.  So, soloists can get away with playing what is essentially a minor melodic line over a chord containing a major third.

Now learn the standard 12 bar blues progression (4 bars of I, 2 bars of IV, 2 bars of I, 1 bar each V, IV I, V then repeat) and practice playing with a shuffle/swing rhythm and you're on your way.  Jam along with your favorite blues song until you're comfortable and then go sit in at the  open jam night at the closest blues bar.

There ya go, the blues in a nutshell.

May 2, 2010 at 09:45 PM ·

Wow, reading that gives ME a headache.  So here is a beginner level exercise for playing the blues, a practical application of the above information:

The first part involves recording a simple blues rhythm part, it's also a good beginner bowing/double stop exercise.  The basic rhythm part is going to be either a double stop of open D and  A, open A and E, or open G and D.  I'll call these respectively a D chord, A chord, and G chord. 

The part is 12 measures long and the rhythm for each measure is composed of a shuffle pattern of down-up-down-up-down-up-down-up.  Each down bow should last almost twice as long as each up bow, yielding a basic bluesy sounding rhythm part.

Okay, here's what you will record yourself playing:

4 measures of the D chord (open D and  A double stops)

2 measures of the G chord (G and D strings)

2 more measures of the D chord

1 measure of the A chord (A and E), 1 of G chord, 1 measure of D chord, 1 measure of A chord.

Repeat at least 3 times, ending on a measure of D chord instead of A chord.  This is a very simplified version of  the 12 bar blues progression and most blues songs follow this in one key or another.

Now, the point of making this recording is so you can practice playing bluesy solos over it.  Play back the recording and experiment with simple, repeated 3, 4, or 5 note patterns using one of the 2 pentatonic scales.

So, start with the minor pentatonic scale.   In this case use the following notes: Open D- F-G--Open A-C-D. (This would be open D, low 2nd, 3rd, open A low 2nd, 3rd in fingering parlance).   When you can come up with some cool sounding riffs, add the G#/Ab (High d3/Low d4) and experiment some more.  This scale should sound like BB King or Muddy Waters.

Experiment also with the Major pentatonic using the same recording: D-E-F#-A-B-D, adding an F natural when you are comfortable.  This will sound more like Stepan Grappelli, or maybe the Allman Brothers.

Experienced blues violinists will combine riffs using both of these scales and also use a lot of raunchy slides in and out of the blue notes and double stops. 

Hope this is less confusing than my previous reply.


May 2, 2010 at 09:49 PM ·

Are not the "blue notes" an attempt, on an instrument, to mirror the sliding vocal configurations of the music of the Mississippi delta?  In other words, you can't play in the cracks on a piano --though the violin is more accommodating in that regard?

May 2, 2010 at 10:11 PM ·

Don't know about the blue notes, Connie, but all the sliding and bending of guitar and violin strings, harmonica and saxophone reeds, as well as playing half steps simultaneously on the piano definitely emulate that snaky vocal styling.  I do know that pentatonic scales are the norm in Africa as well as in Asia and among Native American music.  Also, the black keys on the piano make a pentatonic scale and there used to be a whole bunch of blues pianists who were "black key" players and never touched the white keys.

As far as blue notes go, I think that term is used differently depending on where you learned the blues.  I think of the blue note as only being that chromatic passing note that is a b5 in the minor pentatonic, or the b3 in the major pentatonic.  Those two notes definitely work like a vocal slide into a chord-tone.

May 2, 2010 at 11:05 PM ·

I look at it the same way as Randy. the blue note is the flat 5 added to the minor pentatonic and the flat 3 added to the major pentatonic. That's what I meant about slide the blue notes. A guitar player would bend the string for this effect, a violin player must slide it. This is job 1 for blues on the violin IMHO. Same kinda principal applies to Swing.

But there is so much more for blues. Dorian & Mixolydian modes, whole tone & diminshed scales, lots of stuff. Hafta be careful though, dont want to get it too jazzy ha ha.

Here's one of my favorite tricks: 12 bar blues key of A. Play a two octave, A minor 6th arppeggio over the 4 chord (which would be the D chord)

When anyone starts talkin' bluesviolin, I get excited.


May 3, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

double post

May 3, 2010 at 10:52 AM ·

Yes, Randy is on the money - but I would like to add a little.

First off, the core scale is that minor pentatonic as Randy said. True blues sticks to that same scale over all three chords. You don't change with the chords. If we are playing blues in E, that means we have E dom A dom and B dom - you play E min pent over the lot. The whole point is how that scale sounds different over each chord.

As for the b5, that is there to make an assymetrical five note scale sit well over a beat so if you play a scale down in quavers, you land on the root. No extra sixth note, and you miss the beat. You end on an "and".

Also, you can add that extra semitone any where. Could be a b3,  b6, a maj seventh or a b2 as well.

BUT you don't sit on one of those notes - you only stay on the tones from the core minor pentatonic. Those added notes are pasing notes to get you to core notes. You can, however sit on a blue note - one is the flat third against the major third of the dominant chord, Note that it is part of that core scale, not an added note.

Then again, you can do what you want.


May 3, 2010 at 12:19 PM ·

Let's analyse this a bit further:-

Blues in E. The scale is E GAB D.

The first chord is E dom 7 : E G# B D

Straight away you can see the G and the A of the scale give semitone clashes with the G# of the chord. No problem - that's the blues.

Next chord A dom 7 : A C# E G

Now we have the  D clashing with the C#.

Finally the B 7 gives us B D# F# and A. Our semitone clashes are now E and D with D#, and G with F#.

These clashes are what give the blues its distinctive harmonic tension and these are the blue notes. These blue notes are what we bend to increase that feeling.



May 3, 2010 at 04:04 PM ·

Graham; I think you know by now that my thinking can get rather stuck in modes, none the less I will press on. Still in the key of E, what then do you think of running an A maj. scale over the I chord and the D maj scale over the IV chord? Obviously starting ending and emphasizing the mode notes.

This may not be "true" blues anymore, but I sure think it's a great variation/addition to the blues scale. And also your 1234 - 6 combination finger patterns would work well with the full mode scales.

May 3, 2010 at 04:11 PM ·

As I said, you can do what you like.

Still, on my first trip to the US, I went to a blues bar in Kansas City, Missouri where there was a jam session, and I sat in. It all went very well, and I was asked to stay on stage for three songs.

At the end of the night, one of the house band came to talk to me, and asked what I normally did. I told him, "Jazz, mainly."

"Ah, thought so. You changed scale with the chords. We don't."

And that was that. A bluesman stays on one scale (with chromatic additions) A jazzer makes the changes. It's up to you which you want to be on any given night.



May 3, 2010 at 05:11 PM ·

Graham's right, most "blues bar" type American blues stick to the minor pentatonic mostly-- though most guitarists also play some riffs that blend in other modes, but they probably wouldn't think of it that way-- it's just a cool riff that goes over the turnaround.

Dave, you're asking about playing the mixolydian scale over the changes, which is pretty standard jazzy blues stuff, so probably of interest to Kevin re. his initial question. 

Kevin, what these guys (and me) are talking about is probably gobbledy-gook to you.  A simple way to demonstrate the different types of blues playing (jazzy vs. down home blues)  is to do the exercise above, but once you have gotten good at the second, MAJOR pentatonic pattern (in this case, the fingering from low to high notes will be: open, 1st, high 2nd, open 1st, 3rd) try changing on which open string you start the scale so it is the same as the lower string in the double stop in the rhythm part.  This note is called the "root" of the chord and what you are doing now is changing the scale you play so it matches the root of the chord.  Or, in jazz language, you are following the changes.  If you compare this with the first exercise that uses only the minor pentatonic scale over the entire chord progression, it will be obviously more jazzy.

When Dave talks about playing modes, he is talking about adding another layer of complexity, and two more notes, to each scale as you follow the changes.  Don't worry about that until you can do the pentatonic scales well.

Good luck Kevin, feel free to contact me for clarification.



May 3, 2010 at 05:16 PM ·

Graham; a very interesting (and humorous) anecdote. Point taken.

But I imagine we have a lower level of blues bar jams here than in Kansas. We pretty much get 3 songs as standard procedure. Or, you really hafta suck to get yanked before that, although I've seen it happen. You know you're doing well if you get asked up with the next set of players.

Kevin...sorry, don't mean to go over your head (as per Randy's good advice) or hijack the thread. Just having a bit of fun, that's all.

May 6, 2010 at 02:53 AM ·

 There's TONS of examples where the major pentatonic or major blues scale is used.  You just can't use it against the IV chord.

in a basic progression using I, IV and V, or I7 IV7 V7:

You can play minor pentatonic or minor blues or dorian across the entire progression (all three chords)

WIth the I or I7 chord you can also play the major pentatonic, major blues or mixolydian in addition to the minor pent, minor blues or dorian.  

With the V or V7 chord you can play all of the above plus the mixolydian scale, major pent/major blues built on the V.  The Mixolydian of the V is the same as the Major of the I.

So in the E blues mentioned before:

E or E7:  E minor pent or E minor blues or  E dorian;  E major pent or E major blues or E            Mixolydian 

A or A7:  E minor pent or E minor blues or dorian; 

B or B7:  E minor pent or E minor blues or  E dorian;  E major pent or E major blues or E            Mixolydian;  B Major Pent or B Major Blues or B Mixolydian (E Major)

You can probably play A  major Pent/A major blues with the A7 chord as well as what's already listed.  

There are really a lot of possibilities--just don't play a G# against the A chord, esp. if the 7th is present (G natural).  A melodic flatted third works against a harmonic major 3rd, but the opposite sounds horrible to most people.


May 6, 2010 at 04:33 AM ·

Mike; this was SO self gratifying to read your post because every thing you mentioned is pretty much where I'm at with the blues at this point. Honestly, I was mentally checking off every line, yes I can do that, yes I can do that... Not bragging or anything, really, but I've been hammering away at everything you mentioned for the past 3 years, without anyone to talk to about it or identify with. In fact I was going to try and explain all this on this thread, but I had it so muddled up I just gave up. Sometimes I thought I was just  imagining all this until right now when I read your post. I think I may have had a blues epiphony! Trying not to sound like too much of a "whacko" but this has pretty much validated the past 3 or 4 years of my life as far as I'm concerned. "Thanks" is insufficient.


May 6, 2010 at 10:16 AM ·


Some great advice above, but also rather academic. Based on my personal experience I would strongly advise:

1) Get some inspiring recordings

2) Get some slow-down software (Transcribe! by Seventh String Software is a good option)

3) Listen to the music, slowed down. Imitate and gradually speed up. Your own style will develop naturally as you feel your way into the idiom

4) Find some players in your area who are a bit better than you and play with them as often as possible

5) Take a look at the many multimedia tutors out there and choose one or two to work through.

6) Learn to improvise and play by ear - don't get dependent on the dots...

Yes, you have to think technically about scales and progressions. But it's more important to get a feel for the music by ear, so I would advise you to mainly learn by listening, not by reading.

Well - it worked for me...


May 6, 2010 at 11:10 AM ·

I think of blues as rythmn and vocals, quite different from each other. Bowing rythmn can include percussive techniques, staccato while lifting or dropping the bow and playing "chords" double stops. Practicing chord changes in different keys, the 1, 4, 5, flatted 7 chords- and finding the basic "sound" notes which counter each chord defines the blues. I'm trying to describe the common sound of blues, how either one or two notes augment the 1 4 and 5 chords. The seven chord is not augmented, it's a passing chord back to the one or up to the 4. But I'm already getting more technical than I wanted. My point is that blues is rhythmn based, and must be played with every ounce of conviction you can muster. All the scales and blue notes begin from your double stop shapes. Explore! Learn a few licks, turnarounds, endings, walkdowns, shuffle bowing patterns, and transpose them in every key. Bluegrass mandolin charts may help. 

Call and response is fun to practice, try playing chords, singing a phrase, and playing that phrase  back with your fiddle. Now you got the blues...


May 6, 2010 at 01:41 PM ·

Geoff; I'm up for a bit of a debate on some of your points. I agree with many of them and I'm not trying to split hairs. But if you just go by ear, feel, listening to blues music etc. and neglect blues "theory" like the basic things Mike was saying, then you may end up without any solid basis or good understanding of what you are doing.

Now then, having said that,  this would probably apply to a more advanced player rather than a beginner. But I think blues theory is very important, and I guess that's the point I'm trying to make. Just as I think that playing jazz would be next to impossible without sufficient theory.

Anyways, that was my experience. I found it frustrating just learning licks and riffs without really understanding where they were coming from.

May 6, 2010 at 03:18 PM ·

Listen, listen, listen.  It sounds as though you're not a long-time blues fan, haven't listened enough to internalize the style, and unless you do it will always be academic, not natural.  There's a decent body of blues fiddle: Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Anthony, Clifford Hayes, the Mississippi Sheiks, for a start.  But you need to get at the guitar and song repertoire, which is in many ways the heart of the tradition.  Slide guitar playing especially expresses that basic tonal and melodic feel that you need to know.  Early is pretty much always better than late.  Robert Johnson will inevitably turn up; but go to Blind Willie Johnson and Charlier Patten for the wild edge the music has.  Muddy Watters early on recorded solidly interesting material, taking advantage of the electric instruments.  Blues recordings by early jazz players work, too; Johnny Dodds, the clarinet player, is a particular favorite of mine, along with George Lewis.  You may want to play the music; but you also have a wonderful opportunity to hear a whole body of music you may not be familiar with.

May 6, 2010 at 08:33 PM ·

David: yes, you've got my number. I've always put more time into practicing than listening. But I've always liked the blues, but most of my listening is when and where it conveniently comes along. Perhaps part of my problem is that I've had a couple of sequencers to play to for quite a few years so I'm always playing over them and not listening to a lot of blues music. I know this quite likely counter productive in many areas. I admit it! Maybe now that I have a reasonable grasp on theory (I hope), I can and should do more listening.

Thanks for the advice.

May 7, 2010 at 12:00 PM ·

Dave (Snow)

I don't think we're disagreeing here - perhaps I didn't express myself clearly enough. A basic understanding of the theory is a given, though for anyone with a musical background blues theory is not too challenging, I feel. (Now jazz - that's another matter!). But in the end listening to better musicians, and playing with them, is surely the only way to internalise the idiom?

May 7, 2010 at 12:19 PM ·

And that is why I advocate playing along with records rather than "playalongs".

Playing with just a backing track/looper/sequencer allows you to discover all kinds of things, but you won't be relating to another frontline. If you play along with a normal recording, what you do has to fit with what they do, and what they do, you will learn and absorb.

Even playing with another musician won't normally give you that kind of insight, because they may also react to what you are doing. Also, you can't  usually make them repeat the same section exactly the same way to find out what they did, or what you could do to relate to that. It is different in a formal lesson, but as part of a jam, you can't.

In the end, if we get any good, we just play what we hear, without concerning ourselves what scale it is, or what mode, just as we never ask ourselves what grammatical structure we need to make a statement or ask a question. We just say what we have to say, and play what we have to play.







May 7, 2010 at 12:48 PM ·

For a beginner the first step I  recommend would be to learn how to play the violin well. 

I suppose that depends, if you wanna sound like Jean Luc Ponty or Papa John Creech.

May 7, 2010 at 01:31 PM ·

This is all great dialouge, I love it!

But Geoff..."blues theory not too challengeing?" well I guess so, but it certainly took me long enough to work thru a list like Mike Harris posted. I suppose if someone would have just shown me, it would have been a fraction of the time. But I guess that's my fault for not seeking someone out. "Jazz is a different story" - YES.

And also yes for playing with recordings. Time to unplug my sequencer and buy some cd's, although I'm a bit broke at the moment from picking up a Simon Jozsef. But I know what Graham is saying about playing beyond (just thinking it out in scales and modes etc. etc.) I do get glimpses of that.

As for Ponty & Papa John, I listened to Papa with Jefferson Starship & Hot Tuna back in my hippie days. But I played along with Ponty (or tried to) and not much else for about 5 years when I was first learning. No doubt that's why I'm so scale/mode oriented. Obviously Ponty does so much more than that, especially with his right hand... another weak spot of mine.

Well, once again, I've taken up my share of discussion board space...

May 8, 2010 at 03:38 PM ·

Hi folks

As for playing with recordings vs playing with other musicians, in my experience they are both important.

Once I reached the point of basic competence, playing sessions a couple of times a week with better musicians has transformed my playing.

Graham - I understand what you say about recordings being controllable and repeatable, and that has its uses, for sure.

But in the end music is about communication, and there is really no substitute for live interaction with creative, empathic musicians. There are two or three people I play with who are very inspiring - when we solo together I often find things take off in exciting directions and I catch myself doing things I would never achieve in the practice room with a recording - and certainly not with a sequencer!

So yes, recordings for developing technique and feeling your way into the idiom, but it's playing live with good musicians that adds the zest and brings the whole thing to life!

May 8, 2010 at 11:24 PM ·

re: "certainly not with a sequencer"

With all respect, I now feel I must defend sequencers just a little bit. In the 3 years I put in at the blues bar jams around here, my nicknames were either dangerous dave or deadly dave. I could hold my own with all the hot guitar players at these jams. Having said that, there were admittedly not very many blues fiddle players on the circut and most of them were more on the swingy / fiddly side rather than blues.

But how did I get that way...hard work outs with my sequencers! You can quickly and easily vary tempo and style,  and work it all out efficiently thru the main blues guitar keys. You can't do it this way with either records or live.

I see the points to playing with recordings and live music, but I also think there are benefits from sequencer type practicing.

May 9, 2010 at 09:08 AM ·

As I said, I'm not disagreeing that working with a sequencer and with recordings are good ways to learn the basics. I guess my point is that at a certain point you have to start playing with good musicians live or your development is likely to stall.

Personally, I think I played for far too long on my own before I had the confidence to play with others, and now I'm over that hurdle I feel I'm progressing much better. Plus I can perform in public now without falling to pieces...

Though I do think it's important that the people you are playing with are not so much better that they feel you are holding them back. And that they are open to helping newbies get established, rather than resenting them. The people I play with are mostly very supportive and forgiving of the odd lapse.

Another point that strikes me - a problem with the fiddle is that it's such an absurdly difficult instrument technically. So a newbie to any style of music has to struggle with learning both the idiom and the technique at the same time. I didn't plan it this way, but I got going on a less tricky instrument which made it easier to develop a bit of an ear for the music. So now I'm working up my fiddling I at least know what I'm aiming at musically, even if I'm not yet able to achieve it very often...

May 9, 2010 at 02:46 PM ·

Thank you for the reply Geoff. Going to these bar jams picked my playing up several notches and I would highly recommend it to anyone. It was a great group of both audience and musicians, many of them very talented. And a wonderful sense of commraderie. Musicians at lower skill levels are welcomed, applauded and encouraged. It takes guts to take that stage. But it's a real rush when you reach the 11 bar mark and the front man points to you for a solo. And for those who can't start or join a working group for whatever reason (and there are many) it's a great outlet and possibly the only outlet for performing for many people. It certainly does stretch you.

Some of the best times of my life were at these jams. I don't go to near as many or as often anymore because the down side can be sitting in a bar for 2,3,4 hours with the posiibility of only getting up once for 3 songs. Good point about having to learn both the Idiom and the technique. It ain't easy, at least I've never found it to be easy.

May 10, 2010 at 12:54 AM ·

Playing the blues is meant to be easy. Like GC said you only really need to know the minor pentatonic scale and make it talk. But I suppose it depends on whether you expect yourself to sound like Jean Luc or you may be happy playing like Papa John. 

May 10, 2010 at 04:26 AM ·

That was very well put Henry "making the minor pentatonic scale talk". I'll remember that phraise for a long while, I'm sure. Perhaps that's what defines a real bluesman. Maybe those of us who can't make it talk as well as they, try to cover ourselves with adding the other stuff.  But with all my talk about the blues jams... I went down to one today to show off my new fiddle to Mississippi Mike, Rim Shot Ricky and Side Show Bob. Haven't been to one in quite a while, but walking in and hearing that blues jammin' made me want to go back home and grab my barcus berry and amp.

Speaking of Ponty, the last of 4 late 70's Ponty cd's that I had on order just arrived a couple of days ago.

May 10, 2010 at 04:26 PM ·


The above advice about blues scales and play alongs is all good. If your question is really - I want to learn to improvise and I'm starting in the blues, then there are some other aspects to work on.  I posted the following on another discussion thread, but I'll repeat it here, in case your real interest is or turns out to become learning to improvise on the violin - in any style of music.  Here goes.

I play jazz and blues violin, but also practice classical for technique development.  Improvisation has its own set of techniques - both physical and especially mental.  The advice to "play by ear" will take you a ways, but understand that today's professional jazz, fiddling, and rock violin performers have skills that go far beyond "play by ear". The same is true of professional or top amateur improvisers on any other instrument.  Get instruction from an improv teacher on any instrument if you want to get really good. Some basic improv skills include: 1. play the notes of any 7th arpeggio in any order in all keys in various rhythms at a moderately fast tempo. The 7th arpeggio notes define the chords and the chord changes, and you need this skill to propel the music forward in solos.  2. do the above and insert augmented chord notes - aug 4, aug 5, min 9. 3. transpose a 2 bar (later 4 bar) motif from one chord to another chord in real time while playing at a moderately fast tempo.  4. hear a rhythm pattern and play that rhythm across 2 or 3 chord changes. The intervals between notes can be the same or can be different, but the rhythm stays the same and you play inside the changing chords.  When you can do these kinds of things, you're at an intermediate level and can work on expanding vocabulary, styles, shapes of solos, using melody fragments, using standard riffs from the genre you are playing in,  etc. to move to higher levels.  As you can see, the technique is challenging, if you want to get good.  An interesting thought is that all this applies if one wants to do Baroque improvisation on Bach pieces.  I sat in on a few of Paul O'Dette's Eastman School lectures on Baroque performance styles, and I heard a lot of the above - just expressed differently.

The violin presents some unique power and unique challenges because the fingerboard. Power comes from interesting tonal changes. The challenge is deciding "which note, which string, which position, which finger" in real time.  This cannot be thought through in real time, so you have to learn arpeggio and scale patterns in several positions in all 12 keys.  I wrote an exercise book that can help with this challenge, plus teach rhythm, transposing in real time, etc. that I mentioned above.  Click here for more information

In the end, it comes down to how good do you want to get.  The more you put in,  the further you go - like anything else.  But if you hang around professional improvisers or college students of improvising, you will see that they have a tremendous amount of specific technique because that's what it takes now to be playing regularly at just an experienced amateur level - let alone at a professional career level.

Whatever level you choose to play at,  enjoy.

May 10, 2010 at 06:23 PM ·

Henry's right on about playing the blues, especially if you want to play electric blues jam type of blues.  All you need is the minor pentatonic, a blue note, and a tasteful major 3 every so often and you'll be playing the same notes that Muddy, Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins and BB played.

If you want to sound like Brownie McGhee, Blind Lemon, Blind Boy Fuller or play the Boogie Woogie blues you better learn the Major Pentatonic Scale as well. This is also true of playing the main rhythm parts and fills in all blues.  Other than that. all you need is a deep familiarity with the music of the greats, a lot of attitude, a bourbon, a beer and plenty of reckless abandon.

If you find yourself thinking about modes and 7th arpeggios while you're taking your solo  break, you're probably a great musician but you aint playing the blues anymore.

May 10, 2010 at 07:59 PM ·

Hello Randy; I agree with what you and Henry say, no argument there. But for me, this discussion has brought me more into focus on what I want to do. I'm fascinated with the way jazz works and would love to be able to play more than the littlle I can. I'd probably just as soon listen to blues over jazz, but anyways, just emailed Mike a little while ago about ordering his book. But either blues or Jazz, it's great to play it on a violin!

May 10, 2010 at 08:23 PM ·

 Looks like a good book--I'd like to see it some time.

I have no quibble with the primitive approach--my favorite blues is the one man/one guitar stuff from the 20's and 30's, though I do love the electric blues of the 50's and 60's, including some of the British guitar players (esp. Peter Green).

I do think you'll find those old guys don't totally avoid the 2nd and 6th degrees, so if you don't know where those tones are in relation to your tonic, what are you going to do?  Yes, my favorite players rely more heavily on the pentatonic and blues scales than on the modal approach, but they do use the latter so I advise you get to know it.  You can even catch T-Bone Walker, for one, using more complicated synthetic modes more commonly associated with jazz.  What you do with all this is up to you, but it's handy to have a pretty large tonal vocabulary even if you don't play "just this side of jazz."




May 11, 2010 at 01:58 AM ·

If you want to hear real blues on the violin, check this David Laflamme  YouTube clip out.

May 12, 2010 at 07:20 PM ·

RandyM, GrahamC, MikeH,  DaveS, HenryB:

I don't know if this is asking for too much. Would you mind summarizing this information in a "blues for dummies" style summary starting with the simple and proceeding to the more complex? Thanks.

May 13, 2010 at 12:35 AM ·

The simplest version is just use the minor pentatonic for whichever blues key you are.

So, in an E blues just play a E min pentatonic all the way through.

Once  you get that in your head, you can add passing chromatic notes such as the b5, but don't linger on it.

That's all I ever do on the blues. Of course none of this scale stuff tells you what  to do really - there's no phrasing here.

Must put up a You tube vid...






May 13, 2010 at 05:03 AM ·

Hey VJ, I agree with Graham.   If you read my second post on this thread it lays out a good starting place in the key of D.  If you don't feel like recording a backing track to play with, there are tons of play-along backing tracks on youtube, start with this one that I found:

It is a fairly straightforward, albeit cheesy, version of BB King's "How Blue Can You Get"

Start by improvising with the D minor Pentatonic Scale (D, F, G, A, C, D) over the whole tune.  Later, as Graham says, add the Blue Note (Ab).  Try listening to BB's version and copying some of his licks.  It may be useful to think of the time signature as 12/8 time rather than 4/4 (that is, 4 groups of triplets per measure).

Once you get comfortable with that, try it in different keys,E and A are very common, and at different tempos.  Trust me, you can spend years getting good at playing the blues with just this scale. 

BTW, I think the chord progression on the video is the standard 12 bar blues with the quick change in measure 2. Roman numerals indicate generic chords symbols ie. I is tonic V7 is dominant seventh etc:





May 13, 2010 at 05:46 AM ·

Thanks, RandyM and GrahamC.

I tried playing the jazz violin piece, "Just A Closer Walk" from Mel Bay Jazz Violin Studies by Usher Abell, especially the dotted eighths (that are written without the dots) and I had a tough time and, eventually, gave up. My sense of rhythm is also to blame, I think. Which is why I wanted this distilled into something I can easily understand and tackle in small increments. In the meantime, I've also purchased a chart that lays out the Nashville System, so I can figure out the I, IV, etc., in various keys at a glance.

Thanks for the backing track, "Guitar Backing Track Blues in D Minor".



May 13, 2010 at 08:39 AM ·

Your welcome VJ, have fun.

BTW, that Youtube video is labeled wrong.  Even though you will be improvising in D minor pentatonic, they should have labeled the video as "blues in D MAJOR".  The accompaniment is all major chords;  minor blues is another thing entirely.

Also, try to stick to triplets and quarter notes when you improvise to start with.  Don't worry about trying to swing the eighth notes like you would for jazz for this type of blues music.  Listen to the bass line to get the idea of the blues "shuffle" feel.

May 14, 2010 at 04:31 PM ·

 I agree with the posts immediately above regarding pentatonic minor.  I think you could go to the minor blues scale relatively quickly.

I disagree regarding the #4/b5 "blue note."  I don't think of it as a passing tone exclusively.  It works well as a neighbor tone and can be approached directly by leap, but usually will resolve by half step.  It doesn't always have to go "4--#4-5" or "5-b5-4," which is the nature of passing tones.


May 14, 2010 at 05:12 PM ·

We mean different things by "passing tone", Mike.

Maybe I should have said "secondary". "Neighbour tone" is nice.

It wouldn't usually be used as a note to stay on. You would resolve it.

Unless you wanted to stay on it, of course, and leave it unresolved for a while.


May 14, 2010 at 07:31 PM ·

Thanks, everyone.

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