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MUSIC THEORY: PART 10 – DISCOVERING NEW SCALES AND HOW TO COMPOSE BLUES
midichords // over 2 years ago //

By Patricia Lomako

If you have read all our posts on music theory you have learned quite a lot about chords - which you can use in your compositions - but we haven’t talked so much about scales. If you think that there are only 2 scales - Major and Minor – then this is really far from the truth. There are actually many different scales in music! You’re not exposed to them on an average day as modern mainstream music mostly sticks to Major and Minor, but there are other scales that are used as well. In this post we will have a closer look at some of them.

We will not talk about traditional 7 note scales, but shorter ones. The first sale that I want to introduce is called Pentatonic Major scale. Before I tell you a bit more about it, let’s get back to our Major scale spelling. As you should already know very well, the scale spelling for this scale is:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8(1)

To create a Pentatonic Major scale, all you need to do, is just to remove the 4th and 7th note. Let’s take a C Major scale as an example which is: C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. To create a Pentatonic Major scale, we need to remove the 4th note - F, and the 7th note - B. As a result we will get:

1   2   3   5   6   8(1)
C  D  E   G   A   C

You can listen to a sample below: 


I am not an expert in World music, but the Pentatonic Major scale has some sort of Chinese sound. How does it sound to you?

You probably wonder what chords can be used over this scale. Well, you can’t create chords based on the Pentatonic Major scale, because you are missing notes. And without them you would end up with a mess. Instead, you can create chord progressions based on an original Major scale, while using the Pentatonic scale more like a MELODY. I hope it makes sense!

You can guess that if there is a Pentatonic Major scale, then there should exist a Pentatonic Minor scale as well. And that’s correct. The method for creating a Pentatonic Minor scale is the same as for the Pentatonic Major scale. The only one difference is that you need to remove other notes from your full Minor scale. For the Pentatonic Minor scale, you need to get rid of the 2nd and 6th note of the original Minor scale. Let’s take an A minor as an example and create an A Pentatonic Minor. Check it out below:

1   b3  4   5   b7   8(1)
A   C    D  E   G    A

And don’t forget to listen to the sample:


Can you hear that it sounds a bit like Blues? The scale can actually be used in blues music, but there is a more obvious one for that music genre: The Blues scale.

Yes you heard correctly. There is a scale which is called a Blues scale. If you listen to the blues, you will always hear the Blues scales in it, simply because Blues would not exist without it. Let me show you how to create a Blues scale first.
 
The first step for creating a Blues scale would be to create a traditional Minor scale. Let’s take a C Minor scale as an example:

1   2   b3  4   5  b6  b7  8(1)
C   D  Eb  F  G  Ab  Bb C

Once we have created a C Minor scale we are ready for creating a C Blues scale. To do that we need to remove a few notes and change the spelling a little bit. Just like for the Pentatonic Minor scale, we will need to remove the 2nd and 6th note. We also need to change the spelling for the 4th note so that it becomes “#4” or “b5” instead of “4”. You can choose which one you want.

1   b3  b5   5   b7  8(1)
C  Eb  Gb  G   Bb  C

If you prefer to use “#4” instead of “b5”, your scale will look this way:

1   b3  #4   5  b7  8(1)
C  Eb  F#  G  Bb  C

Listen to the sample below:


Can you hear that “Bluesy” sound? Now, there is one thing for you to memorize. Just remember, that you are not able to create chords from the Blues scale, the same as you can’t create them based on the Pentatonic Scales. However, there are several rules that apply to Blues music construction. Check out the following:

  1. Some of you may have heard the statement “12 Bar Blues”. Indeed, Blues songs usually consist of a 12 bar chord progression. That means that if the song is longer, there will simply be a repetition of those 12 bars.
  2. You probably wonder: “What about the chords?” Which chords can we use if we can’t create them from the Blues scale?” Here it may seem a little bit complicated, but in a reality it is not. Usually “Dominant 7th” chords are used in Blues even for the full 12 bar blues. That means that all your chords need to be turned into “Dominant 7th” chords.
  3. To create a chord progression for your Blues piece, you would usually use chords that start on the 1st note of your scale, on the 3rd note (which is the “#4/b5” note) and the 4th note - which is a “5”. In our case it would be C, F# and G. You all know that we can give a number to each chord when we create chords from the normal scale. For instance, we know that the chord which starts on C in C Major, would be the 1st chord. We also know that the chord which starts on D, would be the 2nd chord. Your chord numbers are always identical to your scale spelling. In Blues, we also need to rely on scale spelling. That is why the chord which starts on F#, would be called 4th chord, whereas the chord which starts on G, would be called 5th chord. You simply rely on the chord spelling. If you rewind and look at the Blues scale with its spelling, you see that F# is written under “#4”, and G is written under “5”. That is why we call the C chord, F# chord and G chord not the 1st, 3rd and 4th of the scale, but instead the 1st, 4th and 5th chords of the scale. I hope this is clear.
  4. As you could read under point 2, Blues usually uses “Dominant 7th” chords. That means that if we want to use our 1st, 4th and 5th chord of the Blues scale, we need to turn them into “Dominant 7th” chords. The preferred chords for the chord progression would be: C7, F#7 and G7. I will not explain how to create “Dominant 7th chords” here. I’ve written about that in a previous post.  

So right now - relying on the rules written above - we can create our first 12-bar blues chord progression, using C7, F#7 and G7 chords and adding a melody based on the Blues scale. For my chord progression I am going to use C7 for 4 bars, then F#7 for 2 bars, C7 for 2 bars again, F#7 for 2 bars and G7 for the last 2 bars. Please listen to the sample of this chord progression with a Blues melody:


Sounds nice doesn't it?

That's all for now. If you enjoy discovering new genres of music then don’t forget to check us out regularly for more posts.

Happy composing!

 

All posts in this series

Music Theory: Part 1 - Notes, Scales and Major Scale

Music Theory: Part 2 - Minor Scale, Scale Spelling and Composing Melodies

Music Theory: Part 3 - Chord Construction, Chord Symbols and Pattern in the Key

Music Theory: Part 4 - Pattern in the Key part 2 and 7th Chord Construction

Music Theory: Part 5 - Chord Spelling, Intervals and Creating Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 6 - Relative Keys and Contrasting Music Pieces

Music Theory: Part 7 - 6th Chords and Sus Chords

Music Theory: Part 8 - Composing a Chord Progression Around a Melody

Music Theory: Part 9 - Inverted Chords - Creating Smooth Chord Progressions

Music Theory: Part 10 - Discovering New Scales And How To Compose Blues

 

Patricia Lomako - also known as Patricia Blush - is a professional singer, composer, music producer and music tutor. She finished the BMus Degree in Contemporary Performance (Vocals) at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Guildford, UK) and holds a Higher Certificate in Contemporary Vocal Teaching. She composes and produces various styles of music for video's, blogs, websites, etc. She also produces electronic music (mainly pop, but influenced by and mixed with House, Deep House, Drum and Bass and Electro). Her tracks are used in playlists for retailers, restaurants, gyms around the globe. Some of her clients are: M&S, SportsDirect, KFC and Clas Ohlson. Visit her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/officialpatricialomako You can listen to some of her tracks on her soundcloud page:  www.soundcloud.com/patriciablush


 

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