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Moving Beyond the Blues Scale

Luke Malewicz | April 2016

    Young improvisers who only use the blues scale while soloing over a standard 12-bar blues form are common. A simple way to start moving away from this practice is by incorporating the bebop scale.
    A simple Bb Blues is made up of only three dominant seventh chords (Bb7, Eb7, F7). The scale that goes along with dominant chords is the mixolydian scale (a major scale with a flatted seventh note), which looks like this:

    In the example, the chord tones (1,3,5,7) fall on the weak part of the beat (with the exception of the first root), making it seem as though the chord is actually 1-2-4-6 instead of 1-3-5-7.

    The bebop scale adds an extra note (the natural seventh), which places all the chord tones on the strong part of the beat.

    There are four rules to the bebop scale:

1. Start the scale on any chord tone (1, 3, 5, or 7).
2. Start the scale on the strong part of any beat.
3. Play continuous eighth notes until ready to stop the phrase.
4. Do not skip notes.

    When all the above rules are followed, an improviser can play the scale, switching direction at any time, and the chord tones will always remain on the strong part of the beat because of the scale’s symmetrical nature.

    Below is an example of a simple use of the scale, applied to a blues progression. There are actually three different bebop scales in use, one for each of the chords.

    The transitions between the three different chords and bebop scales in this progression must be smooth. On the last eighth note of the measure before a chord change, play a note that is a half step below or above a chord tone of the new scale. Below are examples of the different transitions.

    With the use of the bebop scale, young improvisers can begin to move beyond the confines of the blues scale and start exploring other possibilities. As their knowlege of this scale expands and they become more comfortable with its use, their solos will continue to become more interesting and mature.