The next time you’re looking for a way to juice up your blues line, try this:
Pick a blues scale, and then combine it with the blues scale located a minor third
(three frets) below. As you’ll see, this composite blues scale can be used in several ways.
Let’s begin with a regular C blues scale (C, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb, or 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, b7).
Dipping a minor third below gives us an A blues scale (A, C, D, Eb, E, G). Now if we
absorb the A blues scale into the C blues scale, we get a colorful C composite blues
scale ---C, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, A, and Bb (see the charts on p. 145). In addition to
the C blues scale’s six tones, we get the 9 (D), 3 (E), and 13 (A). That’s a total of
nine notes -- a plentiful palette.
Shared roots. Ready to dig into some deep chord/scale relationship? (To streamline the process, bear in mind that we’ll
sometimes spell a scale tone or chord tone enharmonically. That is, we’ll use C instead of B#, or perhaps A# instead of Bb.
Despite the name change, the note is the same.)
Composite scales sound great played over dominant chords built from the same root. Try EX.1, which features a
C composite line played against C7. Alternatively, you could use C9 or C13 as background harmony.
In EX.2,we drop an E composite blues (E, F#, G, G#, A, Bb, B, C#, D) over an E7#9 (E-G#-B-D-G, or
1-3-5-b7-#9). This is a perfect application for the composite blues scale. To liven things up, let’s toss in two chromatic passing
tones -- the 7 (D#) and #5 (B# or C).
It’s not unusual to hear jazz players such as George Benson and organist Jimmy Smith play a composite blues over a major -7th
chord from the same root -- despite the fact that the scale has ab7, which can clash with the chord’s #7. To hear the effect, try EX.
3 -- an Eb composite blues (Eb, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb, C, Db) line against Ebmaj7 (Eb-G-Bb-D or 1-3-5-7). Sometimes “wrong” is
Offset tricks. You can play a composite blues scale over other chord types, too. The trick is knowing how to offset the scale root
in relation to the chord root in relation to the chord root. (It can be tricky to work out these associations, so be patient and go
For Instance, over a minor 7th chord, play the composite scale located a fourth higher. To improvise over Dm7
(D-F-A-C or 1-b3-5-b7), for instance, you’d play a G composite blues scale (G, A, Bb, B, C, Db, D, E, F). Notice how, in addition to
Dm7’s chord tones, the G composite blues scale offers G, Bb, B, Db, and E. If you relate these notes to Dm7, you get the 4 (G),
#5 (Bb or A#), 6 (B), 7 (Db or C#), and 9 (E). EX.4 is a G composite blues line played against Dm7.
More offsets. Here’s another way to use the composite blues scale: When you encounter a major 7, move up a fifth from the
chord’s root and play a composite blues scale. For example, to improvise over Amaj7
(A-C#-E-G# or 1-3-5-7), grab an E composite blues pattern. Along with Amaj7’s chord tones, the scale provides F#, G, Bb, B, and
D. Against the backdrop of Amaj7, this translates as of 6 (F#), b7 (G), b9 (Bb),
9 (B), and 11 (D). To experience the colors of this offset formula, play EX.5.
You can play a composite blues scale over a min7b5 if you begin the scale a minor sixth above the chord’s root. To solo over
F#m7b5 ( F#-A-C-E or 1-b3-b5-b7), for instance, play a D composite blues scale, which provides
the chord tones for F#m7b5, as well as D, F, G, Ab, and B. Using several enharmonic equivalents, this translate as b6 (D), 7 (F),
b9 (G), 9 (G#), and 11 (B). EX.6 demonstrates this sound.
Recycle. The offset approach may seam like a lot of work -- and it is a challenge to think in these terms. But
there is a major benefit: Once you’ve mastered a few composite scale fingerings, you can use each pattern in numerous ways --
thanks to offsets. The more opportunities you have to use a given fingering, the more effective it becomes. It’s recycling, applied
Guitar Player Magazine /January 2001 Issue