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  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • 30 Days to Better Guitar Playing

  • john mayer

    Easy Blues on Guitar : Using Minor to Major 3rds in Blues Soloing

    by Simon James

    A real key element in blues guitar riffs, licks and solos is utilizing the Minor to Major 3rds. It is a method of playing introduced by some of the earliest Blues players like Big Bill Broonzy and Blind Lemon Jefferson and has since gone on to become a staple formula for creating easy blues guitar riffs and licks. What this means is that you can use notes from a Major and a Minor chord.

    This can be quite a contentious point among musicians as some, approaching from a theoretical background will ask, how can you use a Major 3rd when playing over a Minor Pentatonic Scale and a Minor 3rd when playing over a Dominant 7th Scale?

    The Blues, as we have noted before, does not conform to Western Music Theory as other genres of music do, however, we still use classifications from Music Theory to make it easier to explain what Blues musicians do and how the Blues works.

    An A Minor 7 Chord is built as follows:

    R, b3, 5, b7, R

    and a Dominant 7 Chord is built like this:

    R, 3, 5, b7, R

    Notice that one chord has a Minor 3rd and the other a Major 3rd, but when we play the blues you will see that in effect we are playing the following:

    R, b3, 3, 5th, b7, R

    Using Minor and Major 3rds to Create Licks and Solos Video Lesson

    In this short video lesson I outline three positions for playing Minor and Major 3rds for the I chord (A) in a 12 Bar Blues Progression. We begin by examining how to create a Blues Lick or Blues Guitar Riff out of the Minor/Major changes and then how to put the different positions together to create extended Blues phrases.


    Minor and Major 3rds for a I-IV-V 12 Bar Blues Progression

    Let us now play the Minor and the Major 3rds for each of the chords in a 12 Bar Blues progression in A:

    minor major blues scale  

    Notice that all of the root notes and passing notes that we have played are common to both the Minor Pentatonic and the Dominant 7th scales but it is our use of the Minor to Major 3rd of each chord that binds the two scales together in a really bluesy way!

    My advice to you is this, use your ears and feel free to throw in whatever feels right using the harmonies and chords that you have learned. The Minor to Major shift is so popular in the blues because of the tension and release that it creates and it should be fundamental element in your understanding of Blues music.

    Blues Solo Using Minor and Major 3rds

    In the following exercise I have constructed the licks around the Minor to Major 3rd changes and then used other passing notes from the Dominant 7th and Minor Pentatonic Scales to link them together. Notice how the movement from Minor to Major creates tension and release particularly when used at the end of a phrase such as in Bar 4 and also when used as a lead from one chord into another as in bars 11 and 12.

    minor major blues lick  

    All of the Minor to Major shifts in this exercise have been marked to play as hammer ons so that it easier for you to remember them, but they can be played as string bends and be just as, if not, even more effective!

    When you have this solo under your belt practice playing the blues in all 12 keys and learn all of the relevant Major to Minor changes in other positions on the fretboard.

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    Related Posts:

    1. Blues Variations Part 1

    2. How To Play 12 Bar Blues

    3. The Minor Blues Scale

    4. Introduction to Jazz Blues

    5. Blues Variations Part 2

    6. Playing on Two Strings: Double Stops and 6ths