Chords

Playing backup in Jump Blues is as much fun as playing solos.
This is what we're shooting for in playing chords / intervals / riffs, etc.

Click the arrows for an example mp3.

Ronnie Earl Robert Jr. Lockwood Jimmy Vaughan Rick Holmstrom
Ronnie Earl
Style

Robert Jr. Lockwood Style

Jimmy Vaughan Style

Rick Holmstrom Style

In the next chapters you'll get the tools to play these type of backups.
We'll start with how chords are built. After that we'll move on to
some hip shaking comping!


Chords are made up of a minimum of three tones. On a guitar, you're a real cool dude if you can figure out a way to play chords with more than six notes, so we'll take six as a maximum.
In most chords, some of the notes are doubled or even tripled.
If you look at an open G major chord, it contains three G's, two B's and one D.

TAB G chord

Those notes are derived from the G major scale

G A B C D E F# G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

 

 

As you can see, a regular G major chord uses note numbers 1, 3 and 5.

Most of the chords we're using in swing and jump blues are (dominant) seventh chords: G7, C7, D7, etc. The notes in these chords come from the mixolydian scale.

TAB G7 chord

G7 contains the notes G, B, D and F.

G mixolydian

G A B C D E F G
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

 

A G7 chord uses notes nrs. 1, 3, 5 and 7. Do we detect a system here? You bet. You can determine the notes of a chord by looking at the name, finding out which scale the chord comes from and by doing some simple counting.

TAB C9 chord

A C9 chord comes from C mixolydian.

C D E F G A Bb C
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

 

C9 contains 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 (just keep counting C=8, D=9, E=10, F=11, etc.) or C,E,G,Bb and D

TAB C13 chord

This C13 is played at the 8th fret and contains C, E, G, Bb, D and A.

As you can see we're missing the G in this chord. The reason is convenience plus the chord is getting pretty thick with six notes in it. Leaving the fifth out (in this case the G) doesn't make that much difference to our ear. If you don't need it, dump it or let someone else play it.

Our last chord example is a minor chord. Minor chords can be derived from their minor scales. Am7 can be derived from A aeolian minor:

A   B   C   D   E   F   G   A note
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 nr.
  2   1   2   2   1   2   2   nr. of frets up

 

 

 

As we've already seen, the formula for the minor scale is 2,1,2,2,1,2,2.

Minor chords are formed exactly the same way as major chords. Take nrs. 1, 3, 5 and 7 of the scale and you have your chord.

TAB Am7 chord

Am7 has an A, C, E and G notes. Some of them are also doubled.


The essence of Blues

Blues Guitar Lessons

But how to use all this stuff?
Let's get back to what blues is. Blues is tension and release, call and response, one man singin' about his suffering and people dancin' to it. It's a story to listen to, to react to.
All these elements have found their way into the music.

You might have noticed that although we are playing major chords (meaning G7 and not Gm7), we're playing a BLUES SCALE on top of it; a minor scale!
This contradiction is exactly what blues is all about. The tension that is created by playing major chords with a minor scale makes for the 'blue' sound.

Especially the major third of the chord G7 against a minor third in a melody sounds blue.
By bending these notes you can produce even more tension.

The fact that the blues scale only uses five notes (plus the flat 5) gives it a sharp edge.
This is because the space between some of the notes in the scale is bigger than in a regular minor or major scale. These scales contain seven notes.
A blues scale can be used to solo over all three chords.

Using the mixolydian scale will give you some more note options and make the sound a little milder and smoother.
If you mix it up with the blues scale, this gives you the best of both worlds.

Conclusion: Scales and Chords

Music is nothing like maths or geography. Don't try to grab this all at once. It is not and will never be part of any SAT test. The quicker you learn this stuff, the faster you'll forget it. All this theory takes time to sink in.

Try all of the examples, chords, riffs, horn lines, etc and pick up what you like. Once you start playing, check your brain at the door and try to get into the feel. Blues is about feeling and emotion, first and foremost.

Only if you get to the point of asking, "but why does it work this way?" you can come back to this chapter and then you'll find some answers.

Swing Blues Lessons Home Page