When guitar players hear a cool lick they want to figure it out and recreate it and then use it but sometimes the results are somewhat less than satisfying. As humans we hear everything in relationship, so what does this mean to your cool lick playing and lifting? It means that if you don’t play that lick in the same relationship to the chord or bass line it was being played against in the recording it won’t sound the same because the relationships have all shifted.

The b 3 to major 3 is one of the best (or worst) examples of that. What makes the b3 sound so cool is that it is played against a major 3 and thus has a very intense bluesy quality. Consider this, you are improvising in an A blues and the I chord is A7, the notes of that chord are: A – C# – E – G, or 1 – 3 – 5 – and b7 . If you play either the A minor pentatonic or the A minor blues scale against this chord (which is of course common practice), you will notice that you are playing a C natural note in the scale against a C# note in the chord. You are in fact playing a C against a C#, that is a pretty intense tension. Over the A the C is a minor 3rd and the C# is a major 3rd but it works great and sounds right in a bluesy context, minor against major.

But what happens when you use the same scale sound and move to the IV chord for instance? The notes of the IV chord, D7 are: D – F# – A – C whereas the notes in the A blues scale are: A – C – D – Eb – E – G, so over this chord there is neither a 3 or a b3 available in the Blues scale. The result if we continue to use this scale sound is we can’t get that cool b3 tension we had on the I chord which which is unfortunate. If we like that sound over the I chord then why not put it over the IV chord as well? So what is the solution?

Blue Notes - The Flat Three and Major against Minor - A Blues Chords and Seventh Chord Arpeggios

The solution is to think over the chord of the moment and not just over the progression as a whole. This approach requires the player to solo over the changes or over the chord of the moment and to imply this b3 to 3 sound (and any other sounds you like eventually) over each chord as the chords present themselves in the progression. So now, instead of just using the one scale sound and letting the chords go by and trying to make that scale fit over each chord you define each chord by playing the chord tones and adding colors or blue notes with characteristic phrases.

Practice Suggestion:

To begin this approach learn the arpeggio form for each of the chords along with the b3 approaching the major 3. Lots of clean repetitions with each arpeggio form and always approach the major 3 from the b3 below even when descending. Associate the chord with the arpeggio and begin to move each around the fretboard.

In this case we are looking only at the b3 to 3 because it is probably the most common blue note and has the implications of minor against major. From a guitaristic perspective there are different approaches you can take to build your lines and practice regimen for defining chords with arpeggios.

  1. Find the b3 to 3 line/phrase you like over just the A7 chord (since we are looking at blues in A) . Make sure you can repeat that phrase easily. Now take the same phrase and move it up to position X for the D7 chord, exactly the same fingering and phrase. Now do the same up to fret XII for the E7 chord and then finally down to open position E7 which, because of open strings might be a bit trickier.
  2. Now using the root on 5th string D7 in V position, arpeggiate that chord and build the b3 to 3 line you had before only playing it in this new position, a bit of a challenge there but now you are staying within the same region and building chordal sounds and you will begin to see how these lines connect.
  3. Then do the same with the Root 2 E7 chord shape also in position V, the one shaped like an open position C with the b7 under your baby finger.

When practicing in this way isolate only one chord voicing at a time and work that out at length. It is a different way of thinking, this is about playing over the changes and now wherever that chord shape/voicing goes your new lines follow. The lines and phrases become an expression of the chord. Try practicing what you’ve just learned with the following track which is a 12 bar blues in the key of A.

12 Bar Blues Shuffle in A

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