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  1. #1

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    Hey guys! I'm Panos and I'd like to share with you the results of my research on the microtones of Blues scales.



    For many years I played Blues music with the mind of a jazz musician, utilizing minor and major pentatonics, modes, and arpeggios over major blues forms, but I never found myself sounding “authentic”. Something was missing...

    A few years ago I met George Zikos (guitarist of the band Zero Zero) who introduced me to a different mindset about blues scales, which led me to this research and eventually to the creation of two series of videos (“Microtonal Blues Scales” & “Blues History”).

    Even though some of the things I will present about the blues scales are known to scholars, they are not yet incorporated into the teaching of American music. So, I'll try to make a first step with these lessons, not because I am an "expert", but to initiate a discussion about this sensitive topic.

    In the first series of videos that I will upload every week, called “Microtonal Blues Scales”, I'll try to address the “problem” of many musicians (including myself) improvising in Blues or Blues-based music and sounding legit.

    Of course an important factor we should focus on, is the scales we use. Should we play a major scale? Should we play a minor? and if yes, why play a minor scale over major chords?

    As I will explain in these videos, blues scales are NOT like classical scales, where every note has an exact and fixed value. A Blues scale is more like an Arabic Maqam or an Indian Raga (where notes deviate from the European 12-Tone Temperament Tuning).
    However blues scales have the particularity of not only having Western traits in their DNA (due to musical exchange between Afro-americans and Euro-americans) but also being evolved, interpreted and being taught in a white society.

    Maybe it was the inevitable interpretation from the angle of one's enculturated tone system, or maybe it was just a pedagogical convenience, the result is that whites oversimplified African American music using Classical tools and concepts in order to explain it since at least the 19thcentury).

    Of course many scholars have tried to analyze the nature of blues scales over the years. It's a very difficult task, considering Bluesmen play the blues scales a little different from one another, depending on their influences, the instrument they use and their personality. They also perform songs slightly differently from time to time, never playing the exact same notes again.

    Nevertheless, I believe one can find common ground among the most influential bluesmen and make some sense out of this complex tradition. What I will present is a description of these microtonal scales (theory) that I believe is reasonably consistent with the real Blues practice, meaning, it explains most of the things, most of the time. Keep in mind that this is my personal interpretation and your study may produce different results.

    On the other hand, some could argue that Blues is a style that should only be learned by listening to records and we shouldn't try to explain and describe it since you only need to have the “blues feeling” to convincingly perform it.

    Well, in my opinion, that's true for every kind of music, not only for the Blues. Someone with a lot of talent may be able to decode and learn every music language and its accents just by listening, but for the rest of us, a guideline (theory) is needed to help us understand where to pay attention when studying the Blues.

    Keep in mind, that theories are derived to explain existing musical practices, and therefore should not restrict us on expressing ourselves and making new music.

    In the second series of videos I will try to present the “History & Evolution of the Blues” in relation to other American music traditions and socioeconomic developments through the centuries. I have put great emphasis on the period before the birth of Blues (16th-19th century), since it's very interesting to see how various music styles evolved through time and influenced one another leading to the creation of new music genres. I'll publish these History lessons every week alongside the music ones.



    I hope you find something useful in this work!

    Panos Charalampidis


    P.S.1 The video above is a necessary introduction to this new way of thinking. You must wait until next week for the presentation of the first scale

    P.S.2 English subtitles are available
    Last edited by funkpunk; 03-19-2020 at 06:22 AM.

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    Very well done, thanks. Look forward to the 2nd installment.

    Now deceased jazz saxophonist, Joe Maneiri taught microtonal studies at the New England Conservatory. He wrote a book on it which I have. He taught a 72 note per octave system, 6 notes per half step, hardly something I could absorb from a book. Anyway, he makes a similar contention as you, although in different language, that the idea of blue notes is a misnomer, that the bent notes in Louis Armstrong's playing are real, definable pitches.
    Last edited by bako; 03-12-2020 at 10:48 AM.

  4. #3

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.2 ["Majorish 4-7" scale]

    In this episode I'll introduce the first Microtonal Blues Scale (it's "majorish" version), demonstrating each degree that is composed of. I call it "Majorish 4-7" since it has a "majorish" 3rd and its characteristic note are the 4th and 7th degree. At the end I demonstrate the scale over a standard 12-bar blues.



    Last edited by funkpunk; 03-23-2020 at 01:31 PM.

  5. #4

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.3 [8 ways to approach the "Majorish 3rd" sound]

    In this episode we are examining eight ways Blues musicians emulate that bluesy bend of the 3rd degree (majorish 3rd - lesson 2) using alternative techniques. Although I use a guitar to demonstrate, many of these techniques can be applied on other instruments too (piano, horns etc.)




  6. #5

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    Good video, and good playing examples.

    I’m not being funny, but are there people who have listened to blues music who don’t know this? I think i knew this pretty early on that the blue 3rd is ‘in the cracks’

    (Also when it comes to the tonic I can think of a chap who is quite famous for doing a big vibrato on it. You probably know who I mean.)
    Last edited by christianm77; 03-24-2020 at 09:32 AM.

  7. #6

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    I suppose a lot of people don’t listen to the blues though....

  8. #7

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    Christian,

    I think most know about this on some level but still it is mostly referenced as variants of equal temperament, blue notes. When should a blue note become a definable note unto itself? Is there a benefit to codifying this with greater clarity? Indian and Arabic music traditions do so. These notes in between although prominent throughout blues lineage are hardly limited solely to this style.

  9. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by bako
    Christian,

    I think most know about this on some level but still it is mostly referenced as variants of equal temperament, blue notes. When should a blue note become a definable note unto itself? Is there a benefit to codifying this with greater clarity? Indian and Arabic music traditions do so. These notes in between although prominent throughout blues lineage are hardly limited solely to this style.
    See also - jazz rhythm.

    I think it's useful to have something you can teach students to hear. Listen to that thing there.

    If I understand it right quarter tones in middle eastern music are not always well defined theoretically, but they are understood from the tradition and have a different placement depending on maqam etc.

  10. #9

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    Yea... I think most jazz players have this already in their bag. I remember being in studio back in the early 70's, adding strings to some tunes.... and having to explain to section how to approach targets. "B" is a different note when going to "Bb or "C". That It wasn't just a intonation thing...

    Yea and then there is the Dirt as compared to the Grease thing.

    Nice vids and pres... It's ....

  11. #10

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    Thanks Christian!

    I'm pretty sure that most of the above are not self-evident for many people... especially for Rock and Jazz musicians who haven't studied Blues music that much.

    Well, my suggestion for the tonic is to make it feel stable and not sharp. Many musicians manage to do that even with a wide vibrato on it.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Yea... I think most jazz players have this already in their bag. I remember being in studio back in the early 70's, adding strings to some tunes.... and having to explain to section how to approach targets. "B" is a different note when going to "Bb or "C". That It wasn't just a intonation thing...

    Yea and then there is the Dirt as compared to the Grease thing.

    Nice vids and pres... I need to say the vid almost came off as insulting at first.
    Thanks Reg!

    Of course I have no intend to insult anyone. Nevertheless I had to state my thesis against the established knowledge early on. I hope you have found something useful in the above videos (there are many more).

  13. #12

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    Yea all good... my mistake, personal hangups. What's the end, do you end up sounding like we're workin in the fields or playing jazz.

  14. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by Reg
    Yea all good... my mistake, personal hangups. What's the end, do you end up sounding like we're workin in the fields or playing jazz.
    hahaha! I don't know...

    I guess the important question is how you will think (and teach) about blues scales after the end of the series.. and how that can affect your playing.

  15. #14

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.4 ["Majorish 2-6" scale]

    In this lesson we'll see another Microtonal Blues Scale, the Majorish 2-6". I call it "Majorish 2-6" since it has a "majorish" 3rd and its characteristic notes are the 2nd and 6th degree. I will demonstrate each note that it's composed of, in addition to playing some example phrases. At the end of the video I also improvise over a standard 12-bar blues using only this scale.


  16. #15

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    Thanks man , interesting analysis

    T-bone ..... I can hear a mile off for some reason , love him

    Very nice micro sharpened 2 here (and mimicked 6th too)


    It would be Interesting to hear some good blues harp bends
    in there too , they bend totally differently to us guitarists
    well it feels that way to me

    also Etta James bends so strong and bluesey .... she kills it

    I noticed all (most) of these examples you give are not absolute
    in between micro tones but bends or moving pitches
    they are moving

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by pingu
    Thanks man , interesting analysis

    T-bone ..... I can hear a mile off for some reason , love him

    Very nice micro sharpened 2 here (and mimicked 6th too)

    It would be Interesting to hear some good blues harp bends
    in there too , they bend totally differently to us guitarists
    well it feels that way to me

    also Etta James bends so strong and bluesey .... she kills it

    I noticed all (most) of these examples you give are not absolute
    in between micro tones but bends or moving pitches
    they are moving
    Hi Pingu!

    T-Bone Walker is one of my favourites too. One of the most influential guitarists of all time.

    I wish I had the time to analyse blues harp playing and more vocal performances... I'm sure the target microtones (areas of notes) would be the same though.

    In my opinion (check out p.1 video) "important" blue notes do not have exact and fixed pitch values. That means that the microtonal bend (not fixed) to the target pitch area (not exact) is an essential part of the note. For example, if you just hit the Neutral 3rd without a bend, it doesn't sound bluesy. You must bend from the 2nd or m3rd degree towards the Neutral 3rd in order to get that bluesy sound. Instrumentalists often emulate these bends using various techniques (check out p.3 video).
    Last edited by funkpunk; 04-04-2020 at 11:24 AM.

  18. #17

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.5 [Extension of "Majorish 4-7" & "Majorish 2-6" scales]

    In this lesson we'll talk about the concept of extending the two Majorish Scales we have learned, adding extra degrees. I also play each scale over a standard 12-bar blues, demonstrating the fact that each extension results to a different scale with a unique sound.




  19. #18

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.6 [Mixing “Majorish 4-7” & “Majorish 2-6” phrases]

    In this episode we'll talk about the concept of mixing phrases of the two Majorish Scales we have learned so far. As aways, I will demonstrate this popular practice improvising over a standard 12-bar blues.



  20. #19

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.7 [“Minorish” scale]

    In this lesson I'll introduce a Blues Scale that has a “Minorish” 3rd degree and it's mostly used over Minor blues songs.
    I will also talk about the exceptions I've encountered in playing in a minor blues environment.




  21. #20

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.8 [Extension of “Minorish” scale]

    In this lesson we'll see a few ways that we can extend the Minorish Blues Scale using additional degrees. As always, each degree we add will change the “color” of the scale creating a new sound. I will also introduce the concept of mixing Minorish Blues phrases with various Minor Modes, using popular examples. At the end of the lesson I improvise over a Minor 12-bar Blues using the above mentioned practices.


  22. #21

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    Microtonal Blues Scales p.9 [E7#9 – E7b10 & the “Neutral” scale]

    In this last lesson we'll talk about the “Hendrix chord” and its uses. I will also introduce the Neutral Blues Scale that has a “Neutral 3rd” in it. At the end of the episode I summarize the different shades of the 3rd degree of Blues Scales and their uses in Blues music.

    *If you have any comments or questions about this series and my point of view, I'd be glad to talk about it.

    Last edited by funkpunk; 05-04-2020 at 03:58 PM.

  23. #22

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    I have only seen a few minutes of the last video but, seriously, back in the day, you played this stuff off-the-cuff. Microtones? Nobody ever talked about microtones: you just "bent" it a bit more or less depending on how you felt it. A lot of those old guys were out of tune anyway!! Not that it mattered.

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by funkpunk
    ...On the other hand, some could argue that Blues is a style that should only be learned by listening to records and we shouldn't try to explain and describe it since you only need to have the “blues feeling” to convincingly perform it.

    Well, in my opinion, that's true for every kind of music, not only for the Blues. Someone with a lot of talent may be able to decode and learn every music language and its accents just by listening, but for the rest of us, a guideline (theory) is needed to help us understand where to pay attention when studying the Blues.

    Keep in mind, that theories are derived to explain existing musical practices, and therefore should not restrict us on expressing ourselves and making new music.
    Hi Peter C!

    The above is an excerpt from my first message.

    My opinion is that a mental framework (theory) is helpful when studying the Blues (or any other music)... especially for those who are not super-talented or are new to the genre.
    For me (and all others that are born outside the US or England), Blues music was like a foreign language. Actually, I was born in Greece (the music that surrounded me was a mix of Mediterranean, Arabic, and Balkan music) and I started playing the guitar as a teenager, so Blues music wasn't "in me". Retrospectively, I believe that the status quo theoretical framework that guided my study and playing (minor and major pentatonics, modes etc) when I was young, sabotaged my development, that's I why I worked towards another model.

    If you want to know more about it you can watch the first episode in the first post (a theoretical overview), and then move on to the second one where I present the first scale.

  25. #24

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    I spent several months in Crete/Kriti many years ago and was lucky enough to hear a lot of kritika while sipping local strength raki. I didn't get to jam with anyone at the time, (as far as I remember!), but I realized that this was a music you grew up with and just learned by ear, like blues and flamenco. I really don't think a "mental framework" is going to get you close to the real thing, but that's just my experience.

    Anyway, saludos desde España!

    Like raki, you never want this to end:


    PS why don't you post a whole blues solo to show how your approach works?

  26. #25

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    You're right! Cretika (traditional music from Crete) is like the Blues and flamenco. All these musical styles are transmitted orally from an generation to another and by listening to records.
    The problem for those who are not born in Crete and want to play this music, is that it's very difficult to grasp all the details that would make someone sound like an original musician from Crete (unless you are very talented). I think it's very difficult for a Swedish musician to play like a Cretan, just like it's very difficult for a Greek to play the Blues. A guidance is helpful, in order to be aware of the particularities of the style when studying the masters. Anyway...

    In the end of most of the episodes I improvise over a 12-bar blues in order to show the character of each scale. Check out episodes 2,4,5,6,7,8 (click the timecode in the description).