The Major and Minor Blues Scales and Improvising

Did you know that their are two blues scales? A minor blues scale and a major blues scale. Many students are introduced to improvising on a blues tune using the minor blues scale. The music teacher usually says just use the same scale over the entire song.

The C minor blues scale consists of the notes: C,Eb,F,F#,G,Bb.
The biggest problem with only using this scale is that it limits what you can play and the solos tend to be boring. Furthermore many beginning improvisors don’t know how to properly resolve their ending notes. This scale is most importantly missing the major 3 and also the 2nd and the 6th.

The major blues scale may be conceived by starting with the major pentatonic scale and adding a minor 3rd. The C major blues scale consists of the notes: C,D,Eb,E,G,A.

Please not that the major blues scale contains the same notes as the minor blues scale that is down a minor 3rd. For example the C major blues scale consists of the same notes as the A minor blues scale

Practice Suggestions for simple 3 Chord blues:
1. Practice playing the ascending major blues scale over each chord.
2. Practice playing the descending major blues scale over each chord.
3. Practice playing the major blues scale over the I chord and the minor blues scale over the IV and V chords.
4.Practice moving between both scales.
5. Add the b7 and 4th to the major blues scale
6 Add the 6th or the 9th to the minor blues scale.

Do you have any suggestions for practicing the blues?

Review of Mastering the Minor II V Software

A few months ago I attended a jazz jam session in Austin Texas at Kickbutt Coffee. While at the jam session I heard a wonderful sax player and all around nice guy named Tony Bray.

A couple of week ago I learned that Tony was CEO of a company named “Jazz Apps Mobile LLC“. As of the date of this writing, Jazz Apps Mobile has released two applications for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Droid versions are under development.

Many beginner and intermediate players are challenged with the minor ii v i chord progression. This application was developed to help players feel confident when playing over these chord changes. The application provides an introduction of how to use the application, the theory, a nice way to learn and practice all of the scales. The application presents the Lydian Augmented scale. Tony studied with the renowned jazz player and educator Jerry Coker and brings many years of playing experience to the application. The application also includes JAM-A-long tracks to woodshed individual chords and the entire progression. The tempo can be adjusted and the music can be transposed to any key. I plug my iPhone into my home stereo so that I don’t over power the backing tracks with my tenor sax. This application can be used with any instrument.

The software can be improved by including some examples of how students can apply the knowledge of the lydian augmented scale over the changes. I have asked Tony to consider adding this capability to a future version of their software. Tony indicated examples would be added to a future version of the software. I also suggest that a user forum be added to the Jazz Apps Mobile website so that students can communicate with the Jazz Apps company as well as each other.

I endorse this application. Stay tuned because I will be reviewing their Modal application in the near future.

What do you use to help improve your ability to play over the minor ii v progression?

Modes of the Major Scale

If we begin by naming the notes in the C Major scale and then placing numbers beneath each note we have the following:



The Major scale generates 7 modes and they are named Ionian, Dorian, Phyrgian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolian and Locrian.

C Lydian can be constructed as:

123#4567 or C,D,E,F#,G,A,B

C Ionian can be constructed as:

1234567 or C,D,E,F,G,A,B

C Mixolydian can be constructed as:

123456b7 or C,D,E,F,G,A,Bb

C Dorian can be constructed as:

12b3456b7 or C,D,Eb,F,G,A,Bb

C Aeolian can be constructed as:

12b345b6b7 or C,D,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb

C Phyrgian can be constructed as:

1b2b345b6b7 or C,Db,Eb,F,G,Ab,Bb

C Locrian can be constructed as:

1b2b34b5b6b7 or C,Db,Eb,F,Gb,Ab,Bb

Notice that as you change from one adjacent mode to the next in the above list that only one note changes.

The next thing you need to do is to apply this information to the remaining 11 major scales and their respective modes.

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise-all 12 keys

I wanted to include backing tracks for a very useful 3-5-7-9 arpeggio exercise that appears in Bert Ligon’s “Comprehensive Technique for Jazz Musicians” book. If you don’t already have a copy of Bert’s books you should invest in them. They contain a wealth of practical information to improve your jazz chops.

The exercise is 2.20 on page 43 of this book. Due to copyright restrictions I am not able to include the chart. I have included backing tracks in all keys. The tracks are in concert key.

In the key of F the progression is:

|Gm7|C7|Fmaj7|Bbmaj7|Em7b5|A7|Dm|D7| and repeats

The point of the exercise is to start on the third of each chord. Octave displacement is used in every other measure of the arpeggio on the second note. The seventh resolves into the third of the successive chord by a step.

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of C follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of Dflat follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of D follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of Eb follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of E follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of F follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of Fsharp follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of G follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of Aflat follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of A follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of Bflat follows:

3-5-7-9 Arpeggio Exercise in the Key of B follows:

Sharps and Flats Brain Crutch

Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that is easy to remember that tells us the order of sharps or flats in a certain key?

If you answered yes then read on.

I learned the following from bass man Rob Jewett. For sharps use the phrase “Five Cowboys Got Drunk At Ed’s Bar” ( what do you expect I live in Texas ). The first letter of each word indicates the order that sharps are added from left to right e.g. F,C,G,D,A,E,B.

You can use the word “BEAD” and the acronym “GCF” ( greatest common factor ) to remember the order of flats from left to right e.g. B,E,A,D,G,C,F.

Do you have a different brain crutch that you use to remember the order of sharps or flats?

Have fun with your new found brain crutch!

Diminished Chord Shortcut

Do you know the notes in all of your diminished chords? If not – here is a shortcut method that works provided that you know all chord tones in your dominant 7th chords.

Here is an example:

What are the chord tones in an F# diminished 7th? The shortcut is to use the root of the diminished chord with the 3,5 and b7 from the dominant 7th chord a half step below. So we would combine the A,C and Eb from the F7 with the root of the diminished chord.

The notes in the F# diminished 7th chord are F#,A,C,Eb.

Hope this helps!

Major Triad Workout and Resources

Let’s be honest – do you really know all of your major triads in all12 keys? Do you know  the root position and the first and second inversions in all twelve keys? I mean really know – the kind of know that you don’t have to think about it you know it so well. Can you play the attached triad exercises accurately at a very fast tempo?

If you answered no to any of these questions then this post is for you. In addition to the supplied exercises I will point you to several other resources for improving your triad skills.

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Additional Resources:

In chapter 4 of the following Bert Ligon book, “Triadic Generalization” is discussed.

In chapter 15 of the following Bert Ligon book, “Extended Tertian Structures & Tridac Superimposition” is discussed.

In chapter 3 of the following book Bert Ligon provides many nice ideas and exercises related to “Triads & Generalization”.

In the following book Ernie Watts provides some very nice triad exercises.

The following book by Walt Weiskopf on “Intervalic Improvisation” is based upon using triad pairs and their various inversions.

Exercises 1-12 of “Patterns For Jazz” contain excellent triad exercises. If you don’t yet have this book you should add it to your “Must Have” list.

Be sure to check out the following items from Steve Neff at Neff Music:
“The Ultimate II-V-I Primer” this is an excellent beginning book.
The following Steve Neff lessons are also very good for triads:
“In A Mellow Tone with Triads-Video”
“Major Triad Samba”

Be sure to check out Evan Tates 250 Jazz Patterns

Have fun mastering the major triads!

The Major and Minor Blues scale with shortcut

The blues scale is a six note scale. The scale can be constructed by starting with a major scale and then using the following formula:


The C blues scale would be C-Eb-F-F#-G-Bb. This scale works very nicely over minor 7th chords.

A major blues scale also exists and can be constructed from a major scale using the following formula:


The major blues scale works on major and dominant chords. On the surface it looks like you have to learn 12 minor blues scales and then 12 major blues scales but dont fret.

Notice that  a D minor blues scale consists of D-F-G-G#-A-C. Notice that an F major blues scale consists of  F-G-Ab-A-C-D.

If you look closely you should note the the notes in a D minor blues scale are identical to an F major blues scale.

The practical outcome is that you only need to learn the 12 minor blues scales because you can play the minor blues scale that is down a minor third from a major or dominant 7 chord.

For example a simple 12 bar blues in the key of C would be:

C7- C7-C7-C7



You can play the A minor blues scale over the C7.

You can play the D minor blues scale over the F7.

You can play the E minor blues scale over the G7.

Have fun playing the blues!

Steve Neff YouTube Channel – Good Stuff!

Steve Neff has some nice YouTube videos:

You should also check out Steve Neff’s music site

Neff Music Website

Steve has a wealth of quality sax and jazz related materials. Much of his instructional material can be used with other instruments.

“250 Jazz Patterns” by Evan Tate Backing Tracks Comming Soon!

I have received many requests to create backing tracks that can be used in conjunction with Evan Tate’s “250 Jazz Patterns”  book. If you have not already done so you show read the following post:

Review of 250 Jazz Patterns by Evan Tate

Check back often or subscribe to my tweets at to be notified when the 250 Jazz Patterns Backing Tracks are available.

Each backing track will be transposed for concert, Bb and Eb instruments.