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Blue Notes, Passing Tones, and Bending
by Olav Torvund

If you read my previous lesson on the blues scale, you will remember
that the blues-tonality is unstable and unsettled, because you play a
minor of scale over major chords. You should also remember that one and
a half steps up from the root gives you a minor third, and two steps up
from the root gives you a major third. I will also remind you of the
VII note, where you have the VIIb note in the blues scale, but a VII
note in the major scale and in the chords.

The third and the seventh notes are the two most important "blue
notes". You can drift from minor third to major third and back, and
from minor seventh to major seventh. You can do it with a hammer on
(and an optional pull-off), or by bending the strings.

[editor's note - the notation below represents hammer on as 'h' and a
pull off as 'p'.  Refer to the description following the lesson for
details regarding these techniques]

Without proper graphics, it is hard to illustrate string-bending. But
the point is to push or pull the string across the fingerbord, and by
that raise the pitch. On the upper 2 - 3 (E B G) strings one would
usually push, and pull on the lower (D A E) strings. You can bend the
string up one half note, a whole note or even more. Lighter strings
make string-bending easier, but it is also a question of strength and
technique.

Use your third finger, and support it with first and second finger. If
you make a long stretch, you can push the string under adjacent
strings, lifting them away with your left hand fingers.

Listen to the effect of the blue-notes. You should also listen to the
flatted fifth, the third of the "blue notes".

Practice string bending in the box-positions. Bend IIIb up to III, IV
up to V, Vb up to V, VIIb up to VII and VIIb up to I.


THE 6th NOTE

The 6th note is an effective note in an introduction. It gives a lick a
kick-off, and you have to go on. The 6th is one note (two frets) up
from the 5th, or one half note (one fret) down from the minor 7th.

Compare the following two licks, both played in E using an open E
chord position:


    ___3___      ( tie )
    |   | |      |     |
|---------0------|-----|--------------------
|---0 h 3--------5-----5--------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------


     ___3___     ( tie ) 
    |   |  |     |     |
|---------0------|-----|-------------------- 
|---0 h 2--------5-----5--------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------
|------------------------------------------

The only difference is that you play the minor (or flatted) 7th on the 3rd
fret, 2nd string in the first lick;  and the 6th on 2nd fret, 2nd string
in the second lick.  Listen carefully, and notice how the music is put
to rest on the I note (E) in the first lick, and how the 6th in the 2nd
lick will push you forward.

You should also notice the doubling of the I note, when it is first
played on open 1st string, and then on the 5th fret, 2nd string.

Let us then play the same kind of lick in A, and add a quick slide from
the minor to major third in the opening. A note in () means a grace note:


	      ___3__ 
             |   |   |
|------------------5----------------------
|------------5---7-------(8)-s-10-----------
|---(5)-s-6-------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------

Listen once again to the effect when you play the 7b instead of the
6th:


	     ___3__ 
            |   |   |
|------------------5----------------------
|------------5--8-------(8)-s-10----------- 
|---(5)-s-6-------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------

I have indicated a slide from the 8th to the 10th fret on the 2nd string. You
should also try to bend the tone one whole step up from the 8th fret. You
will then start at a 7b (G) and bend it up to the root (A). Listen to
B.B. King. He often uses intros like that.


We will end our short exploration of the 6th with a third lick, now in
G:


		    b     b
|-----------------6(7)--6(7)---------------
|--------5----8----------------8----------
|----7------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------

		    b
This time the note (7) means that you should bend up to the note:
Bending in 6th fret (the 3b of the G-scale) up one half step (equals
the note on 7th fret), which means bending up to a major 3, before
going back to the root. This lick is based on some Lonnie Johnson
playing.

Once again, we can substitute the 6th with the min7th, and listen to
the difference:


		    b     b
|-----------------6(7)--6(7)---------------
|--------6----8----------------8----------
|----7------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------


In this lick, you should also listen to the effect of the III note. You
bend up to it, and then go back to the root. Listen how the same note
works around an open-E chord in E:

   ____ 
   |   | 
|--|---|-----------------------------------
|--|---|-----------------------------------
|--0-h-1----------------------------------
|----------2------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------
|-----------------------------------------

By going from 3b to 3 and then to the root (1), you establish the root
(tonika) chord very solidly. Particularly if you go from the IV chord
to the I chord, a little swing from 3b to 3 very clearly underscores
that harmonic movement. The 3 note is very dissonant, and will not work
with the IV7th chord, so you are telling very clearly that you are "going
home" when you use that note.


THE FLATTED FIFTH (5b)

The last note I will mention, is the flatted fifth. It is also often
used on the "way home".  Try this simple lick in A:

|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|---------0------------------------------
|---0-h-2-----1-p-0----------------------
|--------------------3---0---------------
|----------------------------------------

And compare it to one without the flatted fifth:

|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|---------0------------------------------
|---0-h-2-----2-p-0----------------------
|--------------------3---0---------------
|----------------------------------------


I will end this lesson with another lick with a flatted fifth. This is
also played in A, and can be connected to the B.B. King like A-intro:

|----------------------------------------
|----------------------------------------
|------10-8------------------------------
|-----------9---(7)h8-7------------------
|-----------------------10---7-----------
|----------------------------------------

----------------------------------------------------------
Techniques:

h = hammer-on. You play the first note, then hammer on to the second
note with your left hand finger without picking the string.

p = pull-off. You play the first note, then pull off the finger
fretting the first note, and let the second note ring without picking
the string with your right hand. You can either lift your left hand
finger right off the string, or you can snap/pick it with the left
hand finger that you are pulling off.


Olav Torvund has published many other lessons at Olav Torvund's Guitar Site including blues guitar, chord progressions, and music theory.


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