When I am playing an Am blues with a i-iv-V progression, at the time of the Dm7 chord, which note/scale should I use?

On the Dm7 chord, can I change from the Am blues scale to a Dm scale? Or can I stay on an Am blues scale? I ask because the Dm7 chord contains an F note which is not in the Am blues scale.

On the Em7 chord, can I stay on the Am blues scale and play the C note? Or maybe on the Em7 chord I should bend the C note to a D note to match the notes in the Em7 chord? If I do either of these, would it be wrong?

When playing over a i-vi-ii-V progression, the ii is a Bm7 chord, but a B is not in the Am blues scale, so how can I use that note? And if I use a B note, will it be wrong since it's outside of the Am blues scale? Similarly, on the ii chord, how can I use an F# note which is out of the scale even on Am pentatonic or Am blues scale?

  • 2
    will it be wrong since it's outside of the Am blues scale Nothing that sounds good is ever wrong - that applies to all music, and to jazz and blues in particular, being predominantly improvisational forms.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 0:10
  • why V (E major?) is in Am blues, if these are the notes: A C D D# E G?would love to learn why?
    – LoveIsHere
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 8:15

3 Answers 3


jdjazz has got it covered. BUT - do not be under the misapprehension, as so many visitors to this site appear to be - that a set of notes is written in stone. As in 'I'm playing blues, so must only use the blues notes. That's not one, so I'd better not use it !'

They're merely guidelines. Why not try out some of the 'taboo' notes? You'll be pleasantly surprised to find, after all, they can fit. It may well depend where and how you use them, but go for it. You cannot throw the rule book out of the window - there ain't one!!

  • 7
    As attributed to Thelonius Monk: "There are no wrong notes; some are just more right than others." Or, to Miles Davis: "It’s not the note you play that’s the wrong note – it’s the note you play afterwards that makes it right or wrong." Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 19:08
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    @DarrenRinger - Those sorts of quotes are countless and have been attributed to many different musical sages. Thelonius is a favorite source for many such aphorisms - he's like the Benjamin Franklin of the music world - if you don't know who said, hang it on Thelonius Monk! My favorite rendition: There are no wrong notes, only wrong resolutions.
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 0:14
  • 1
    @Stinkfoot I tried in vain to find actual citations, but I think I remember reading the Miles quote in his autobiography. I'm not really sure, so I just grabbed a couple of quotes off of google and prefaced my comment with "as attributed to"; caveat emptor. Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 1:09
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    @DarrenRinger - I'm not faulting you - I know you said attributed to - just widening the point a bit, and I did want to cite that particular version that I enjoy. :)
    – Stinkfoot
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 1:41

In short: you can play an A min blues scale over the entire song if you want, but it certainly isn't wrong to stray from A min when playing over the minor blues.

On the iv chord, some of the most common alternatives would be the D dorian minor scale or the D minor blues scale. You might also hear a D melodic minor scale used.

On the v chord, some popular choices are the E natural minor (also known as E aeolian minor, which contains a C) and the E minor blues scale. Another option would be to play E phrygian, which can lead nicely to A natural minor. Alternatively, you can treat the Em7 chord as an E7alt chord (make a chord substitution) and play E altered scale or an E phrygian dominant scale:

E Altered Scale:


E Phrygian Dominant:


E Phrygian Scale (for reference):


On the ii chord, you can play B locrian or a B "half diminished" scale. You can also play B natural minor, which can open up more options for the E chord. For example, if you play the natural 9 over the B min chord (C#), then for continuity you can play E mixolydian, or E dorian b2.

This is not a comprehensive list of what you can play. I've tried to cover the most popular choices but offer some examples of more obscure choices you might also make. In short, the possibilities really are almost endless. There are no hard and fast rules about what's allowed, and if you can make it sound good, then go for it.

As a side note, you can make E phrygian sound like an altered E7sus chord, depending on the chords you play beneath the improvising and depending on which notes you emphasize in your improvising.

  • 3
    Great answer, as always. +1. It might help to write out one or two of these 'more exotic' scales, so the OP can compare their differences, and understand better why E altered differs from, say, E Phrygian, etc.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 15:20
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    The OP mentioned an Em7 as the v chord. It should be mentioned that in that case, using the E altered scale would not be a very fortunate choice. As you know, the altered scale would be used over a dominant seventh chord (E7). Of course, a blues in A minor could have an E7 chord but the OP appears to assume that all 3 chords are minor (seventh) chords.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 17:17
  • @MattL. - odd, as the OP quotes V twice, then mentions Em7...
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 19:18
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    @MattL., I was trying to communicate a chord substitution when I said you can "treat [the Em7 chord] as an E7alt chord" but I've also added a parenthetical.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 20:36
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    @MattL., I think we agree. I'm thinking of contexts where either (a) this is worked out in advance or (b) the accompaniment hears the soloist changing and follows. I don't think that has to be stated in the answer. For all we know he's playing solo.
    – jdjazz
    Commented Nov 27, 2017 at 0:18

Since you mentioned a rhythm change in your post, i'd venture that using bebop scales would be a good bet: they're octotonic scales and fall nicely into place. They were extensively used on elaborate blues of the bebop era

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