Quarantine has allowed ample time for musical exploration. I'm a classically trained pianist studying music in college, and I'm using this extra time to be immersed in and learn how to play the blues.
I've transcribed a handful of pieces and I can play them in full, but I fail to understand certain theoretical aspects of each. I expect this post to be quite long...
The first song I transcribed was "Marie" by Otis Spann.
The most confusing aspect of this song is its mixing of major/minor blues scales. Even in the opening riffs, the song seems to switch between the two. The first little lick uses notes G, A, and C, going into a C7. The A puts it in the C major pentatonic/major blues scale category. Another 2 licks incorporates notes all from the C major blues scale, then he uses a lick that uses Bb instead of A (0:07). At what point is this just minor blues with an added sixth, and at what point is it switching between the major and minor blues scale. And, if it is all minor blues scale with an added 6th, how does one explain the constant use of sliding from Eb to E almost every time that note is hit (since E is not in the C minor blues scale). Is this merely a blue note leading into a chord tone?
Another point in this song that perfectly showcases this mixture is at 0:24. As the first 12 bar blues sequence goes into the V, Otis uses a lick that goes up chromatically (hitting each note in conjunction with a high C). The notes hit are C, D, Eb, E, F, F#/Gb, G. It's almost as if both the major/minor blues scales are combined into one, composite, chromatic scale. How can this be explained?
I understand that blues is essentially a study in mixing major and minor simultaneously, but I'm confused about the how and the when; how do I know when to mix these two ideas, when does it get away from one or the other and turn into one seamless mixture?
Another song that mixes the major and minor blues scales is "Same Old Blues" by Freddie King. I worked this out on piano first and then on guitar when the bends proved... kind of impossible on piano. lol
I'm specifically interested in the solo section starting at 1:56
The chord progression of this one is a little more nuanced. The solo section is as follows: D, F#7, Bm /, D, F#7, Bm, Am7, D7, G, G#dim, D, D/C, B7, E7, A7, D
The solo is all in the D major blues scale until the second D chord hits, the one before the D/C (at 2:24). At this point, it switches quite abruptly to D minor pentatonic, incorporating the 7th (C) instead of the 6th (B), and making heavy use of the minor blue note Ab. The remainder of the solo is in this minor blues scale.
Why does this work, and how can it be understood in a way that can be applied to my own playing? I understand it was most likely just intuition on Freddie's part, but because I don't have that intuition, that doesn't help me learn and progress from the example.
One last example that I'd like to add is the piano solo in Jeff Beck's "Blues Deluxe" performed by the great Nicky Hopkins.
The solo runs from 2:37 to 4:47, and it's a banger. It constantly seems to switch between the major and minor blues scales, incorporating the 6th and lowered 7th left and right. I've found that it's common to switch from the major blues scale on the I to the minor blues scale on the IV, and that happens here; Nicky also uses the bVII chord on the IV, something widely used in almost every bluesy Elton John track. That said, there seems to be some other forms of blues-based trickery going on here, and I can't make sense of the seemingly mixed scales and how to synthesize that into an understandable and usable format.
I hope this all makes sense. I guess some smaller-scale questions would be: - Can the blues idiom of hitting the minor third and major third in quick succession be be interpreted as a blue note in the minor blues scale or is it a switch to the major blues scale, since the major blues scale contains the major third (as well as the minor third)? - Does adding the 6th and 9th (or 2nd) scale degrees in a minor blues scale make it major, or is it simply a means of changing color/tone?
And these lead to the larger question of: - How do I understand the mixture of the major and minor blues scales in an applicable way?
It could just come down to more transcription and familiarization with the blues in the pursuit of this major/minor intuition. It could also be that the major and minor blues scales are completely interchangeable over a major blues harmony and can thus be used and switched at any point, whether separately (like "Same Old Blues") or in conjunction (the other two). Or maybe there is a more concrete explanation.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for your time and I look forward to your answer!