How to Add Jazz Scales to Your Blues Piano Solo
There’s nothing to combat the summer heat like a trip to the ice cream parlor. Kids and adults equally relish the experience of the “build-your-own” ice cream treat. Although each cold treat may start similar, once you get to the mix-ins buffet, you start to see creativity and originality at its best—Fudgegrahamsprinklegummybutterbricklecashew anyone? Now, why relegate such creativity to the ice cream parlor alone? Why not add some delectable mix-ins to your blues piano sound? In today’s Quick Tip, we’re going to teach you how to have just as much fun mixing jazz scales into your blues piano soloing! You’ll learn:
- 3 Jazz Scales
- 3 Rootless Dominant 7 Voicings
- 1 Jazzy-Blues Application Exercise
Let’s face it…that minor blues scale can get a little predictable after awhile. Isn’t it time you added some fresh and interesting taste to your solos?
Let’s take a closer look.
Blues Piano Basics
As a point of entry, let’s be sure to review some blues piano foundations. Today’s lesson follows the standard 12-bar blues—a classic form used in hundreds of tunes that utilizes only three chords. If you are already familiar with this form, feel free to skip to the next section. The image below outlines a 12-bar blues form in C.
The most common scale used for blues improvisation is the Minor Blues Scale shown below. (This scale is also often simply called “The Blues Scale.”)
While the Minor Blues Scale sounds great, it can also become somewhat repetitive. That’s when it comes in handy to add some jazz scales into your blues piano improv.
3 Jazz Scales
Jazz pianists frequently use The Dominant Diminished Scale when soloing over Dominant 7th chords. In this section we’ll cover 3 different Dominant Diminished scales, how to construct this scale, and other names for this scale.
What is the Dominant Diminished Scale?
The Dominant Diminished Scale is an 8-note scale constructed of alternating ½ steps and whole steps beginning with a ½ step.
The figure below illustrates how to build a Dominant Diminished Scale starting on C by alternating between ½ steps (H) and whole steps (W).
Perhaps it may come to you as no surprise that another name for this scale is the Half Step/Whole Step Diminished Scale or more simply, the Half Whole Diminished Scale.
Dominant Diminished Scale Properties
“But what is diminished about this scale?” you ask. That’s actually a great question! If you build a chord using every-other scale tone, the resulting 7th chord is fully diminished.
An important characteristic of this scale is that it contains all the chord tones of a Dominant 7th chord built on the first tone of the scale.
Another characteristic of the Dominant Diminished Scale that makes it so compelling for jazz musicians to use over Dominant 7th chords is that remaining tones of the scale make up colorful Dominant 7th extensions (13th) and alterations (♭9, ♯9, ♯11) as shown below. You can learn more about chord extensions and alterations in our full-length 2-5-1 Chord Extension & Alterations course.
It is important not to confuse this scale with the Whole Step/Half Step Diminished Scale (W-H-W-H-W-H-W / C-D-D♯-F-F♯-G♯-A-B). That scale, while also outlining a fully diminished 7th chord on C, does not contain all the same Dominant properties of C13(♭9 ♯9 ♯11) as shown above. Occasionally you may encounter the term Octatonic Scale used to refer to either version of the diminished scale. You can learn even more about these scales and others in our Scales for Improv on 7th Chords course.
Dominant Diminished Scales Over C Blues
Now that you’ve sampled the Dominant Diminished Scale, let’s look at applying it to the 12-bar blues form in C. To begin, you will need to construct this scale beginning on C, F and G. Here are the three scales you will need to know.
Next, let’s try something a little more interesting in the left hand as well.
Rootless Dominant 7th Voicings
A great way to add interest to your blues sound is to mix in some jazzy Dominant voicings. We can use rootless voicings to add colorful chord extensions to our left hand. The voicings shown below work great together over a C Blues.
Did you notice that the roots are not in the chord voicings above? Instead, other colorations are added such as the 9th or the 13th. Rootless voicings are common in stride patterns and situations in which a bass player covers the root of the chord. This is a classic jazz piano sound that you’ll what to get comfortable playing. You can learn all about rootless voicings in our Rootless Voicings–Chord Types & 2-5-1 Application Smart Sheet.
Now, let’s put the hands together in a jazzy-blues scale exercise over the entire 12-bar form.
Jazzy-Blues Scale Exercise
The following exercise will help you get comfortable navigating these jazz piano scales over the C Blues chord changes. Notice that we don’t practice starting each dominant diminished scale from it’s starting tone. Instead, each time the chord changes, we pick up the new scale using the closest scale tone from where we previously finished. This allows you connect your musical ideas seamlessly as you begin to improvise.
Great job! That will certainly make your blues solos a truly one-of-a-kind treat! You can download the complete lesson sheet and backing tracks from the bottom of this page after logging in with your membership. You can also easily transpose this lesson to any key with a single click using our Smart Sheet Music.
If you enjoyed this Quick Tip, then you will also dig our Jazzy Blues Comping courses below:
Thanks for mixing it up with us today. See you again soon!
Blog written by Michael LaDisa / Quick Tip by Jonny May
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