In several scales, there are notes that are often referred to as blues notes. In a decidedly non-creative naming convention, these blue notes were named after their huge presence in the blues. The blue notes are often flatted notes of an otherwise major scale, often to enhance the expressiveness of the music.
While a blue note can sound somber and lonesome, it can sound enticing and exciting in another context. Let’s learn a little more about some blue notes.
1. The Flatted Third (b3rd)
Often referred to as the minor interval, this blue note is popular for contrasting color over a major chord. As we should all know, a major chord contains the root, the major third and the fifth. The flatted third blue note plays in contrast to the major third. The flatted third is often a part of a melody or solo that sounds higher musically than the major third.
A common example of a minor third blue note is in a blues scale. A blues scale contains a root, flatted third, fourth, flatted fifth, fifth, and flatted seventh. This flatted third creates tension with the first chord’s major third in the blues progression of the same key.
2. The Flatted Fifth (b5th)
Often used as a leading tone before going to the IV and V chords of the 12 bar blues progression, the flatted fifth is another common blue note. While its popularity can rest soundly in how nicely it resolves to the next chord in a blues progression, this blue note is also useful for other things. A popular use is found in the ability for guitars to bend into the flatted fifth from the forth by way of using a half-step bend. Commonly they will bend past the blue note and hit the fifth too.
Another popular use for this blue note is as a passing tone. A passing tone is a note that is used to get to another note. While it can be a leading note for chord changes, it excels at being in a peculiar place that resides neatly by other tones commonly found in other chords in a progression.
3. The Flatted Seventh (b7th)
This blue note is renowned for giving the color to dominant seventh chords. A full step below the root (two frets), it is easy to find, easy to play, and, best of all, sounds absolutely great.
A common use of the flatted seventh is when a dominant seventh chord arrises, often the first chord of a blues progression can be dominant. It is also easy to bend from the flat seventh blue note to the root of the chord with a full step bend. Just make sure to play both of the notes by fretting them so you know when you’ve hit the root.
Now that you’ve gotten a good overview of the three most common blue notes, its time to play them. Load up your favorite blues song, find the key, and play some of these notes. Right away, you should notice the tension they create. Listen to your favorite songs and see how the greats employ those notes and emulate their playing.