Aug 04 2015

Using The Major Third In the Blues

By: Frank Macri

Posted in: Blues Guitar Lessons


Many blues players are very familiar with the pentatonic minor scale but fail to incorporate other sounds into their playing. This can result in a one-dimensional sound and also leave a player feeling like he’s in a rut with his playing. In this lesson, we’re going to learn a simple approach to help avoid pentatonic burnout by incorporating the major third. You hear this idea being played by countless blues musicians such as Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B King, Buddy Guy, Freddie King, Joe Bonamassa and many others.

The A minor pentatonic scale contains:

1  b3   4   5   b7

A    C   D  E   G

The blues is usually related to dominant harmonies, which contain major thirds. An A7 for example, which would be the tonic chord in an A blues is spelled A(1)-C#(3)-E(5)-G(b7). To provide a different color in your playing, add a major third (C#) to the minor pentatonic scale.



A very common use of the major third is the ascending tonic arpeggio. Play the example below and notice how the major third (C#) is accented from the minor third (C). This technique gives a bluesy edge to the brightness of the note.

Now let’s resolve the major third an octave lower in the next example. Playing a phrase like this is a perfect set up to end on the ninth chord.

The last two examples demonstrate how Eric Clapton would incorporate the major third in his playing. The first one highlights the major third in descending octaves, while the last example exhibits the major third moving up an octave.



The major third is an important note to integrate into the pentatonic minor scale when playing over a dominant blues progression. Take these examples and play them till they feel comfortable, then start improvising while emphasizing the third in your soloing over the I chord. You will find this additional note will bring a sweetness to your playing and open your playing up to a new level.

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