Blues on major triads, first four frets.

Hi everyone, and welcome to this first of a series of lessons on how to play the blues on the electric bass. 

 

This series will focus on the different types of blues, starting from its basic I-IV-V chord progression, and moving to more harmonically complex ones, mainly used in jazz contexts. More specifically, today you will learn how to play the basic blues using only the major triads (in quarter notes), and never moving out of the first four frets. By playing only in first position, you will be forced to use less common fingerings, while gaining a whole new perspective of this very important part of your instrument. In other words, a double benefit: learn to play the the blues, and effective practice on the major triads! 

 

Two of the most peculiar aspects of the blues are:

  • the twelve bars length for each chorus; 

  • from the harmonic point of view, being based on dominant V7 chords, derived from  the Mixolidian scale (V degree of the Major scale modes). 

In other words, the blues lacks of a resolving chord, since all the chords are dominant V7 that don’t resolve to a I Major. I like to think that the blues is a democratic art form, since there’s no “chord hierarchy” between the dominant V and the resolving I Major.

 

And this is the chord progression of the most basic blues chorus: 

Despite being the most basic chord progression, the previous one is admittedly not too common these days. For example, the second bar is usually replaced by the IV degree, in order to break the monotony of four consecutive I degree bars: this feature can be considered a reminiscence of African music, since it re-establishes symmetrical blocks of two bars. The blues form has its roots in the cyclical form of African music, and it’s interesting to note that quite a number of African artists feel that the 12 bar blues is uneven and “contrary to the idea of a regular division of the total cycle” (African Music by Gerhard Kubik, vol.II). In fact, African artists pretty often tend to cut the first two bars, correcting the blues to ten bars form, as shown here.

All this being said, the exercises presented in this first lesson will be based on the most commonly used 12 bar blues form, with the IV degree on the second bar, and a progression V7-IV7 on bar 9 and 10, as shown here. 

Remember, the challenging thing here is to play the following blues lines in all 12 keys on major triads only, no minor sevenths, and keeping your left hand (or right for the lefties) on the first four frets of the bass. This way you will learn new, less common fingerings, and gain a thorough knowledge of this first, very important part of the fretboard. 

Before playing the following exercises a tempo, I suggest that you check each note out of tempo, and only when you feel comfortable you can start playing the bass-lines at 60 bpm, or a little bit faster. Again, don’t forget to keep your fingers in first position, and happy practice! Check the YouTube video here to see how to play the following blues bass-lines.

 That was it for now, thank you for reading, happy practice and see you in the next one!

PDF here:

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