Identifying Chord Tones for the Blues by Tom Quayle

Hey guys and welcome to my first column for Twisted Ninja SW magazine, it’s crazy how time flies when you’re having fun!

We’re going to change things up a bit for this issue and move away from our Playing Over Changes ideas, segueing smoothly into some Blues playing. I say segueing because we’ll actually still be considering the idea of playing over the changes within the context of our Blues progression but this will be a very practical session that you can apply to your playing to enhance your Blues solos in any style that utilises the standard 12-bar progression.


To start with let’s identify our simple 12-bar Blues progression in the key of A.



E7///|D7///| A7///|////||

This should be very familiar to most of you as a standard 12-bar Blues and, of course, there are hundreds of variations on this theme but for now we’ll stick with the simple version.

The majority of players will use an Am pentatonic for the bulk of their improvisations over this progression due to the fact that it is pretty much fool-proof and all of the notes choices and phrases we have come to learn as guitar players sound great over the whole progression. The Am pentatonic is interesting in many ways as it actually contains almost all of the chord tones for each of the Dominant 7th chords in our progression. Let’s have a look at the chord tones for each chord:-

A7 – A, C#f Er G

D7 – D, F#, A, C

E7 – E, G#r B, D

The Am pentatonic is made up from the notes A, C, D, E, and G. As you can see it contains all of the chord tones for each chord except for the 3rds (C#, F# and G#) of each chord and the 5th (B) of our E7 chord. Let’s not worry about that 5th for now but rather about those 3rds that are so important to the sound of Dominant 7th chords.


If we learn where each of the root notes for the three Dominant 7th chords in the progression are within our pentatonic scale then it stands to reason that we can also learn to visualise where each of the major 3rds, not contained in the minor pentatonic scale, are for each of these root notes also.

>> The Beginner’s Guide to “Diminished Patterns”

Why would we want to do this? Well, it’s simple – the minor pentatonic scale just doesn’t cut it when it comes to outlining the sound of each chord as it goes by. In order to outline the sound of each chord, and thus play the harmony of the progression in our solos, we need that pesky major 3rd interval. If you check out the accompanying diagram for this issue you’ll find what most people call Am pentatonic position/box one. In this diagram I have labelled where each of the root notes for each chord in the Blues progression occur in the scale. Learn this first so that you can quickly and without thought identify these root notes within this position. At this point let me point out that there are lots of ways to visualise any scale but position or box based visualisation is as good as any method at this point so don’t worry if you are uncomfortable with the idea of playing in boxes/positions. You can apply the following information to any visualisation method.

Next you’ll find a diagram outlining where all of the major 3rds occur (within reasonable playing distance) from each of the A root notes. Take some time to really learn what shape these 3rd intervals make against each root note. Because the beginner guitar is such a visual instrument, a root to 3rd relationship between any two given strings for one dominant chord will be the same shape for any other dominant 7th chord – it will just have moved up or down the neck. Learn these intervals from each of the root notes as both ascending and descending shapes (where possible) so that when you are on the A7 chord you can, without thought, find both any root note and its related major 3rd interval. When combined with your vocabulary and licks from the Am pentatonic scale you’ll be able to choose to play Am pentatonic lines and throw in the major 3rd to outline the actual sound of the A7 chord.

Now repeat this process but for the D7 chord in the third diagram, learning where the root notes and major 3rd intervals are for this chord. Again, the shapes that those 3rds make against the root note should be familiar as they are the same as for the A7, just relocated on the neck. Finally do the same process for the E7 chord – this should be exponentially faster than for the A7 now as you will already be experienced with the root to 3rd visual relationships.

Now experiment incorporating these 3rd intervals into your Blues playing in order to outline the sound of each chord in the progression. Notice how in my example playing on the video, once I add these 3rds into my lines you can really start to hear the progression in my solos.

Good luck with this guys and I’ll see you in the next article!


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