It’s time for another 12 bar tour of the blues, and this time we are taking it slow in A minor...
The track follows the standard 12 bar form in the key of Am. The harmony throughout is played using minor 7th voicings. This resulting sound has a slightly different character than we get when using plain minor triads. I think of it as a more ‘open’ or jazzy sound.
As with all standard 12 bar blues progressions, you can do wonders without using anything more than the minor pentatonic scale of the key. In this case, the Am pentatonic scale.
The 40,000 Year Old Scale
Pentatonic scales can be found in traditional music belonging to many different cultures around the world. It’s probable that various ancient civilisations developed pentatonic scales independently of one another. The pentatonic is known to predate the Greek mathematician and philosopher Pythagoras, (born around 569 BC), and it seems that its roots may go back many centuries further. Bone flutes that play a recognizable pentatonic scale have been discovered which are estimated to be up to 40,000 years old (such as this one mentioned in this article: The ice-age flute that can play The Star-Spangled Banner).
So what is the secret to the enduring popularity of the humble pentatonic (which is by far the most commonly used scale in rock, blues, folk and beyond)? Well, it may have something to do with the inherently melodic structure of the scale. There is a lack of dissonant intervals, making it especially user friendly to beginning improvisers who may be choosing notes from the scale with a degree of randomness. Additionally, the reduced number of notes (compared to a standard seven note scale) provides a higher likelihood of randomly chosen notes resulting in a coherent phrase.
Make a good friend of the pentatonic scale and it will repay you in kind in all manner of musical situations.
The biggest challenge in playing with this backing track will be navigating the two ‘stop-time’ choruses. Stop-time is a type of accompaniment found (mostly) in jazz and blues music in which the normal groove is temporarily replaced with sparse, but regular, accented attacks leaving the soloist to fill the silence in between. At medium or fast tempos the rhythmic stabs will sound on the first beat of each bar, or every other bar. Due to the slow tempo of this backing track the pattern has been fleshed out a bit and so we also get stabs on the upbeat (or ‘&’) of beat 2, and on beat 4 of every other bar. The chords continue to follow the same 12 bar pattern. Here’s how the rhythm would look notated:
(Note: when counting as written above, the beats in brackets are silent.)
The trick here is to keep playing phrases with a solid time-feel during the silences. At this slow tempo that is no easy feat! As ever, persistence and repetition will work wonders.
If you want to take inspiration from some fine examples of a slow minor blues you could do a lot worse than starting out with these three classics:
Cold Cold Feeling - Albert Collins
As the Years Go Passing By - Albert King
One Room Country Shack - Buddy Guy
Have fun with this backing track, we’ll be back with another soon. Your support is valuable to us. If you like what we are doing please give us a like and subscribe on Youtube and leave us a comment :)