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A Lesson in the Blues… Understanding the Pedal Tone

Bill Farrish

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When I started playing guitar, I think like most of my generation it was by copying blues records.

For me, it was Buddy Guy and B.B. King who really sparked my interest. Even after all of these years of playing, I still seem to find the blues as an endless source of inspiration.

In this article we look at a few different ways to deal with the changes to a Jazz Blues in B Flat.

See the full examples below

A common device used to help create tension and release is a Pedal Tone. Typically pedal tones are placed below the chord. But they can actually be placed anywhere within the chord as long as it remains a constant note and creates the amount of push and pull we are looking for.

The first example places the pedal on top of the chords and is the 13th of the Bb7 chord. In this example using the top as a pedal requires the chords in the progression to be altered so that the note is one of the available extensions when needed.  Pretty straight forward approach.

In the second example, the pedal is moved to the bottom note. A typical pedal when placed on the bottom is the 5th of the key. Which in this key would be an F. However to make things interesting I chose to use the Bb (Tonic) of the key as my pedal. I could have also used an open E, which is the tritone sub for the Bb7 to create some very interesting tensions against the rest of the progressions. Try experimenting with both on your own.

The final example is more of a straight-ahead version using examples of back-cycling and chromatic approaches. For the most part, when playing these type of vocings my 4th finger never leaves the 3rd string. 

These 3 studies are designed to feed into each other giving you a solid 3 choruses to string together.

Take your time going through these studies and really try to analyze what’s going on in them.

As usual, I’ve included both standard notation with lefthand fingerings and tablature for those who aren’t strong readers. My hope is that going through these studies will inspire to work out some of your own.

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