When you’re soloing or improvising over a I – IV – V blues chord progression you can use the A blues scale to solo over all three chords. If you’re playing in the key of A the I – IV – V chords will be A7 – D7 – E7. You can use that one scale to play over all of three chords. You don’t have to change scales when you change chords and move from the I to the IV or the V chord.
A 12 bar blues progression in the key of A like in the Alchemy of Blues Shapes Part II has the following chord progression:
/ A7 / A7 / A7 / A7 / D7 / D7 / A7 / A7 / E7 / D7 / A7 / E7 /
So again, you can use the A blues scale (or A minor pentatonic) to play over the entire 12 bar blues chord progression. You don’t need to worry when the chord changes to the IV or V chord. You are in safe waters.
However, blues soloing can become even more interesting and flavorful when you hit the right target notes (chord tones) when you move to the IV, V or back to the I chord.
When you’re moving from the I to the IV or V chord it sounds best when you hit one of the chord tones of the chord you’re playing over, so if you’re moving to D7 (IV chord) you want to hit one of the chord tones of the D7 chord, if you’re moving to E7 (V chord) you want to hit one of the chord tones of the E7 chord, and if you’re moving back to the A7 chord you want to hit one of the chord tones of the A7 chord.
So let’s take a closer look what the chord tones are for each of the I – IV – V chords.
Chord Tones and Target Notes
Chord tones are simply the notes each chord contains. The dom7 chords ( A7 – D7 – E7 ) consists of the 1 – 3 – 5 – b7 notes from the major scale.
A7 = A – C# – E – G (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
D7 = D – F# – A – C (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
E7 = E – G# – B – D (1 – 3 – 5 – b7)
In the diagrams below you can see where the 1 – 3 – 5 – b7 notes are located on the fretboard for each chord.
Chord tones of the I Chord ( A7 Chord )
Chord tones of the IV Chord ( D7 Chord )
Chord tones of the V Chord ( E7 Chord )
Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount of chord tones you can hit as a target note when moving to the I – IV or V chord. You take this step by step, note by note.
Implementing Target notes
Just pick one note from the IV chord and choose that note as your target note when you’re moving to the IV chord. Practice getting comfortable to hit that note when you switch to the IV chord.
For example: Let’s choose the third note (3) from the IV chord as your target note. Let’s see where that note is located relative to your A blues scale.
First visualize and play the A blues scale ( 1 – b3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – b7 ) See below:
Now look where the 3rd note (the green dots) of the IV chord (D7) is located relative to the A blues scale. Play the blues scale along with the 3 of the IV chord so you know where to hit it when the IV chord comes along.
Now practice some soloing/improvisation with the A blues scale over the 12 bar blues progression from “The Alchemy of Blues Shapes Part II” and hit that target note (the 3 from the IV chord) right on the moment when you change to the IV chord. Sounds cool doesn’t it? Practice this over and over until you get the hang of it.
Once you got this under your belt you can pick another chord tone (the 1 , 5 or b7) from each of the I – IV – V chords, do the same exercise again and expand your target notes step by step.
Improvisation using Target Notes
In the example below (see tablature) we improvise a solo using target notes (chord tones) every time we change chords. We play the solo over a 12 bar blues progression: / A7 / A7 / A7 / A7 / D7 / D7 / A7 / A7 / E7 / D7 / A7 / E7 /
* On measure 1 we start the solo with the I chord (A7) playing the root note 1 (chord tone) of A7.
* On measure 5 we move to the IV chord (D7) and we play the 3 of D7 (just like the diagram above) right on beat 1, then followed by the 1 and b7 of the IV chord.
* On measure 7 we move back to the I chord (A7) and we now play the 3 of A7.
* On measure 9 we go to the V chord (E7) and play the 1 of E7 followed by the b7 of E7. * On measure 10 when we go to the IV chord (D7) and slide to the 1 of D7 followed by the b7 of the IV chord.
* On measure 11 we go back to the I chord (A7) and again play the 1 of the chord.
* Finally on measure 12 we play the 1 of the V chord, followed by the 5 and then bend up to the 3 and back to the 1 of the I chord (E7).For this example make sure you hit that target note on beat 1 of every measure.