Minor Key 12-Bar Blues Jam tracks for Beginners

This introduction to 12-bar blues in minor keys is a follow-up to my last hub which introduced 12-bar blues in major keys. In this hub, you get two slightly different 12-bar blues backing tracks (jam tracks) in the key of A minor. What to keep on top of in minor key blues is exactly the same as in major key blues; you target chord tones (the notes chords consist of) as principal 'safe' notes from which to venture out to less-safe (but far more enticing) non-chord tones that give direction and shape with a touch of spicy dissonance to your melodic lines if you're soloing over the chords. The same applies if you're just playing the accompaniment and singing, or if someone else is soloing. Use chord tones and non-chord tones to connect chords or decorate or extend chords in a way that's more interesting than just changing from chord to chord or playing them straight.

Remember chord tones can be any octave of the actual notes being played in the chords. So even if you play one that's one or more octaves higher or lower than one in the chord that's being played, it's still a matching chord tone that will fit perfectly well.

Chords and chord Tones used in the two tracks

Chord Tones
E G# B D
F A C Eb

The Videos

In both videos, you can see the highlighted current chord as the track plays. Each track starts with a four beat count in, so you can play along with the track. The chord tones are displayed at the bottom of the screen for each chord as it plays. Make sure the chords are clearly shown by playing the video at 1080 HD quality if possible as that's what they were recorded at.

The jam tracks were composed using Band in a Box music styles applied to the chosen chords. Band in a Box is a great application that can provide you with countless styles of multi instrument jam tracks to play over. The tracks are MIDI, which can then be converted to audio. They can also be exported to MIDI sequencers or MIDI notation software such as Finale or Guitar Pro and changed at will.

Minor Blues Jam Track 1

12 Bar Blues in the key of A minor
12 Bar Blues in the key of A minor | Source
Roman numerals are used to show which scale degree the chords are based on regardless of the key.
Roman numerals are used to show which scale degree the chords are based on regardless of the key. | Source

This blues form is similar to the standard major form, except that every chord is minor rather than major. It works the same way, although it lacks the bluesy clash between the flat 3rd, C, and the ' major' 3rd, C#, of the chord that a blues in A major could have. There's also less of a 'push' to the tonic (home) chord from the last chord, Em7, compared to the dominant 7th chord, E7, that a blues in major would have. It doesn't mean that the changes aren't as good. They're just more subtle.

In this jam track, the only chord tones are those of Am7, Dm7 and Em7 as the video and the chart above show. You can play them anywhere on whichever instrument you play, but keep them all in the same general pitch area. Then fill in with neighbouring non-chord tones - carefully. Unlike chord tones, non-chord tones have a wide variety of effects - some sound great in certain contexts - others can sound terrible. This is where the learning comes in. Remember which ones sound good in any context and use them accordingly - but always experiment and explore different possibilities.

Different instruments have their own methods of getting bluesy sounds. Guitarists go in for vibrato and string bending while pianists go for chromatic dissonances. That is, they often precede notes with the note a semitone lower as a brief lead up but keep it sounding even after the target note is played for a strong but brief dissonance.

Minor Blues Jam Track 2

12 Bar Blues in the key of A minor
12 Bar Blues in the key of A minor | Source
Scale degree triads
Scale degree triads | Source

This blues jam track has a bit more drive because of the two 7th chords, F7 & E7. F7 leads to E7, which leads to the tonic (home) chord, Am7. A famous song that uses this blues form is 'The Thrill is Gone'.

Notice the Roman numerals use a mixture of lower and uppercase. That's to show which chords are based on minor chords (lowercase) and on major chords (upper case). Keep that in mind if transposing to different keys.

Scale name
A C D Eb E G A
Typical scale choices for Blues in A minor

Scale-Based Note Sources

As with major key blues, you can use scales for a ready-made template of notes that work well with the key.

Usable scales contain chord tones and non-chord tones, and you should know (or at least feel) which scale notes are chord tones and which are non-chord tones so you can make intelligent choices and not just play blindly from a given source of notes.

The reason that certain scales work well is that while their non-chord tones don't have a direct relationship with the current chord, they still have a relationship with the key.

For example. Let's say you choose the scale of A natural minor (which contains the notes ABCDEFG) as a note source for improvising over either of the blues tracks and you play the chord tone, A, followed by another chord tone, C, during one of the Am7 chords. Now let's say you also want to add a non-chord tone between A & C. There are two non-chord tones possible. B flat is one and B natural is the other. Which one do you choose?

If you stick to the scale, you don't have a choice. Only B is available. In most cases, B is the best choice because B agrees with the key of A minor. A note source that agrees with the key is the main reason for choosing the A minor scale.

If you had chosen B flat instead of B natural, you would have a very different sound. There's nothing wrong with B flat, but it doesn't agree with the key of A minor in the way that B natural does. That means it will sound 'different' and stand out in a way that B natural doesn't. It may sound like a horribly wrong note, or it may sound like an exotically colourful note that sounds great. It all depends on the context and how you play it, and for that you need lots of experience to be able to predict the effects of non-chord tones that don't agree with the key.

Sticking to a scale can be useful in that it will give you a set of notes (chord tones and non-chord tones) that work well because they have a strong relationship with the key or mode of the music, but, at the same time, it will prevent you from venturing out into new territory.

By all means use scales, but never allow yourself to be boxed in by a scale. You need to have the freedom to play any note whether it's part of a scale or not when that note is exactly the one that the song needs at that point in time.

That's the beauty of jam tracks. You can try anything you like, hear the results and learn from the experience.

© 2014 chasmac

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