Improvising Using The Blues Scale Over A Left Hand Tritone

Posted on 20. Sep, 2013 by in Uncategorized

Left hand voicing for blues


Let’s say that I’m playing a “‘run” and it’s taken from the blues scale in E-flat.  I’m not sure what my left hand should be doing. When my right hand is playing the “run”, should I be playing some type of jazzy dominant chord with my left hand or what?

Would you please let me know what chords or what I should be playing with my left hand?


There are many applications for the “Eb” Blues scale. Depending on what kind of music you are playing.  The blues scale can work with almost any style of music in the contemporary genre, particularly R&B, Jazz, Blues and Pop.

Let’s take a look at a I – IV chord progression in “Eb” using dominant chords. Based on the “Eb” major scale ( Eb F G Ab Bb C D Eb) the first scale-tone is “Eb” and the forth scale-tone is “Ab”.  The Eb and the Ab are the bass/root note of these dominant chords. In this example below the “I” chord is “Eb9” and the “IV” chord is “Ab13”.  Play the chords below on your keyboard instrument.

I) Eb9 = Eb/ G Db F                   IV) Ab13 =  Ab/ Gb C F

The L.H. will be playing the chords above ( the portion in blue) without the root note (red). This frees the R.H. to improvise using the Eb blues scale. I recommend playing the L.H. chord voicing in the keyboard register around middle “C” so it won’t sound muddy. This type of L.H. chord is referred to as a rootless voicing. It’s call a rootless voicing because the root note (bass) is omitted. If you’re playing with a band, the bass guitar player will play the root note.  As for you organist, preferably the “Hammond” guys, you have the option of  playing a “tritone” in the left hand while playing the bass note with the foot pedal.

OMG! I accidentally got sucked into a discussion on the big “T”. Seasoned musicians wear  tritones out on the organ all the time, but I’ve yet heard one explain “what it is” with any theoretical relevance. Most musicians use this term when they can’t explain what they’re playing just to stop you from asking questions. Please allow me to spread some theoretical truth on this subject. so here we go.

First let’s clear up some misinformation. Although they are related, the term “tritone” and “tritone substitution” (which will be another blog post) are not the same. Today we are talking about ‘tritone.”

A tritone is nothing more that the interval of an augmented 4th. Using the Eb major scale, let’s construct the interval of a regular 4th , also known as a perfect 4th . The 1st and 4th scale-tone (Eb -Ab) of the Eb major scale. The term augment means to raise a pitch by a half step. In this example the 4th is raised a half-step. Therefore the is

“Eb and A.” Play the tritone on your keyboard and listen to the sound. If you invert it, (A – Eb) you create another tritone built from the “A” root note.

Now where does tritone come from? I’m glad you asked. A tritone is the third and flat-seventh of a dominant 7th, 9th, 11th or 13th chord. Let’s look at a Eb dominant seventh chord (Eb7). Observe the formula below.

The Dominant Seventh Chord

Formula = 1  3  5  b7

The dominant seventh chord, often referred to as the seventh chord, is a major triad with an added flat seven. In the example below notice that the scale is similar to an Eb major scale with one exception. the seventh scale tone which is normally a major seventh (D) is now a flat seventh (Db). This scale is called an mixolydian scale (also a future blog post).

1        2       3         4       5       6       b7       8
Eb     F       G       Ab     Bb     C       Db     Eb

When we apply this formula to the mixolydian scale above, the Eb7 chord is as follows:

Eb7= Eb  G  Bb Db

Remember the tritone is the third and the flat seventh of the Eb7 chord. In the example above it’s
the “G” and “Db.”

See why I’ve been avoiding this question. Now let’s go back to the I – IV progression in “Eb.” We have two chords, the “Eb9” and the “Ab13”. Because both of these chords are dominant, we can pull the tritone out of these chords and get something going on in our L.H. to play on the organ or with a bass player.

The 3rd and the b7th of the Eb9 chord is  G – Db
The 3rd and the b7th of the Ab13 chord is Gb – C

Now we have two L.H. chord options. You can use the  tritone or the  Eb9 and Ab13 chords we learned earlier.Learn them both. This is how the tritone will be played on the organ as well asother keyboard instruments.

Bass / Left hand / Right Hand.

Eb9   =  Eb / G Db / Eb blues scale to improvise
Ab13 = Ab / Gb C / Eb blues scale to improvise

This is a sound you want to add to your musical vocabulary, so listen well and practice hard.

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