Jazzin’ the Blues with an Altered V-I Ramp

Last month we discovered how to add musical tension to a blues by including notes from the melodic minor scale. Starting a half-step higher than the I chord, we used this scale to introduce tension-generating altered tones during the transition to the IV. [See “Jazzin’ the Blues with an Altered I-IV Ramp,” Oct. ’05.] If you recall, we were in the key of A, using a Bb melodic minor scale to carry us from an altered A7 to D9. I also use this technique when shifting from an altered V chord back to the I, and that’s what we’ll explore right now.

As we did in the previous lesson, let’s first hear the altered colors in a harmonic context before applying them to a line. Ex. 1 shows an E7#9-E7b9-A9 progression, which puts the sound of the altered V-I change in our ears. Listen to the descending melody on the second string. Do you hear how G and F lead to E? Relative to the V—E7—G and F are the #9 and b9. These altered tones create tension that pulls us toward E and the chord-tone resolution it provides as A7’s 5.

Now let’s insert this tension and release into a line. Moving a half-step above the altered E7—our starting chord—brings us to F, the root of our new melodic minor scale. Ex. 2 lays out the notes in F melodic minor: F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D, E, and F. This scale yields E7’s #9 and b9, as well as its b5 [Bb] and #5 [C]. In addition to these altered tones, the F melodic minor scale also contains three of E7’s chord tones: the root [E], the 3 [G#, spelled enharmonically as Ab], and the b7 [D].

Ex. 3 shows how you might use notes from F melodic minor to spice up the last two beats of E7#9 as you head to A7. It’s a bluesy phrase with a moment of tension occurring right before the chord change. In Ex. 4, I’m increasing the tension by playing F melodic minor across an entire measure of E7#9.

Next time, I’ll show you how I add altered colors to a blues by playing out of small chord grips up and down the fretboard.