All posts by funnelljazz

building on pentatonics: the major and minor blues scales

The blues as a musical genre is characterized by an ambiguous tonality, constantly oscillating between major and minor¹. In order to render such an ambivalent quality when playing the blues, two distinct (though related) scales are commonly used: the major and the minor blues scales, which quite simply derive from the major and minor pentatonic scales respectively. In each case, a “blue” note is added to the five tones that form the basic major/minor pentatonic sounds. The major and minor blues scales can therefore be considered hexatonic scales, each being comprised of six distinct notes.

From major pentatonic to major blues scale

As presented in this short article, the major pentatonic scale is comprised of scale degrees 1 2 3 5 6. In the key of C for example, that’s C D E G A.

Reflecting the feeling of major-minor ambiguity discussed above, the blue note of choice here is indeed #2 (or, enharmonically, b3): with this addition to the basic tones of the major pentatonic scale, both the augmented second (or, enharmonically, the minor third) and the major third are included in the major blues scale. Note that the blue note creates chromaticism in the scale, dividing the whole-tone interval originally present in the pentatonic between scale degrees 2 and 3 into two semitones. Adhering to widely accepted principles of music notation, we’ll refer to this blue note as #2 in the context of an ascending melody, and as b3 in the context of a descending melody. Hence the formula:

1 2 #2 3 5 6 1 (ascending) / 1 6 5 3 b3 2 1 (descending).

In the key of C, that is:

C major blues scaleC D D# E G A C ascendingC A G E Eb D C descending

From minor pentatonic to minor blues scale

The minor pentatonic scale is comprised of scale degrees 1 b3 4 5 b7. In the key of A, that’s A C D E G. As explained in the article already mentioned above, A minor pentatonic and C major pentatonic are relatives. As such, they both feature all the same notes (the only difference being their “starting point” or root: A in the former case, C in the latter).

Quite simply, each minor blues scale also happens to be the relative minor of its major counterpart, hence featuring all the same notes as the latter, but played starting a minor third below its root:

C major blues scaleC D D# E G A C ascendingC A G E Eb D C descending
A minor blues scale (A is a minor third below C)A C D D# E G A ascendingA G E Eb D C A descending

Notice that the blue note is the same tone in both scales: #2/b3 in the context of the major blues scale becomes #4/b5 in the context of the minor blues scale². So the general formula for the minor blues scale is:

1 b3 4 #4 5 b7 1 (ascending) / 1 b7 5 b5 4 b3 1 (descending).

C minor blues scaleC Eb F F# G Bb C ascendingC Bb G Gb F Eb C descending

Which scale fits what chord?

As I always tell my students: “in music, there are no hard and fast rules” (Mark Levine actually expressed the idea of musical freedom in jazz using this very wording a few decades ago in his Jazz Piano Book). Pretty much anything goes, as long as you’re honest with what you’re hearing in your mind’s ear. But the notion of infinite possibilities can be daunting… Not to worry though: that’s where the pentatonics and the blues scales step in! They’re a natural, fun, versatile way to begin your journey with improvisation, and will surely prove to be instrumental in developing your inner ear and exploring musical ideas. If you’re wondering over what chords these scales can be played, here’s a very general way of thinking about it to get you started:

  • the major pentatonic/blues scale works on dominant (C7, C7(#9)…) and major chords (C6, Cma7) built on the same root as the scale;
  • the minor pentatonic/blues scale works on dominant (C7, C7(#9)…) and minor chords (Cmi, Cmi6, Cmi7…) built on the same root as the scale;
  • the minor pentatonic/blues scale also works on dominant and minor chords built on a root located a fourth above the tonic of the scale (F7, Fmi7) or a fifth above the tonic of the scale (G7, Gmi7).

This means you can play over a whole blues using just one scale! C minor pentatonic/blues indeed sounds great over C7, F7, and G7 (degrees I, IV, and V of a C blues respectively). Play the scale against each of these chords and listen carefully: you’ll notice the different shades it takes…


That’s all there really is to it! A common misconception is to think that there is only one blues scale. Thinking in terms of having two distinct blues scales (which are, in fact, each other’s relatives) at one’s disposal is indeed a simpler and more fruitful approach.

As I mentioned briefly in this post’s opening paragraph, the added notes (#2/b3 in the case of the major blues scale, and #4/b5 in the case of the minor blues scale) are often called “blue notes.” There is quite some controversy in musicological circles around those so called blue notes… But I tend to agree that the ones mentioned here do indeed largely contribute to giving a bluesy feel to your basic pentatonics, and are indeed the most common. So play around with them, and you’ll see… They sound great!


¹ In “Blue Note and Blue Tonality,” William Tallmadge writes about “neutral” pitches (quarter-tones), and particularly “neutral” thirds in the context of the blues: singers and instrumentalists traditionally inflect the third in the blues scale, which as a result sounds somewhere in between the tempered minor and major thirds (hence the term “neutral”). On many instruments however (such as the piano), it is impossible to play neutral thirds (you’d have to go in between the keys!). Jazz and blues pianists have no choice but to use either minor or major thirds, or to play around with both.

² For further reading on the topics of pentatonic scales and the blues, I suggest referring to chapters 9 and 10 in Mark’s Jazz Theory Book.


Levine, Mark. The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma: Sher Music Co., 1989.

Levine, Mark. “Chapter Nine: Pentatonic Scales.” In The Jazz Theory Book, 193-218. Petaluma: Sher Music Co., 1995.

Levine, Mark. “Chapter Ten: The Blues.” In The Jazz Theory Book, 219-236. Petaluma: Sher Music Co., 1995.

Tallmadge, William. “Blue Note and Blue Tonality.” The Black Perspective in Music, Autumn 1984 (pp. 155-165).

Le Barbizon concert review: Jazz à bâbord

Review of Word Out’s concert at Le Barbizon in Paris (January 2023) on Jazz à bâbord. French critic Bob Hatteau’s blog features album reviews, artist interviews, and covers live jazz shows occurring in and around Paris.

🇫🇷 “Jim Funnell’s Word Out mixe tradition et modernité dans un néo-bop mélodieux et enjoué.”

🇬🇧/🇺🇸 “Jim Funnell’s Word Out’s melodious and playful neo-bop blends tradition with modernity.”

Bob Hatteau, Jazz à bâbord

Bitcorn Soup and Lesser Vice on Tomek’s Ear Condition 598

Click on image above to listen on Mixcloud

Tomek’s Ear Condition 598 – 2022.12.23, complete playlist:

1. THE SOUND THAT ENDS CREATION – Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer — Merry Christmas You Filthy Animal DL

2. ADAM NEELY – God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 17TET — Christmas Microtonal Lo-Fi Hip Hop DL

3. JIM FUNNELL’S WORD OUT – Bitcorn Soup (Alternate) — Bitcorn Soup DL

4. JIM FUNNELL’S WORD OUT – Lesser Vice — Lesser Vice DL

5. BJÖRK – Atopos — Fossora 2LP

6. MASS OF AMARA – Army Of Me — Army Of Me DL

7. VOIVOD – Ultraman — Ultraman EP

8. SIGH – Heresy I: Oblivium —  Heir To Despair DL

9. ANCHOR AND BURDEN – Cerebral Transfixation — Kosmonautik Pilgrimage DL

10. PANZERBALLETT – Let It Snow — X-Mas Death Jazz 2LP

11. MICHAEL JEFRY STEVENS – Email — The Slope DL

12. ร็อกคงคย (ROCK KONG KOI) – รักมีพิษ (Rak Mi Pit) — เสียวโว๊ย (Sieow Woi) MC

Word Out @ Le Barbizon (Paris, January 5)

🇬🇧/🇺🇸 Concert (with dinner or drinks): Word Out on January 5 from 8PM at Le Barbizon (141 rue de Tolbiac, 75013 Paris). Join us and experience a repertoire of new post-bop/ethno jazz fusion compositions. With Chris Jennings (double bass), Jeff Boudreaux (drums), Akiko Horii (percussion) and Jim Funnell (piano/compositions). RSVP available on Le Barbizon’s website here.

🇫🇷 Dîner-concert (ou juste pour prendre un verre) : Word Out le 5 janvier prochain à partir de 20h au Barbizon (141 rue de Tolbiac, 75013 Paris). Venez découvrir un tout nouveau répertoire composé de morceaux post-bop/ethno jazz fusion avec Chris Jennings (contrebasse), Jeff Boudreaux (batterie), Akiko Horii (percussions) et Jim Funnell (piano/compositions). Réservation possible dès aujourd’hui sur le site du Barbizon.

🇪🇸 Concierto (con cena o bebidas): Word Out el 5 de enero a partir de las 20h en Le Barbizon (141 rue de Tolbiac, 75013 París). Únase a nosotros y disfrute de un repertorio de nuevas composiciones de post-bop/ethno jazz fusión. Con Chris Jennings (contrabajo), Jeff Boudreaux (batería), Akiko Horii (percusión) y Jim Funnell (piano/composiciones). RSVP disponible en el sitio web de Le Barbizon aquí.

🇯🇵 コンサート(ディナーまたはドリンク付き)。
1月5日午後8時より、Le Barbizon (141 rue de Tolbiac, 75013 Paris)にてWord Outのライブを開催します。
Chris Jennings (ダブルベース), Jeff Boudreaux (ドラム), 堀居晶子 (パーカッション) and Jim Funnell (ピアノ&作曲) 。

micro jazz fusion… Bitcorn Soup by Jim Funnell’s Word Out (feat. David Fiuczynski) out today!

Stream/download Bitcorn Soup (2022) on your favourite platform.
Ecoutez/téléchargez Bitcorn Soup (2022) sur votre plateforme préférée.

“Une musique au surréalisme indomptable.” – Ravy Magnifique (batteur, compositeur, percussionniste)

🇬🇧/🇺🇸 Recorded in Paris, Boston, and London from August 2021 to March 2022. Mixed and mastered by Javier Escudero in April 2022 at Estudios Cubex (Spain). Artwork by Marie-Elisabeth Rubin (France). Video editing by Laure Lang.

🇫🇷 Enregistré à Paris, Boston, et à Londres entre août 2021 et Mars 2022. Mixé et masterisé par Javier Escudero en Avril 2022 à Estudios Cubex (Espagne). Art graphique par Marie-Elisabeth Rubin (France). Montage vidéo par Laure Lang.

David Fiuczynski (g)
Dominique Muzeau (b)
Franck Vaillant / Asaf Sirkis (d)
Ravy Magnifique (perc)
Akiko Horii (perc)
Jim Funnell (keys & composition)

pre-save Bitcorn Soup on Spotify and enjoy the tracks on release day!

🇬🇧 The Spotify Pre-Save campaign for Bitcorn Soup is now live, which means you can go ahead and unlock the music to make sure you don’t miss it on release day (September 10). You will get a notification from Spotify, and both microtonal jazz fusion tracks (a main and an alternate take) will be added to your Release Radar on the platform.

This also helps the music get featured on different playlists as pre-saves tell the Spotify algorithm that fans are excited about the release. So thank you in advance for the nudge, it is much appreciated!

🇫🇷 La campagne de pre-save (pré-enregistrement) Spotify pour le single Bitcorn Soup est en ligne, ce qui veut dire que tu peux désormais “déverrouiller” la musique, de façon à ne pas la rater le jour de sa sortie officielle (le 10 septembre). Tu recevras une notification de la part de Spotify, et les deux titres jazz fusion microtonal (une version principale du morceau ainsi qu’une version alternative) seront ajoutés à ton Radar des sorties.

Cela permet aussi d’augmenter les chances de voir cette musique selectionnée dans le cadre de diverses playlists : les “pre-save” permettent en effet de communiquer à l’algorithme de Spotify que les fans sont enthousiastes à l’idée de la sortie prochaine. Donc merci d’avance pour ton petit coup de pouce très apprécié !