Blues Keys Vs. Real Keys (With Video)

Here’s the thing… when we say we’re in a “key” in blues, we aren’t really in a key at all.

It’s a convenience, but it’s not accurate.

For example, when we say a blues is “in the key of E,” it’s not, really. That’s just something we say. And if you’re new to the blues, and new to music, in general, this can be pretty confusing.

I did an article about this once before, that you may want to read, but the subject seemed to need a video as well:

Download it – MP4

27 Comments

  • Michael Chappell

    Reply Reply February 17, 2018

    Hi Griff, Great explanation and now I clearly understand. Cool lesson.

    Michael-Sydney-Australia-17 Feb 2018.

  • Mark S

    Reply Reply February 8, 2018

    So much to learn so little time. I have your Blues course and am slowly getting through it. This is somewhat helpful. Thanks for your consistent help and direction. Keep it coming.

    • Ben

      Reply Reply February 8, 2018

      Griff, although I’m an older player I have learned a lot from your tutorials. Consequently, I feel somewhat reluctant to say that while there may well be some technical validity to what you lay out in this lesson, it’s of no real value to a musician in a practical sense. In fact if I was a novice, it would leave me confused. I’ve actually played bass more than guitar and I can assure you that if you call out a blues in E, I’m gonna be playing E,A and B to hold the bottom for you, and if I don’t, you’re gonna be giving me some dirty looks! Sorry.

  • JohnnyB

    Reply Reply February 8, 2018

    The real meat of the video comes at about 7:23 when Griff tells you to play in the key of Gm pentatonic over a jam track in G, good advice. He does NOT say what to do when the music moves to the IV or V chords, though.

    Still, good information. When music theory was worked out, they didn’t know about the blues. What a great time to live, with blues and jazz!

  • Wayne Rozan

    Reply Reply February 8, 2018

    WOW, how about a tab for that intro solo.

  • David Allan

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    OK, cool…as you said.
    When in Blues mode, we all know what to do when one of us says “…in the key of…”.
    Yesterday, I looked up examples of all the scales in the world, from Min-Yo to Hirijoshi, to Ionian, to Bebop, and on and on. In the music world it is infinite.
    So, I guess I’ll pick up my gitfiddle and play a medley beginning with several flamenco Malaguena rounds, blending into all those classic surf tunes (Pipeline, Penetration, to Miserlou…I used to watch Dick Dale and others at the Rendezvous in Newport Beach…until the night when it burned down), and finally busting out a pentatonic “Blues” riff with some of those BB King bends. They can all fit together in all sorts of wonderfully weird ways. I find myself ever “Exploring” on my guitar.

  • Jeremy

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Excellent, it is nice to know the basic rules – so you can break them properly!
    Welcome to the big bad world of the blues…
    The land of breaking all the rules
    However I do like to clear up things like this in my head so I can move on and concentrate on just playing the blues, whatever that means to me and whoever is hearing it, so thanks for that Grif – much appreciated.

  • JK

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Not really true and makes things confusing for beginners. Yes you are in the key of A even if you play A7/D7/E7. The A7 and D7 are simply reharmonized versions of A and D chords. You can always substitute a 7th chord for a major chord in any progression. This is also true of the minor chords of the major diatonic scale, you can substitute B7 for Bmin7. That doesn’t take it out of the key of A.

    Perhaps use of the term ‘key center’ would clarify things (maybe). The idea is that your song is based in the key of A even if you reharmonize the chords to use tones outside of the A major scale.

  • Neil Snow

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Thanks Griff.It was a informative lesson.

  • steven siegel

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    The mention of using the route note is a good way of positioning your thoughts for transferring to the next. Never thought of playing in any key any ways as most of music is by sound orientation and having fret board knowledge of minor and major notes. As music is about sound complimenting each other in music. Its the way I think of it. I blend to the general cords and sound of the music. Scales are truly the foot notes of music to me.

  • Dan Scharf

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Surely clears the thinking on the application of chords to scale composition for the blues genere. Thanks for the lesson.

  • Roger Flansberry

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Great lesson as usual…thanks Griff…

    • PAUL

      Reply Reply February 7, 2018

      WHEN YOU SAY THE SONG IS IN THE KEY OF A, WHAT DO YOU TELL YOUR RTHYUM GUITAR PLAYER, OR KEY BOARD PLAYER WHAT CHORDS TO USE??
      I GET WHAT YOUR SAYING !
      WHAT I GOT FROM THIS IS IF YOUR IN THE KEY OF “A”, THEN YOU PLYT AN A7TH??
      I TOTALY UNDER STAND BLUES IS IN THE MINOR SCALES SO I WOULD DO LICKS AND A SOLO WITH THE MINOR SALES. JUTS ABIT CONFUSIND WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT THE 4CHORD AND SO ON! WELL YOU DID GIVE ME SOMETHING TO NOT DUE. THANKS GRIFF

      • Doc Frazer

        Reply Reply February 7, 2018

        Paul—
        What you tell your rhythm guitar player, or your keyboard or bass player is, “This one’s in A-Blues.”If they are at all experienced, they will immediately know what the I, IV, and V chords are, That will distinguish what you’re communicating from an Amajor or Aminor piece. Have fun!—Doc

  • Steve

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    The A note as the anchor point for all your soloing work finally lit the bulb in my head when I was listening to you. I think my soloing is going to be a whole heck of a lot more coherent from now on! Thanks as always for the profound impact you’ve made on my ability to play guitar.

  • tony

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    I like the lessons . I seem to be one step ahead of You or its just that I have been playing for so many years that this is stuff I do know already . Just a enforsement on theroy of blues playing . I have the time to focus and jam a lot . The ancor notes and where all of them are has made Me a better guitarist . Knowing them and being able to repeat a simple 3 note thing all over the guitar helps Me to progress . I thank You . Good lesson . Jam on !

  • colmanL

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    A big thing that opened my head on music why and why nots.The natural science of music,overtone series, has flat 3,5 and 7 occur , blues scale.thats why it sounds good with major or minor.I first heard about this from a jazz improve. teacher. and it gives some freedom in jam…

  • mike z.

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Griff , this was a very helpful lesson . You really made it easy to understand what really is going on . Thanks for another great lesson . Mike Z.

  • Rod

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Hi Griff,

    Thanks for such useful and re-assuring. advice.

    When playing blues in A monor say, do you see the use of Amin7, Dmin7 and Emin7 very often? What the use of D and E without making them seventh chords?

    Rod

    • Paleoblues

      Reply Reply February 7, 2018

      A, D and E Major chords are the I, IV and V in A Major, as in “pop”, folk, etc.

      Am, Dm and Em are the i, iv and v in A minor.

      It’s the A7, D7 and E7 Dominant 7 chords used in Blues that aren’t all in the same “key” of A Major.

  • VIC betten

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Thanks.great teaching, you really are teaching a lot of music there theory.Im 72, don’t plan on joining a group, unless it’s an oldies but goodies group, get it? Did play as a teen in a group.now I’m just a couch player, just sit on my couch and play the sixties stuff.and lots of delta blues. Mississippy John hurt.you have got me learning lead licks.love it.Thanks so much

  • Mark Wales uk

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Cheers Griff
    Must get back into your music theory course so much to learn not
    Enough hours in the day 😎🎶

  • Jim Fraser

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    This is very interesting and can also be incredibly confusing.
    Songs use notes and chords from outside the key all the time. Songs also often break the rules of harmony by using minors or majors where they shouldn’t. We don’t say that these are not in that key. Isn’t Res for Two and example of that?
    Secondly, I don’t always play a 7th chord for the one or four when playing blues. I usually use a seventh for the five chord.
    Isn’t the blues played in a minor key? If that’s the case, I think the only note outside the key of G minor would be the F# which the third of the five chord.

    • Paleoblues

      Reply Reply February 7, 2018

      Griff is specifically and only referring to the use of 3 Dominant 7 chords. Each chord is a V7 of a different key.

      Playing a Major I and IV and a V7 are all in the same key.

      Playing a minor i, iv and v are all in the same key.

      Playing min7’s for the i, iv and v are all in the same key.

      There are only 7 notes in a key. Adding any other note or chord containing any other note is simply not in that key. Yes, we can use them but that doesn’t make them part of that key.

      • Ron Rees

        Reply Reply February 9, 2018

        ron to Paleoblues

        see my response to Mark below…I messed this (reply) selecting input by clicking in the wrong place…No Harm intended. Sorry for all readers who care. I agree w/ Paleo

        ron,
        75 going on to the end (it blues all the way).

  • Mark

    Reply Reply February 7, 2018

    Hi Griff, any lessons coming up on the muddy waters chicago blues guitar style?

    With thanks Mark.

    • Ron Rees

      Reply Reply February 9, 2018

      I’ve been focusing on theory now for 4+ years… and your comments fit very well as best I can tell.Thanks

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