No Wrong Notes – Literally

One of the fears that I hear students express often time is the fear of playing a wrong note, or even a series of wrong notes. Sometimes, they can’t even verbalize it and they just sit there, unable to play anything at all. In an effort to eliminate that fear, I started teaching the blues from a different direction (I don’t know of anyone else who teaches it this way, but if someone does I’d love to hear from you!). We’ve all heard the saying “there are no wrong notes…” It’s true! Of course there is the whole issue of intent and making sure tensions resolve in logical ways, but when dealing with beginning improvisors and even those who know just enough to be dangerous, playing a “wrong notes” can just about seem like the worst thing that could possible happen.


There are no wrong notes… and here’s the proof.


The most basic blues progression looks like this:




One of the things that you first notice is that all the chords are dominant chords. Dominant chords are awesome – one of the most versatile chords out there. The color possibilities are just about endless.


So, let’s talk about chord scales for a second. We’ll show them in the key of C for simplicity. Below are 4 possible scale choices that can be played over a dominant chord, like the ones found in the blues progression. I’ve labeled the chord tones as well.


Option 1 – The Blues Scale



Option 2 – Mixolydian (5th Mode of Major)



Option 3 – Dominant Bebop Scale



Option 4 – Superlocrian (7th Mode of Melodic Minor, also commonly called Dim Whole Tone)



That’s not even all the options available to play over a dominant chord (I’ll save that for another post), but it’s all we need right now. Let’s combine these scales together.


C (Options 1, 2, 3, 4)
Db (Option 4)
D (Options 2, 3)
Eb (Options 1, 4)
E (Options 2,3)
F (Options 1, 2, 3)
F# (Options 1, 4)
G (Options 1, 2, 3)
Ab (Option 4)
A (Option 2, 3)
Bb (Options 1, 2, 3, 4)
B (Option 3)


Is there any note not covered by one or more of those scales? Nope. All 12 are present and accounted for.


So, can any note you choose to play be justified? Yep. No fear, right?


Naturally the proof is in the pudding, so go try it. Go put on a blues playalong and have some fun. And don’t worry about playing a wrong note, because there aren’t any!

One thought on “No Wrong Notes – Literally

  1. Cool analysis!

    I tend to go the opposite way to teach improv. — by using major ii-V-I’s and then eventually minor blues (not “standard” blues). Why? No broken theory rules, no new scales to learn, and fewer notes that sound bad (to kid’s ears). Stick to a key signature and you’re in pretty good shape.

    I’ll have to try this analysis with my kids and see what they think. There are some that would really dig it, I think. (Boy — wouldn’t it be nice if all kids learned the same way!) 😛


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *