Blue Notes and Tremolo for Mandolin

by Steve James

The sound of blues music is based in part by the use of three scale intervals: the flatted third, the flatted fifth, and the flatted or dominant seventh. They’re not hard to find. Let’s start a little lesson in lickology by playing two octaves of a G-major scale in the first position using fretted and open strings.

Blue Notes and Tremolos Ex 1_2: Roots and Blues Mandolin
Click to enlarge tab.

Play this sequence slowly at first using all pick downstrokes (Example 1). Fret notes at the second fret with your index finger, the third and fourth frets with your middle finger, and the fourth and fifth frets with your ring finger. Even though it’s not being used, don’t forget to keep your fourth finger in playing position.

Now add the blue notes: the flatted third (Bb), the flatted fifth (Db), and the flatted or dominant seventh (F). In Example 2, add these three intervals to the G-major scale and practice with alternating down and up pick strokes, playing as slowly as necessary to maintain a steady tempo. Some players feel that practicing with a metronome is not “bluesy” . . . playing with erratic time is less so.

Excerpted from Roots and Blues Mandolin

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