Welcome to 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar, a lesson series designed to give you a solid foundation in this essential style. I previously taught you how to add depth to your blues playing by working on chords up the neck. In a similar vein, this time I’ll teach you how to create interesting harmonies derived from a scale—specifically, the ascending form of A melodic minor (A B C D E F# G#).

Example 1 shows the notes in the A melodic minor scale, and Example 2 harmonizes it. Note that the raised sixth scale degree (F#) makes for colorful-sounding Am6 (A C E F#) voicings. Example 3 demonstrates the same concept, but is based on the V chord (E7). You might recognize some of these shapes from the previous lesson.

Once you’ve got the voicings under your fingers, try harmonizing the scale to go back and forth between the i (Am/Am6) and V chords (E7), as shown in Example 4. If you want to add additional harmonic color, try adding the flatted ninth (F) to any E7 voicing—you can do this just by locating the root (E) and raising it a half step. In Examples 5a–6e, you’ll find various ways of playing E7b9 (E G# B D F) and switching to the i chord.


You might have noticed that of the these E7b9 shapes sound like diminished chords. That’s because the top four notes of E7b9 form a G#dim7/Abdim7 chord. And G#dim7/Abdim7 contains the same notes as a handful of other diminished seventh chords—see Example 7a to understand these relationships. Example 7b takes the same diminished shapes, but adds a low E, so that you can hear how they function in the context of E7b9 voicings.

Now that you’ve got a bunch of new chord shapes at hand, you can try connecting them up and down the fretboard, as shown in Examples 8–9. For added harmonic interest, try sliding into the chords shapes from a half step below, depicted on E7b9 in Examples 10–11. Finally, now that things are really connected, try putting together all of this lesson’s ideas together in a longer chord-melody study (Example 12).

David Hamburger is a composer, guitarist, and instructor based in Austin, Texas.

We hope you enjoyed the sixth lesson in 12 Ways to Play Better Blues Guitar. We’ll be releasing a new lesson in this series each month. Can’t wait? Support Acoustic Guitar on Patreon and you’ll get access to all twelve video lessons right now!