Aural Awareness by Miles Donahue

miles donahue

 Many have been led to believe that the blues scale is really all one needs to know in order to play over a blues chord progression. Although this is certainly a viable jazz tool when playing the blues, it is misleading to tell students it is the "main scale" used for improvising in this genre.

"Multi-instrumentalist Miles Donahue didn't get serious about jazz until he was forty-five years old."

Here's an article from Miles Donahue...

Aural Awarenss: Out With The Blues Scale; In With The Mixolydian

Understanding the Blues Scale

When you use the blues scale of the key you are in, it's not usually used over the 
I chord, but over the IV or V chord. This means in the key of C, you would play 
the C blues scale against the F7 or the G7.
If you are a beginner, sit at the piano and experience improvising by hitting any
black key while someone else (a teacher) vamps on the two chords of a song.
These five notes are the minor pentatonic scale and when you add the A natural it
changes to the blues scale.
When you ask a student what the Mixolydian scale is, they usually tell you it is 
the scale where you flat the 7th. Well, this isn't exactly correct. Definitely that's the 
difference between a major scale and a Mixolydian scale.
Think of the Mixolydian scale as the scale within a major scale that starts on 
the fifth degree of that scale. Now the key signature for G Mixolydian has no sharps
and no flats (key of C). 
So, you're not  having sharps and flats but depending on simply knowing the notes in 
each major scale. A Mixolydian is 2 sharps (C# and F#), etc.
Here are some examples of Mixolydian Melodies in popular songs:
* Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, and Delivered" starts with the descending line,
1, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1. Play these notes; E, D, C#, B, A, G#, E.
* "Pretty Woman" starts with an arpeggio of the Mixolydian chord (dominant 7th) -
and then the line ascends to the 9th - 1, 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 8, 7. Play the following notes;
E, E, G#, B, D... E,E, G#, B, D, F#, E,D,...
* The Beatles' "Birthday" uses the passing tone of the 6 in its opening line, 1, 1, 3, 5,
7, 6, 5, 1. Play the notes; E, E, G#, B, D, C#, B.
* "Norwegian Wood" is a more difficult melody because it is longer and has bigger
interval skips. Play these single notes; B, C#, B, A, G#, F#, A, G#, E, D, A, C#, B.
* Another Beatles song, "Day Tripper," has a half step approach to the third (non Diatonic
note), as well as the 9th as part of the introductory melody. Diatonic means "from the key"
and generally diatonic melodies are much simpler than melodies that use non diatonic
notes. Play; E, G, G#, B, E, D, B, F#, B, D, E.
* George Benson's version of "Broadway" (5, 3, 1, 2, 5, 3, 1, 7, 2, 1, 5) is played in six
different mix keys. The song starts in Ab mix and modulates to Db, A, D, Bb, and Eb.
At the end of the song, the band vamps on Bb mix and that is where the improvising 
takes place. You will play; B, G#, E, F#, B, G#, E, D, F#, E, D.

I think we all need examples of many jazz tools before we can incorporate them into
into our own style of improvising. Now you have an understanding of the Mixolydian scale and
and you're learning one of the most important scales used in jazz.

For more information, visit his website,

Here's some Miles Donahue songs in iTunes:

Lights Out
Miles Donahue Standards Vol. 3 (Someone to Watch Over Me)
Close to You

If you're interested in reading some of my articles, here's a few:

Learn The Jazz Language

Four Tips To Playing Scales


"Jazz washes away the dust of every day life." -- Art Blakey
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