How to Make Happy Funk

Roland from Germany emailed us and asked: “I really love the blues scale, it's so juicy and funky for writing bass lines. But if I've got it right, you can only make a blues scale out of a minor scale, right? Sometimes I would love to have a kind of blues scale in a major, though. So here's my question: Is there an equivalent blues scale for major?” Thank you Roland, this is a rather advanced songwriting question, so I'm excited to explore the options with you. But first, here's my one-sentence answer to your question:

Funky bass lines rely heavily on the trio of notes: 1, ♭3 and ♭7, so while we can never have a ♭3 in a major mode (as that would turn it into a minor), we can bring two-thirds of that funk by getting a groove going between the 1 and the ♭7.

Let me give you an example. Here's the A Aeolian mode, AKA the natural minor scale: A B C D E F G. In order to make it into a blues scale, we first have to delete the 2 (i.e. B) and the ♭6 (i.e. F), which gives us a pentatonic minor scale. Now we add the ♭5 (i.e. E♭) and we've got a blues scale: 1 ♭3 4 ♭5 5 and ♭7 (i.e. A C D E♭ E G). The ultimate funky scale!

But if we look closely, we'll notice that the only note we need to change to turn this into a major, is the ♭3 (i.e. C). The 4, 5 and ♭7 are found in the major mode Mixolydian, and the ♭5 is only ever used as a spicy passing note. Therefore, once we've changed the ♭3 to a 3 (i.e. C♯), we can use this Mixolydian version of the blues scale: 1 3 4 ♭5 5 ♭7 (i.e. A C♯ D E♭ E G) to make a happy, funky bass line.

So that's my answer! Thanks for reading. Now, here's my question to you: Do you have a Mixolydian chord progression you feel is lacking in energy? If so, try funk up its bass line with this music theory hack, and please let us know how it goes in the comments below. Remember, if you need help with scales/modes, like blues or Mixolydian, check out our books and PDFs.

Do you feel a little bit smarter now than you did a few minutes ago? Then subscribe so we can do it all again next week! And if you have a question you'd like us to answer here on Q&A Tuesday, please connect with us!

Music Teacher
Victoria BC, Canada