Outside Notes: You Can Play Any Note!

At any time, in any key, you can actually play any note. This can be a little confusing at first, but ultimately is an easy way to add character to your improvisations, and create much more interesting melodies.

Below is what you might call a scale diagram – if it wasn’t for the fact that we’re only 2 notes away from playing all the notes…
You can see the minor scale outlined with the red dots, (each conveniently labelled with it’s interval), and the new outside notes are coloured individually.

Outside Minor Scale.png

The Blue Note – b5

This interval sounds awful out of context, but it does have 2 uses. Firstly, you can make something sound tense by changing between a perfect and a diminished 5th – especially in rhythm playing, which has a cool kinda Led Zeppelin feel to it.
Secondly, and the focus of today’s attention, is using it as a bridge between the perfect 4th and 5th, which is what a lot of blues-based riffs and solos rely upon.

Major 3rd

If you’ve played a major scale, you should already be comfortable with the idea of a major 3rd, and hopefully comfortable that you, technically speaking, shouldn’t play this note when in a minor scale.

To heck with your rules. If you know where your minor 3rd is, this note is the fret above that. I came across this by watching a blues guitarist friend of mine, and noticed he was throwing this note in directly after the minor 3, (the same way you might throw in the blue note). The Minor 3 – Major 3 – Root lick has lived in my phrase book ever since.

The Phrygian Note – b2

I call it that, because it’s what gives the Phrygian mode it’s very particular flavour. The note is the fret above the root, and you can get away with it in a blues or rock setting, because these styles often avoid playing the 2 chord, (which would be Diminished in the minor scale). This ambiguity about what the 2nd degree of the scale is means you can make it whatever you darn well please.

Often I’ll use this in conjunction with the major 3rd to give a flavour of the Middle East in what I’m playing, (in my mind I refer to this as “the cool part of the Phrygian Dominant mode”)

How to “Sell It”

I get it, these notes sound weird so how can you really “sell” them to a listener.

  • Confidence. An audience will know you screwed up either from your face and body language, or because you stop playing for a moment to berate yourself. The best way around this is to intentionally play notes you know won’t work and get comfortable with them. Play a backing track, and try to hold a diminished 5th or flat 2 through the entire thing. Your brain and muscle memory will want to correct you – don’t let them. Pretty soon you’ll be fine with throwing outside notes into your everyday playing.
  • Short Note Duration. You can get used to these notes by keeping the notes really short, and gradually build-up your confidence in the sound of these notes.


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