When it comes to soloing, the blues scale is one of the most commonly used scale there is. Despite it’s name, the blues scale is not just used in blues music, but across other genres such as jazz and rock as well. Let’s take a look at what makes up this widely used scale.
Blues Scale Theory
The blues scale is a 6-note scale (hexatonic scale) based on the pentatonic scale. It’s a pentatonic scale with an added 6th note, the blue note.
Like the pentatonic, there are both major and minor blues scales. With its basis in the pentatonic scale, the blues scale is easy to learn and play, which contributes to its wide usage across musical genres.
Minor Blues Scale
The minor blues scale is what generally comes to mind talking about the blues scale. The minor blues scale is very versatile and can be used over both major and minor chord progressions.
It is the minor pentatonic scale with an added ♭5 note (the blue note).
If we look at this in the key of A minor, we get the following pentatonic scale:
With the added flat 5th, we get the following blues scale in A minor.
It is the flat 5th that gives the blues scale that signature sound. Let’s take a listen to hear the difference between the minor pentatonic and the minor blues scale.
Minor Pentatonic Tab & Audio
Minor Blues Tab & Audio
Major Blues Scale
The major blues scale is the major pentatonic scale with an added ♭3 note.
In the major blues scale, it is the flat 3rd that contributes to the classic blues sound. Let’s take a listen to a couple of examples as we did above.
Major Pentatonic Tab & Audio
Major Blues Tab & Audio
In both scales, the blue note (♭3 in major, ♭5 in minor) creates a dissonant, unresolved sound. Combining this characteristic with playing the minor blues scale over a major chord progression, particularly those using dominant 7th chords, and you really achieve the authentic blues feel.
Positions of the Blues Scale on the Guitar
Let’s now take a look at how this scale is applied to the guitar fretboard. If you’re already familiar with the pentatonic scale patterns, learning the blues patterns will be a breeze.
Similar to the pentatonic scale, there are five positions of the major and minor blues scale. We’ll start by going through each of the minor blues scale positions. Each diagram contains the scale shape, intervals, and recommended fingerings for playing the scale. Included below each diagram is the tab for that position.
As a general rule of thumb when practicing scales, you want to start on the root note. This helps enforce the sounds of the other scale notes in relation to the home, or root note, to establish a key center.
Minor Blues Patterns
For the examples shown here, we’re using the A minor blues scale.
The A minor blues patterns are derived from the A minor pentatonic scale, but also includes a ♭5. The root notes are highlighted with orange note markers.
G Minor Blues Scale
The diagrams below show the minor blues scale in the key of G minor. The scale patterns for both A minor and G minor are exactly the same, the only difference is the root note from which the scale is built. I chose two different keys to highlight this concept.
Also, note the shared notes between the positions above/below each other.
Major Blues Patterns
The major blues patterns are derived from the major pentatonic scale, but also includes a ♭3. The major blues scale diagrams below are in the key of A major.
G Major Blues Scale
Like the minor blues scale examples above, the major blues scale shapes are exactly the same regardless of what major key it is. Again, the difference is the root note form which the patterns is built.
The diagrams below show the five positions of the G major blues scale.
In this lesson we learned about the blues scale, a popular scale used across many genres of music. The scale is derived from the pentatonic scale with an added “blue” note, the ♭5 in case of the minor and ♭3 in the major. In future lessons we’ll take a look at specific applications of these scales over chord progressions.
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