When people talk about “the blues guitar scale” they’re usually referring to the minor blues scale, a hexatonic scale (6 notes).
In reality there are two kinds of blues scale – the minor and the major blues scale – but since it’s used more commonly, the minor blues scale seems to have earned the title of “the blues scale”
In this lesson we’ll be focusing only on the minor blues scale.
In the first part I will explain the basic theory behind this scale.
In the second part I’ll give you the 5 blues scale guitar patterns that cover the whole fretboard, with a lick made only from notes in that pattern as an example on how to use each.
Finally I’ll give you a short guitar solo that makes use of the blues scale all over the guitar fretboard to get you started playing out of each box.
Blues scale theory
The blues scale is made of the same five notes of the minor pentatonic scale together with another note – the #4 (or b5) from the root.
If we’re playing in the key of A minor, the notes of the minor pentatonic would be:
A C D E G
Thus the notes of the A minor blues scale would be:
A C D D# E G
What’s special about this added note, and what gives it its bluesy sound is that it is very dissonant.
To understand the principle of consonance and dissonance is simple.
Play the notes A and D# at the same time. (Go through this lesson if you don’t know where the notes on the guitar fretboard are. Memorizing the name of every note on the fretboard makes life a lot easier when applying music theory for the guitar. And it’s not hard at all if you follow the given process).
Do you hear the tension between the two notes?
Now play the notes A and E at the same time.
Do you notice the difference, how more pleasant to the ear these two notes sound when played together?
The reason is that the interval between the notes A and D#, is the augmented 4th (also called a diminished 5th) a very dissonant interval.
The interval between the notes A and E on the other hand, is the perfect 5th, one of the most consonant intervals.
Now, this is where it gets interesting.
A good musical composition is rarely made of consonant intervals alone.
Because what the human ear loves to hear is dissonance resolving into consonance. Tension and resolution.
In the blues this is done all the time and in the blues scale, the best source of dissonance is this note added to the pentatonic. The augmented 4th/diminished 5th.
Since all the blues scale patterns and guitar licks I’ll be giving you in this lesson are in the key of A, this will always be the note D#.
Blues scale guitar patterns and licks
In this section of this lesson I will give you each of the 5 patterns of the blues scale you need to learn to be able to play it all over the guitar fretboard.
After each pattern you’ll find a short lick that uses only notes from that pattern.
Note that though as the name suggests the blues scale comes from the blues and is used predominantly in that genre, this scale is also used widely in many other genres, from Rock to Heavy Metal, to Jazz.
Thus not every lick given in the examples is necessarily a blues guitar lick.
This is the first, and most commonly used, blues scale pattern on the guitar.
The example lick uses the notes of the A minor pentatonic and bends up to the augmented 4th D# in the fourth note.
This pattern takes us to the next position of the guitar fretboard.
Keep in mind that in each of these examples, the note we start and finish on is always the note A.
If you play the same scale pattern but start on a note that’s not the root you would be playing a mode of that scale.
Thus, unless you’re playing modal, you should practice all your guitar scale exercises by starting and finishing on the root.
The following lick has the note D# bent into twice at the end of the first bar.
Note that in these examples I make use of this note in every lick.
Outside a teaching context, I would use the blues scale note D# more sparingly.
The more you improvise on the guitar, the more you’ll learn how to find the right balance between consonance and dissonance.
Start playing this pattern with your small finger on the first note.
The next lick sounds weird because it makes an excessive use of the blues scale note D#.
In reality, unless you’re into making weird or spooky music you rarely need to use this amount of dissonance.
The next pattern starts covering the guitar fretboard from the 12th fret onwards.
In the next lick you should bend into the note D#, hold it, hit the note again with the pick, and bend it down.
String bending technique is very important if you’re playing the blues or any related genre of music.
It is good to experiment with the different ways you can use this technique, such as bend and release, pre-bend, pre-bend and release etc.
To play this pattern you should, once again, put your pinkie on the first note.
In the next lick, the blues scale note D# is hammered into and quickly pulled off again, serving as an embellishment to the previous note D.
Note: This pattern starts on the note A on the 17th fret of the low E string. If you shift everything down an octave and play the same pattern starting from the A on the 5th fret, you will also cover the first part of the guitar fretboard.
Blues scale guitar solo
After you learn how to play guitar licks and solos in each of the patterns, you should start developing the ability to play through the patterns and across the whole fretboard.
As a place to start, I have prepared a short solo that uses notes from the blues scale all over the fretboard.
While learning it, it’s good to start seeing connections between the patterns as well as get ideas you may then incorporate in your own solos.
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