Generally speaking, blues guitar scales consist of the pentatonic scales and the blues scale. These scales are essential scales to master if you want to be able to play serious blues guitar. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are the only scales for playing 'pure' blues guitar. I've now also added the Mixolydian mode for spicing up your blues guitar solos and for those also interested in jazz-blues guitar.
Please take a look at the 'Blues Guitar Scales e-book on the right which is super cheap if you want to practice without the internet or even without your computer as you can print the entire book or just the charts!
I suggest that you read all the information first before going on to the scale charts, but if you want to jump straight into the minor/major pentatonic or blues guitar scales then just click on the links below.
All these scales are in the key of 'G' except for the Mixolydian modes which are in 'F'.
The minor pentatonic scale is a five note scale that consists of the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th notes of the natural minor scale, and also, to put it another way, the 1st, b3rd, 4th, 5th and b7th notes of the major scale. This scale is probably played more in popular Western music than any other scale as well as many other cultures' musical styles around the world.
The pentatonic and blues guitar scales are both very forgiving scales. By this I mean that you can almost play any note of these scales over a standard I, IV, V blues chord progression and it will sound pretty good, providing of course you play in time.
The minor pentatonic scale is used a lot in many different styles of music. Once you can play it reasonably well you'll be able to play along to many different songs including; rock, pop, country, rockabilly, bluegrass, Jazz, Jazz blues and mainstream blues tracks too. It really is a very versatile 'must know' scale.
The major pentatonic scale is a five note scale that consists of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the major scale.
As the name suggests, the major pentatonic is played over major chords such as basic major triad (three note) chords as well as major 7 (maj7), and Dominant 7 (dom7) chords such as those played in blues, modern types of jazz/fusion, rock, country and any styles with these chord types and progressions consisting of the same types of chords.
The major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic scales appear to look exactly the same. They are indeed different scales though but with the same looking step pattern at first glance. What makes them different from one another is the fact that they start in a different position on the fret board and also the root notes of each scale start in a different place within the scale. This ultimately gives it a different step-pattern and therefore a different sound. This different sound is only really noticeable though when played against the same chord as the minor pentatonic scale.
This can be a little confusing so I've created a comparison chart of the two. This comparison chart happens to be in the key of 'A' though but the principle is exactly the same. The chart can be viewed at after the major pentatonic scale chart.
The minor blues scale generally referred to as the 'blues scale' consists of the pentatonic scale with the addition of one extra note known as the 'blue note'. This 'blue note' is a #4/b5 (sharp fourth or flat fifth). It's called the 'blue note' because when added to the pentatonic scale, this one single note creates atmospheric tension and gives us that real blues and jazz blues sound. After all, they named a recording label after it in 1939 called "Blue Note Records."
This famous record label featured many legendary musicians of various instruments contributing significantly to the recording sessions. One of my all time favourites was the brilliant jazz blues guitarist Grant Green.
The major blues scale has the same basic look as the minor blues scale in the same way that the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic scales appear to look exactly the same too. They are indeed different scales though in exactly the same way as the minor and major pentatonic scales are. This is discussed in a little more detail in the major pentatonic scale description.
The major and minor pentatonic scales, and the major and minor blues scales are the main scales used for soloing over a standard I, IV, V blues chord progression. Adding 'blue notes' to the pentatonic scales creates the blues scale and adds tension and real 'blues flavour'. These 'blue notes' can be played or not depending on what atmosphere you want to create at that particular time during your solo.
Whether you choose to learn the pentatonic scales first and then add the 'blue notes' or learn the blues scale as it is with the 'blue note' added is entirely up to you, it's your choice. But whatever you decide to do just make sure you learn and know where these 'blue notes' are in relation to the pentatonic scale. I promise it will make all the difference in the long run.
Like all guitar scales, there is more than one place or position on the guitar neck that you can play the 'blues guitar scales'. If you only want to learn and play the most commonly used first position of these scales that's fine, but you'll be limiting yourself massively.
If you really want to make a big difference to your blues guitar playing and really become immersed in the blues, you'll need to learn most of, if not all of the five positions of the minor pentatonic and blues guitar scales on the whole neck. This will open up the entire fret board to you which will allow you to express yourself so much more during your blues guitar solos.
There are five positions in all that all connect with one another to effectively create one big scale. This is in fact the case with all scales on the guitar neck.
Learning all five positions of the pentatonic and blues guitar scales will enable you to change the direction of your blues guitar solo with any changes of any blues guitar chords progression that you'll be playing over. This makes for a much more interesting and fruitful blues solo rather than staying in one position throughout and what is known as 'burning a hole in the neck'!
I personally think it is best to learn the minor pentatonic scale first as it is and on its own and then add the 'blue notes' after. This way you'll have the minor pentatonic scale under your belt before adding the 'blue notes' that create that bluesy tension so characteristic of the blues guitar scale.
Having said that, go with how you feel and what makes sense to you. Just remember to be aware of the 'blue note' positions within the pentatonic scale so you'll be able to know the difference between these two fundamental scales used in blues guitar.
In truth though, all learning overlaps and this is especially so with these blues guitar scales. You will ultimately be learning the major pentatonic, the minor pentatonic and both the major and minor blues guitar scales all at the same time as they're all very similar in there basic fingering patterns to look at. Once you know the minor pentatonic well, the others will be relatively easy to learn.
The first chart below shows the five positions of the minor pentatonic scale to be learned in the key of 'G'. 'G' is its root note which is where the scale actually starts from. This means you can play this scale over Minor, Minor Seventh and Dominant Seventh chords that are in the key of 'G'.
The minor pentatonic scale played alone without the 'blue note' is used a lot in many different styles of music. Once you can play it reasonably well you'll be able to play along to many different songs including; rock, pop, rockabilly, bluegrass, Jazz, Jazz blues and mainstream blues tracks too. It really is a very versatile scale.
You'll be amazed at what you'll be able to play along to once you've got to grips with the minor pentatonic scale. Learn this well before adding the 'blue notes' for the blues guitar scales shown in the second chart.
The pentatonic scale dates back thousands of years and remains one of the most popular and commonly used scales today. It is used in many different styles of music throughout the world including; blues, rock, pop, jazz & fusion.Back To Top
Looking closely at the individual scales in the scale chart above, you will notice that the notes of the last two frets (six notes in all) of each position are the same notes of the first two frets of the next position that follows.
For example, the notes at the 5th and 6th frets of position 1 are the same as the notes behind the 5th and 6th frets of position 2. This repetition continues along the neck until it repeats itself after the 12th fret. This is because these individual scale positions overlap each other and contain some of the same notes. This is the same for every scale on the guitar neck that remains in the same key whether its a major scale, minor scale, blues scale, mode or whatever.
When you can play these five minor pentatonic scale shapes well enough to slide from one position to the next either up or down the neck, you will really be able to express yourself along the entire neck! Don't limit yourself to only one or two positions. Learn them all and learn them well so they effectively become one scale throughout the entire neck.
Then you can begin to change the key by changing the position of each scale pattern. All you have to do is slide any guitar scale fingering pattern to another position on the neck. This changes the root note and puts the scale in a different key.Back To Top
Don't try to cut corners and make it easier for yourself by sliding up and down and using the same fingers while practicing these scales. Use all your fingers when practicing any scales. Practicing like this is an excellent exercise that builds great technique, hand strength, flexibility and dexterity. This is all made clear with the new updated charts in the ridiculously low priced Blues Guitar Scales E-Book below.Back To Top
The most simple approach to understanding the difference between the major and minor pentatonic scales is to see them both as having the same pattern but played in a different place on the fret board. In truth however they are different scales because they start from a different place within their individual finger position pattern.
If for example you compare the first position of the major pentatonic and the second position of the minor pentatonic, they look exactly the same, but you will see that the root notes (more correctly called 'tonics'), are in different places between the two scales. This creates a different fingering pattern and overall tonal centre or key, and therefore a different atmospheric sound when played over the same chord.
Note: After the fifth position is played, the first position of either scale follows on from there and it all repeats itself before running out of fret board. Because of this, many of the positions of these pentatonic scales can often be played in two places. This principle applies to all scales and offers a lot of scope for creativity all over the neck!
The minor blues scale adds the #4/b5 to the pentatonic scale. This 'blue note' is great for fast (and slow) chromatic runs in jazz and jazz-blues solos. See the video below or get the Blues Guitar Scales e-book!
The major blues scale has the same relationship with the minor blues scale as the major and minor pentatonic scales have with one another. The major blues guitar scale offers another great option for improvisation over a blues chord progression. It's an easy scale to learn once you've mastered the minor pentatonic and added the 'blue note' to form the minor blues guitar scale.Back To Top
Both the minor pentatonic and blues scale above are the main scales used in pure blues music. The major pentatonic is also used to a certain extent but note quite as much. The blues scale creates more tension than the minor pentatonic though by use of the #4/b5 blue note. This note when played within the minor pentatonic really does encompass the blues. The blue note is also applied for chromatic turn-arounds before resolving (finishing) on the I chord.
Once mastered, the blues scale holds the key that allows you to immerse yourself deep within the blues. When utilising any scale for your solo, good phrasing and the best choice of notes from the scale really does make all the difference. This comes with practice and getting a feel for the music, as well as natural ability, whatever the style of music you're playing and whatever instrument you play.
Practice the minor pentatonic and blues scale by adding the 'blue note' until you can play them both well. Put on some slow blues music and try to play along. You don't have to play a lot of fast notes for the blues. Playing in-time is the most important part of playing any instrument. Listen to the beat and just hit some notes from the minor pentatonic and blues guitar scales and try to find the key and a 'feel' for the music.
The minor pentatonic scale is the cornerstone of blues music, but adding the 'blue note' to create the blues scale really does create that blues atmosphere. This is crucial if you want to create that authentic blues sound.Back To Top
The Mixolydian Mode is a scale that is generated from the major scale having its seventh note lowered one semi-tone (half step/1 fret). The Mixolydian mode is used in blues and jazz-blues where it's played over dominant sevenths and dominant ninth chords. This mode can be mixed with the major and minor pentatonic scale to add a little more interest to your blues solo.
Note; The chart after this one shows the same mode but with the correct fingering pattern as opposed to the notes as shown here.
The above blues guitar scales may seem a lot to learn for the beginner, but by taking one step at a time, you'll be amazed at just how quick it all mounts up. Start with the minor pentatonic and enjoy that first. Then, move on to the major pentatonic which is nothing more than a change of position of the minor pentatonic. Then, when your familiar with these, learn the blue notes to add to the pentatonic scales to form the blues scale. If you're still hungry after that, learn the Mixolydian mode to add a slightly different flavour.
By learning and becoming fluent in these blues guitar scales, and developing the skill to switch from one to the other seamlessly, you'll really start to experience and enjoy playing the blues. It really is a lot of fun and well-worth the time spent practicing.
I hope you found these blues guitar scales helpful and of value. Please return to this site as I will continue to add more blues instruction videos over time.
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Keep up the practice!