Scales – Part 8
Probably the most widely used scale in the whole of modern day music. The blues scale is used extensively in rock, jazz, blues, metal, funk, country and almost every other type of music you can think of.
The most obvious feature of the blues scale is that – you guessed it – it sounds ‘bluesy’.
Just about anyone, no matter how rubbish you are at playing the guitar, can have a go at twanging a few notes of the blues scale and instantly feel like you’re sitting on a porch in Memphis, dog by your side, watching the sun go down and singing how your girl left you cause you got no dough !
That’s the great thing about the blues scale and why it appeals to so many. When played over a basic 12 bar blues pattern, it almost plays itself.
Obviously, to become a really good blues player takes an awful lot of skill and years of dedicated practice, but if you’re a beginner guitarist and just want to have a bit of fun with minimum effort, this is the scale for you.
The blues scale is simply a minor pentatonic scale with an added note (which happens to be the b5 note or #4 note of the minor pentatonic).
If you are up for learning a section of this scale to mess around with in future, then go ahead and check out a couple of positions I’ve laid out below, but if you are intent on learning the whole scale across the entire fret board and more minor and pentatonic scales in the future, then I suggest you take a look at parts 1 to 7 of this sites ‘No nonsense guide to scales’.
Learning the blues scale and then going off and learning the minor and pentatonic scales later will effectively triple your work load as you’ll be working backwards, where as if you choose to learn the natural/pure minor scale first in its entirety (i.e. all 7 positions) you will then find it pretty easy to take away a few notes from the minor to form the pentatonic minor. Then you can simply add one blues note to the pentatonic minor to create the blues scale.
In doing this and following my guides, you will also be able to use the minor scales to easily form the minor, major and major and minor pentatonics in any key as well as the blues. So think about that before you take on the blues positions below.
It’s like learning to play snooker first as it hugely increases your ability to play pool in the future.
Below are the 5 positions you need to know. As usual, start with position 1 and do not move on to position 2 until you know it off by heart along with the orange root note positions and can play it forwards, backwards, sideways and anywhere on the fret board.
As before, in each position, learn the whole pattern of notes across all 6 strings. You don’t necessarily have to learn the names of the notes, just learn where the root notes are positioned in the particular pattern you are playing.
e.g. For position 1, the root notes are situated on the 6th string – 1st finger, the 4th string – 3rd finger and the 1st string – 1st finger.
This will allow you to move any of these fingering patterns up and down the fret board, and play the same pattern in a different key. i.e Playing the blank pattern below starting on say fret 5, would make all your root notes A’s, meaning you would now be playing an A blues scale.
Here is the minor pentatonic to compare with the blues scale below it.
Pentatonic Minor Position 1
Blues Scale – Pentatonic Blues Position 1
Blank Fingering Position 1
This blank position shows you can play these patterns anywhere on the fret board. Note the position of the orange root notes. The numbers correspond with your 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers.
Pentatonic Minor Position 2
G Blues Scale – Position 2
Pentatonic Minor Position 3
G Blues Scale – Position 3
Pentatonic Minor Position 4
G Blues Scale – Position 4
Pentatonic Minor Position 5
G Blues Scale – Position 5
The 5 blues positions then repeat themselves starting with position 1 again played on fret 15 and so on. You can see this in the whole scale diagram at the top of this page.
Front Porch Blues Painting by Kerry Burch
A good way of practicing these blues scale positions is to Google ‘free blues backing tracks’. You will find hundreds of sites with free tracks or midi files to download.
Pick a backing track in G first and mess about with that for a while. When you’ve got the hang of it, transpose the scale into another key by moving the whole pattern up or down a few frets to a new root note like C, A, F or E. Then try and play along with another backing track in your new key.
If you’re in it for the long run, make sure you take a look at my other scales guides first.
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