The Blues Scales

Guitar Scales

The following post talks about scales. If you really want to learn every major, minor and pentatonic scale for guitar (along with the chord-tone arpeggios), you’ll want to get my new ebook ‘Advanced Guitar Basics: Scales and Arpeggios’ (click the link for more!).

The “blues scales” are basically a variation on the pentatonic scales. In this lesson, we’re going to talk about the “minor blues scale”. To create the blues scale, you take the pentatonic scale and add a “blue note”- the flat 5th (compare the shapes below, to the ones for the minor Pentatonic Scale)

In the scale diagrams below, I’ve marked the root notes in red, and the “blue” note in…well…blue. In order to use these shapes, just move the scale so that the red notes on the diagram are on the tonic of the key you want to play in (so, if you’re in C minor, the red dots should match up with all the “C” notes on the neck- see my diagram of guitar notes (.pdf)).

Now, if you’ve read the previous articles, you should have a fair idea of what’s going on with the chords in a 12 bar blues, but what about the lead parts? Well, what many don’t realise when it comes to guitar solos is: you’re only building off the harmony that’s already there.

The House of Rock

Imagine a rock band is like a building. The foundations, going deep underground, are like the drums- providing the main support for everything else (without a drummer, you can’t “rock”!) . Next, we have the ground floor, this is like the bass- providing a link between the main foundations and the rest of the building, which is like the chords and harmony. In music, the chords are like the walls of the building- they hold everything together (in “key”), and create the part that everyone can see- but they are nothing without a solid foundation (or solid rhythm section)!

So where is the melody, or solo in all this? A melody is like a decoration to the outside of the house (Christmas lights or Halloween pumpkins…). What I mean by that is: although the decorations are probably the very first thing people notice, they just can’t exist without the rest of the house.

Thinking in these terms, you’re still only using the basic chord progression- NOT widdling around aimlessly!

The Blues Scales

As I explained, the scale we use is built off the harmony that’s already there. So we’re in the key of A minor, we have three chords in the standard blues progression: Am (A, C and E), Dm (D, F and A) and Em (E, G and B). You could just look at these chords and “invent” a scale that would fit using only those notes (in order): A B C D E F G. This happens to be the “A natural minor scale”, which is great, but all we’ve really done is paint the walls of the house- not added anything.

This is also like painting your house every single colour- there’s a huge potential for clashes! To make things even easier, we cut out some of the notes to get: A C D E G (the A minor pentatonic scale), and this forms the basis of our blues scale. This is like choosing a colour scheme for our house- it works great, but it can be boring. After jamming around with this one, you’ll find that you’ll probably need some more interesting notes (just to “spice things up” a bit).

What do we add? The first note to add for a real “blues” sound is: the flat 5th (Eb). This gives you: A C D Eb E G to play around with- the traditional “blues scale”. This note, although not in any of the chords, works because it adds interest (or “decoration”) to the rest of the harmony. Just like Christmas lights, if you use it too much it just clashes, but if you use a bit every now and then it’ll really liven up your solo…er…I mean, house!


The blues is a great style for this kind of “decoration” in the solo. Another good note you should try is: the major 6th (F# in this example), or the major third (to use the same scale over a major progression). The third is a good one, play the minor third over a major chord and bend up to the major third- listen to how bluesy that is!

To create the blues scale in A, we first take the A minor pentatonic:

e --------------------------------5--8
B --------------------------5--8-------
G --------------------5--7-------------
D --------------5--7-------------------
A --------5--7-------------------------
E --5--8-------------------------------

…then we add a ♭5 (which is the fret just between the 4th and 5th- which are the 3rd and 4th notes here), which gives us this scale:

e ----------------------------------5--8--
B ----------------------------5--8--------
G ---------------------5-7-8--------------
D ---------------5--7---------------------
A --------5-6-7---------------------------
E --5--8----------------------------------

The notes are:

A C D E♭ E G

Changing Key

The interesting thing here is: the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic share the same notes- and that’s also true of the minor and major blues scales! So, if we start the same scale on C (instead of A), we get this:

C D E♭ E G A

…and in tab…

e -----------------------------------8-10-11-
B -----------------------------8--10---------
G -----------------------7-8-9---------------
D -----------------7--10---------------------
A -----------7--10---------------------------
E --8-10-11----------------------------------

Guitar Scales

Ever wanted to learn the notes on guitar and finally unlock the fretboard? Then you’ll want to get my new ebook ‘Advanced Guitar Basics: Scales and Arpeggios’! It contains every major and minor scale for the electric guitar. It also has every major and minor pentatonic scale and major and minor arpeggio.

Treat it as a reference book for when you’re practising, soloing, or transposing into other keys. Part of the ‘Advanced Guitar Basics’ series- laying the foundation of advanced electric guitar playing. (click the link for more!).

Blues Scale Licks

To really make use of this extra note, we can either use it as a passing note or we can bend to it from the note one fret below. For example, here it is used as a passing note:

e ---------------------------------
B ---------------------------------
G ---------------------5-----------
D ---------5-----------------------
A ---5-6-7---7-6-5-6-7---7-6-5-3---
E -------------------------------5-

Notice how the lick just “passes by” the note without actually making a big deal out of it.

This next lick actually bends up to the “blues note” and then finishes by bending up to the root:

e ---------5--------
B -------5---7b(8)--
G -7b(8)------------
D ------------------
A ------------------
E ------------------

Obviously, these are only examples of how you can create your own licks.

If you really want to get into playing lead guitar, my new book ‘Awesome Lead Guitar’ is out now. In it you’ll learn the most common scales and techniques that lead guitarists use with full scale diagrams and tabs!

Then, you can practise along with the 17 included full solo examples and backing tracks! Click here now for more.

learn to play lead guitar now!

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