Blues Modes and the Pentatonic Scale

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 modes are usually the 2nd and 3rd modes of the major scale…but that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is how they sound, and what notes they contain, as I explain in the video.

Notes of the Blues Modes

As I explain in the video, everything you play in a solo is heard relative to the chord you’re playing over. This is what gives a solo it’s context. If I play an E over an A chord, I’m playing a 5th; if I play a B flat, that’ll be a flat 9 etc.

It’s all relative to the chord.

So, what if there were certain notes that made you sound bluesy? You could just play those in your solo, and you’d sound ‘blues’, right? Well, yes. It turns out those notes are the major sixth over a minor chord, or the minor 7th over a major chord.

These notes will always make you sound bluesy when you play them in a solo- no matter what. Don’t believe me? Let’s try it!

The Minor Pentatonic

As I said, using the major 6th over a minor chord will sound bluesy. To prove this, here is the minor pentatonic scale with the major 6th added (in blue).

first shape of the minor pentatonic scale diagram with the positions of the major 6th added to create blues modes

…and here’s that tabbed out in A minor (as I play in the video)…

guitar tab for the A minor pentatonic scale with a Dorian modal flavour

Now, play that over an A minor chord (or backing track) to see what I mean. If you can’t do that, then just watch the demonstration in the video.

Major Modes for the Blues

That will work fine over a minor backing track (or song), when you want a blues sound, but what about major keys? The blues can be happy, too, you know!

Well, as I said, the minor 7th in major keys will give you the sound you’re after here. The minor pentatonic scale already has this note, but it has a minor third, too. To fix this, we can just add the major third to the scale (effectively turning the minor pentatonic major!).

Here is the diagram for that (with major thirds in green).

a scale diagram of the minor pentatonic on the guitar neck with the position of the major third highlighted in green

…and here’s the tab for it in A (as I play in the video)…

the minor pentatonic scale in A with major thirds added

The Major Pentatonic

…but, what about the major pentatonic? Surely this is already major?

Yes, but it doesn’t contain the minor 7th- we need both for a blues sound! We can fix this, however, by adding it to the scale. That gives us this scale (again, added notes in green).

the dominant pentatonic scale based on the minor pentatonic in scale diagram form

…which, tabbed out in A, gives us this…

the A major pentatonic scale with an added minor 7th to create a Mixolydian mode sound

Modal Sounds

Now, technically, when you play these scales, you’ll be implying the Dorian mode over minor chords (the first shape). You’ll also be implying the Mixolydian mode with the second two shapes over major chords.

Those would be the real blues modes!

Now, I could have explained that the Dorian mode derives from the major scale, starting from the second note…or that the Mixolydian mode shares it’s notes with a major scale, but starts on the 5th degree…

…but I think understanding the sound of these modes is much more useful!

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