This lesson will explore the many different blues guitar scales used in
all the blues sub-genres.
All the scales featured on this page work over the standard 1
blues progressions, but I've made it clear when a scale can
be used in a minor key, major key, or both.
You should use this lesson in
conjunction with the lesson on soloing
over blues, which goes into more detail on how to apply these
scales melodically in your solos.
Basic blues guitar scales - embellishing minor pentatonic
These scales work well over both
major and minor key blues progressions.
Make sure the root (1)
of these scales is the same note as the 1 chord's
root. For example, if
the progression was E, A, B (1 4 5), E
would be the root of our scale.
Start with the basic minor
To blues it up, we can add in a flat 5th (b5)
interval, commonly referred to as one of the "blue notes", along with
the minor 3rd and minor 7th...
is our elementary, six note blues scale. Using this scale alone will
"do the job" as far as creating that bluesy sound when soloing.
But we can flesh the scale out even more by adding a passing major 7th interval
Musicians often refer to this major 7th blues scale as the "bebop blues
scale" because of its common use in bebop jazz. It's typically used as
a passing "bridge" between the b7 and root.
two embellishments to play around with - the flat 5th and the major
7th. Keep them under your fingers as we look at some minor and major
key specific scales...
Minor key blues scales
Try mixing phrases using the above minor pentatonic variations with the
Over the 1 chord
which adds a major 2nd and 6th to minor pentatonic...
(Dorian with a b6)...
for something a little more tense, try melodic minor. It's
7th over the minor chord that gives it that dark quality...
Or harmonic minor,
which is basically melodic minor with a minor 6th (b6)...
Over the 4 and 5 chords
either natural minor, melodic or harmonic minor as above. But avoid
Dorian over the 4 and 5 chords as some of its notes will clash with the
chord tones being played.
Specifically over the 5 chord...
the 5 chord is minor - natural minor.
the 5 chord is major - melodic/harmonic minor.
Major key blues scales
Many blues solos move seamlessly between major and minor tonality.
Over the 1 chord
Minor pentatonic has an inherently minor flavour (because
minor 3rd interval), yet it still works well in major key blues and is
partly responsible for the blues sound. However when playing in a major key, we should
add in the major 3rd
over that 1 chord to support its major tonality...
if we were playing in the key of A major (A7, D7, E7), A7 would be our
1 chord, and typically we would resolve the minor 3rd of A minor
pentatonic to the major 3rd in a phrase over that tonic chord.
trick is to incorporate the major 3rd in to all the scale
variations from earlier, with the b5, 7 and Dorian colour tones.
major 3rd is the main "resolving tone" over that tonic (1) major chord
blues, along with the root, minor 7th and, to a lesser extent, the 5th.
can also phrase using major
pentatonic over that 1 chord (although you'll want
to switch to the minor pentatonic variations from earlier over the 4
and 5 chords)...
We can add in two chromatic, passing tones in
the form of a minor 3rd
(b3) and a minor 6th
Or, to fill out your phrasing a bit more, try Mixolydian...
Over the 4 chord
In addition to the minor pentatonic
and b5 variations from earlier, try phrasing around a Dorian pattern
built on the 1 chord root (it works because Dorian in the 1 chord
position translates to Mixolydian over the 4 chord. For example, in the
key of A major, playing A Dorian over the D7 chord is the same as
playing D Mixolydian)...
Over the 5 chord
Play the Ionian/major scale in the 1 chord root position. This, again,
translates to Mixolydian over the 5 chord...