Last Updated on July 6, 2022 by Klaus Crow
The pentatonic scale is a great scale to start out with when you’re learning to play lead guitar. But once you got that under your belt you can quickly move on to the blues scale. Even for guitar players who have kept their chops limited to the pentatonic scale for years, it will be enlightening to see how the blues scale can help out.
Although the blues scale doesn’t look that different from the pentatonic scale, the benefits are tremendous and can have a great impact on your soloing and creative expansion.
Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that make the blues scale such an important and valuable scale. We’ll show you how to play the pentatonic scale and the blues scale in different positions. And further we’ll explain how it can benefit, grow and open up your playing.
Blues Guitar Legends
About every great guitar player in music history has used or still uses the blues scale for soloing purposes. Here are just a few household names: B.B. King, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Eddie van Halen, John Mayer, Tommy Emmanuel, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani and the list goes on and on.
But not just blues and rock guitar players are font of the blues scale, also jazz and country guitar players use it frequently. The popularity of the scale is due to it’s sound, simplicity and effectiveness.
Easy and effective Guitar Scale
The blues scale is one of the easiest scales in music but at the same time a very efficient scale that can be applied to many genres and styles of music. It’s an effective scale in the way that it really speaks to the hearts of your audience. The blues scale can sound bluesy, but also soulful, rocking’, brutal, angry, sweet, tender, frustrating, and deeply loving’. It can tear your heart out and lift you up in the sky!
Blues vs Pentatonic Scale
The Blues scale has only one note more than the pentatonic scale, it’s got an added flat 5 (b5), which is called the “blue” note, but it just makes all the difference, especially when applied to different shapes. It vastly expands your soloing ideas.
Understand Blues Soloing
When you dive into blues scale shapes, blues licks and blues soloing, you will not only gain a good understanding of how blues solos work but also most pop, country and rock guitar solos. This is very helpful when you’re want to learn and transcribe guitar solos.
Discovering The Blues
Even guitar players who have played the blues for years still discover and find new blues licks and sounds from other players and musicians. The blues is an infinite source of inspiration and insights that keeps surprising you. If you stay receptive, new ideas will continue to show up.
How to Play The Blues Scale
A lot of guitar players use the pentatonic scale for soloing and they are right, the pentatonic scale is a practical scale that sounds great and can be applied to a lot of different styles of music.
The problem is often that guitar players stick with only one or two positions of the pentatonic scale for soloing, because the other scale shapes / positions don’t feel that comfortable to put in use. They don’t have that same amount of freedom and easy way of playing around with the notes.
Here’s where the blues scale comes in. The benefits of the “blue” note that is added to the blues scale opens up the bandwidth and gives you a whole new world of possibilities with every shape / position on the neck.
The combination of notes that make up the blues scale will give you greater flexibility within the scale and that will expand and spice up your soloing ideas. You’ll definitely get a lot more music out of your scales. Being able to play the blues scale in all shapes and keys, using the notes to their advantage, allows you to play freely, graciously and abundantly all over the neck.
Let’s take a closer look at the pentatonic scale and the blues scale.
The Blues Scale Formulas
The minor pentatonic scale formula = 1 b3 4 5 b7
A minor pentatonic scale = A C D E G
The blues scale formula = 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7
A blues scale = A C D Eb E G
E blues scale = E G A Bb B D
A Minor Pentatonic scale – Root on the E-string
We’ll begin with the pentatonic scale with the root note starting on the Low E-string (6th string). The red colored notes indicate the root note. Here the root note is an “A” note, hence the name “A” minor pentatonic scale. You can play this scale in any key, just by moving the entire scale up or down the neck. For Example: If you move the entire scale up a half step (1 fret), you’ll have an A# (or Bb) minor pentatonic scale. The root note determines the name of the scale.
A Blues Scale – Root on the E-string – Example 1
Now here’s the A blues scale. You’ll notice the extra “blue” (b5) note which appears twice throughout the scale. Just like the pentatonic scale you can play the blues scale in every key by moving it up or down the neck. The red notes indicate the root notes. The blue colored notes indicate the “blue” note.
A Blues Scale – Root on the E-string – Example 2
Here’s the same A blues scale but using a slightly different fingering. The second “blue” note is now located on 4th fret b-string (2nd string), which feels different when you play around with it and leads to other types of soloing ideas. Play both 4th fret and 5th fret b-string with your index finger.
E Blues Scale – Root on the A-string
Now let’s play a blues scale shape starting with the root on the A-string (5th string). The Root note is an “E” note, so it’s an E blues scale. All red notes are root notes and blue colored notes are “blue” notes.
Again, you can play this scale shape in every key. For example: Move the entire scale up 7 half steps (7 frets), starting your first note of the scale on the 12th fret A-string, which is an “A” note. Now you are playing an A blues scale again, only higher up the neck.
- Practice each scale ascending and descending (use alternate picking).
- Memorize the scale.
- Play the scale along with a metronome.
- Practice each scale slowly until it feels comfortable, then gradually build up speed.
- Make sure each notes sounds clean and clear. No buzzing sounds.
- Memorize where the root notes and “blue” notes are located.
- Practice each scale in different keys.
- Create your own licks and melody from the scale shapes.
- Use the licks and incorporate them into your soloing.
Have fun and keep practicing!
If you really want to dive into the blues scale, and learn how to play and create real melody with all the scale shapes, incorporate cool blues licks and use it to upgrade your soloing and improvisation skills, then check out the
50 Cool Blues Licks Improvisation Course.