QUICK HIT: Leigh Fuge covers a blues scale guitar lesson that focuses on the basics and how to get started with the common shape.
Pentatonic scales are great.
Guitar players use them on a regular basis to improvise, thus they tend to end up in many familiar songs. But, if you're like me, you'll find that after a while you get bored of the same notes every time you sit down to learn some new guitar.
The Blues Scale is a fantastic way of adding one note to your pentatonic scale to transform it into something fresh.
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In Interval Terms
If we talk about pentatonic scales in intervals we are looking at our usual form:
I ♭III IV V ♭VII
These intervals come from the Major scale (I II III IV V VI VII).
To create a pentatonic pattern we take the I III IV V and VII notes and we flatten the III and VII. This gives us our five-note pentatonic that we can shift around the fretboard at will.
Let's look at this in the key of A Minor:
Blues Scale Guitar Tab Example in the Key of A Minor
I ♭III IV V ♭VII
A C D E G
View Standard Notation
The blues scale is an extension of the minor pentatonic scale which has an additional ♭V interval added. In the case of A Minor, that is a D♯/E♭ note. This extra note can be integrated into your licks and will add a sense of dissonance at times. The ♭V interval typically won't sit well over your standard I IV V blues progression.
Adding Some Dissonance
When played over the I chord it gives the impression of a diminished V chord (this interval was once banned by the Catholic Church) which is a very dissonant-sounding interval. When played over the IV or V chords it will sound a semitone out.
The joy of the ♭V note is the way you can use it in passing to hit other notes. This can give your licks a very interesting flavor but don't hang on it for too long or you risk that dissonance creeping into your playing.
Here's how the A Minor Blues Scale looks:
I ♭III IV ♭V V ♭VII
A C D D♯ E G
Adding this extra note to your scale is a simple change but, it can open up a whole new world of possibilities.
The music theory behind this is true of every key on the guitar and the ♭V note manifests itself in every other form of the Minor Pentatonic scale. When integrating this into your own playing, I would suggest taking some licks you already use and finding a place to slot this new interval in.
There are some interesting ways you can pass through this dissonant interval to resolve licks with notes that sit well over the chords.
Let's look at some examples of how we can use these additional notes with some pentatonic-style licks.
Blues Guitar Lick I
Here is a pentatonic lick that descends in triplets, but notice at the end of the first triplet you land on the 8th fret of the G string. This is one of the ♭V notes from the blues scale. This works great as a passing note as you slide this into the 7th fret note below it.
When transitioning from the first triplet to the second, notice you won't actually be picking the first note of the second group. This note will be slid into from the last note of the previous triplet.
Blues Lick II
Here is an ascending lick utilizing the ♭V on the A string (6th fret) as a passing note on the way to the 7th fret up the scale. As I said earlier in the lesson, you don't want to hang on these ♭V notes too long and risk them causing intrusive levels of dissonance over your chords.
Blues Lick III
In this example we have three groups of triplets each starting with the bV note on the A string which is being slid into the 7th fret each time. This repeated lick will work great over a blues progression but could also be used to add a little country flavor to your blues playing.
Blues Lick IV
This lick uses one of the same note groupings as the first lick, except this time the slide from the ♭V down to the IV note of the scale leads the triplet.
There is a quarter tone bend at the end of the triplet which will also give your blues playing a looser "microtonal" feel. Those quarter tone bends are important to add a vocal quality to notes, you really want to capture the expression in what you're playing.
Here's a playlist with all four licks in this lesson. You can listen through for help getting a feel of how to play each one:
All the licks in this lesson are in the key of A minor, but if you are already playing other scales at various fretboard positions, you can simply transpose this knowledge around as you please.
This will work anywhere that you can already fit a pentatonic scale in it's first shape, try these licks in different keys and see how it starts to transform your blues playing.
Thoughts and Questions
Do you have thoughts or questions about this blues scale guitar lesson? Feel free to leave those in the comments section below, or get in touch with me directly, and I'll do my best to help out.