A Beginner’s Guide To The Blues Scale

Have you ever wondered where the heart of popular music lies? Well, look no further than the blues scale! This fundamental musical scale has influenced countless genres of music all over the world, from rock n’ roll to R&B to country. But did you know that its roots lie in the American Deep South?

The blues originated in the late 1800s, drawing from the rich musical traditions of African and African-American work songs, folk music, and chanting. Early blues music was mostly vocal, accompanied by makeshift instruments fashioned from whatever resources were available.

Fast forward to the twentieth century, and the blues had become a popularized genre thanks to iconic artists like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, and Son House. These musicians added their own variations to the 12-bar blues structure and other traditional forms of music, often employing what we now recognize as “blues scales.”

So, what exactly is the blues scale? How is it used, and what makes it so unique? Join us on this beginner’s guide to the blues scale, as we explore the roots and legacy of this essential touchstone of American music.

What is the Blues Scale?

A blues scale is a unique six-note scale that incorporates both major and minor sounds. It’s based on the pentatonic scale, which is a five-note scale commonly used in folk, country, and rock music. The blues scale adds a chromatic note, often called a “blue note,” which gives the scale its distinct sound.

There are two types of blues scales: the minor blues scale and the major blues scale. The minor blues scale includes the notes 1-2-♭3-4-♭5-♭7, while the major blues scale uses the notes 1-2-♭3-3-5-6. The blue notes are the notes that give the scale its “bluesy” sound. In the minor blues scale, the blue notes are ♯ 4/♭5, and in the major blues scale, it’s the ♭3 note.

Blues scales are used to create a specific mood in music. They’re often used to create a feeling of tension or sadness, but they can also be used to create a sense of excitement or energy. Blues scales are used in a wide variety of music genres, from rock and roll to jazz, and everything in between.

If you want to use the blues scale in your own music, it’s important to learn the pattern of notes. The pattern is the same no matter what instrument you’re playing, so whether you’re playing guitar, piano, or bass, you’ll use the same notes.

Pentatonic Scales

Pentatonic scales are made up of just five notes, which make them a great starting point for beginners.

One cool thing about pentatonic scales is that they can be used to create different blues scales. These can be built on both major and minor scales. But what’s important to remember is that all blues scales are constructed with notes taken from these simple pentatonic scales.

If you’re new to playing the blues, it’s a good idea to start by memorizing the pentatonic scales first. This will give you a solid foundation for playing different blues scales later on.

On a keyboard, a major pentatonic scale can be easily played and recognized as the black keys starting with the F# note. It’s a simple pattern that can be moved up and down the keyboard to play different keys.

Blues Notes

Blues notes are essential for creating the pentatonic blues scale from major and minor pentatonic scales. This scale is commonly used in blues and rock music and adds a unique tone and feel to the melody.

To understand how blues notes work, let’s take a basic E minor pentatonic scale. By adding a single blues note, we can instantly transform it into something more compelling and memorable. The placement of the blues note varies depending on the key you’re playing in and the instrument you’re using.

To incorporate blues notes, all you need to do is experiment with different notes and see what works best for your instrument and style. You can sing or play the blues scale and incorporate blues notes into your performance to create a unique sound that stands out from the crowd.

What is the Major Blues Scale?

Have you ever heard someone play the blues on a guitar or a harmonica? Chances are they were using the major blues scale. But where does this scale come from?

Well, it all starts with the major scale, which has seven notes. We call each note in the scale a “scale degree.” The major scale has a very simple pattern of scale degrees:

1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7

Let’s look at a real-life example using a D major scale:

D – E – F# – G – A – B – C#

Here, D is the first scale degree (also known as the “root”), E is the second scale degree, F# is the third scale degree, and so on.

Now, let’s move on to the major pentatonic scale. To create this scale, we simply remove the 4th and 7th scale degrees from the major scale. This gives us a new pattern of scale degrees:

1 – 2 – 3 – 5 – 6

As a result, the D major pentatonic scale includes these notes:

D – E – F# – A – B

But wait, there’s more! By adding one extra note to the major pentatonic scale, we get the major blues scale. This extra note is the flattened 3rd scale degree, which is also known as the “blue note.” The major blues scale pattern now looks like this:

1 – 2 – b3 – 3 – 5 – 6

So, if we apply this pattern to a D major scale, we get the following notes in the D major blues scale:

D – E – F – F# – A – B

And there you have it – the major blues scale! Next time you hear someone jamming out on a blues riff, you’ll know exactly what they’re playing.

What is the Minor Blues Scale?

If you’re familiar with the minor pentatonic scale, you’ll be happy to know that the minor blues scale is derived from it. It’s actually a modification of the full 7-note natural minor scale, just like the major scale. The natural minor scale has 7 scale degrees, which are numbered as 1, 2, b3, 4, 5, b6, and b7.

Let’s take the G natural minor scale as an example. Its notes are G, A, Bb, C, D, Eb, and F. So, G is the root, Bb is the flat third, D is the fifth, F is the flat 7th, and so on.

To convert a natural minor scale into a minor pentatonic scale, we remove the 2nd and 6th degrees of the scale. This leaves us with a new sequence of notes: 1, b3, 4, 5, and b7. Therefore, the Gm pentatonic scale contains the following notes: G, Bb, C, D, and F.

How to Use Blues Scales?

Blues scales are versatile tools that can be used in various ways to add character and interest to music. 

Here are some ways to use blues scales:


Blues scales are excellent jumping-off points for musical improvisation. Major and minor blues scales, despite being only six notes long, pack tons of character and endless musical possibilities. By playing blues scales over repeating 12-bar blues chord progressions, you can access more musical directions and ideas than you can imagine.


Blues scales can also transform a plain melody into something compelling and unforgettable. Musicians can experiment with blues scales to create vocal and instrumental melodies. 

While the 12-bar blues chord progression is a great way to improvise with blues scales, you can also write blues melodies over any combination of chords. However, it may take some experimentation to make something that works.


Memorizing major and minor blues scales vocally or on our instruments can be a huge asset when it comes to songwriting or improvisation. For singers, it can help with writing vocal melodies. For keyboard, bass, and guitar players, it can make writing new music and performing other artists’ songs much easier when they take the time to memorize blues scales in different keys.

3 Blues Guitar Tips

1. Master In-Tune Bends

If you’re interested in playing blues on guitar, then you’ve got to learn how to do in-tune bends. Bending strings is one of the signature techniques used in blues guitar playing, which makes it all the more important to get it right. 

Bends, hammer-ons, pull-offs, and slides all allow guitarists to add various inflections to their melodies, much like the way singers use their voice. However, unlike the other techniques mentioned, bends can be a bit tricky when it comes to getting them in tune.

The last thing you want is to be playing an awesome solo and then mess it up with an out-of-tune bend. That’s why we need to put in the extra effort to ensure our bends are in tune. When you bend a string, you need to aim for a specific pitch. 

The most common bends are either a whole step (two frets) or a half step (one fret). For instance, let’s say you’re on the 8th fret of the B string, and the note you’re playing is G. 

If you bend up a whole step, it should sound like the 10th fret of the B string, which is an A note.

If you want to do a half step bend from the 8th fret on the B string, you bend it up to make it sound like the 9th fret, which is either an Ab or G# note.

2. Learn Entire Solos

If you’re looking to improve your blues guitar skills, then you’ve got to learn entire solos. Don’t just focus on the licks you love, because learning a complete solo can be a game-changer for your playing.

Sure, having a wide range of licks at your disposal is crucial, but there’s a lot to be gained from studying an entire solo. By doing so, you can observe how the soloist approached the pacing and structure of their solo from beginning to end. You’ll also get a chance to see how they utilized space in their playing.

When we only look at individual licks, we miss out on the context of what came before and after them. It’s these elements of a solo that really make a difference in setting you apart from other players.

So, next time you’re practicing your blues guitar, consider taking on an entire solo. It may seem like a challenge at first, but the rewards will be well worth it!

3. Serve the Song

Think of your solo as your chance to speak through your instrument and convey your feelings. But, just like in a conversation, you should listen and respond to what’s happening around you. If the song is slow and mellow, maybe it’s not the best time to bust out your fastest licks. On the other hand, if the song calls for some speedy playing, go ahead and let it rip!

It’s important to keep your ears open and think about what you’re trying to express. Is your playing adding to the song, or are you just noodling around? Remember that the song has a melody, so you can use that as inspiration for your solo. Try quoting the melody or using its rhythm to tie your ideas back to the main theme.

One thing to keep in mind is to leave some space in your solo. Don’t fill every second with notes – sometimes, the silence between notes can be just as powerful as the notes themselves. And don’t forget to sing along with your playing! It can help you connect with the music and express yourself more fully.

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