Blues Scales

The Blues

Believe me when I say that blues guitar scales are at the heart of all blues guitar riffs. You’ve gotta learn them if you want to play the blues…

Why the Blues?

Blues scales underpin so much great music that they really are a must have for your repertoire. If you want to master the riffs of the great blues guitarists, you really need to learn how to play them across the neck and up and down the fretboard in all of the positions.

The blues is my absolute favorite musical genre to play on the guitar. Guys like Muddy Waters and BB King really make the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end with the power of their blues guitar riffs and outstanding, soulful lead work. The first time I heard the tones of BB King’s guitar, “Lucille”, combined with that unique voice (and those amazing facial expressions!) I was completely blown away.

Where to Start

Before you can hope to play like the blues greats, you need to have a good understanding of the theory underpinning this great music. So where do you start?

Minor Pentatonic

Well, the best place to start is with the minor pentatonic blues scale. You need to know this inside out and back to front. There are 5 notes in a pentatonic scale, as opposed to the 7 notes to be found in a heptatonic scale such as the major scale.

The minor pentatonic is the basis for much of the improvisation that BB King used to do, and for that matter much of the more recent rock music that’s kicking around at the moment. It is ideal for beginners to learn because it only has those 5 notes, which keeps things simple and means that you only have to learn 5 different patterns across the neck. Each of these patterns starts on a different note in the scale, there are 5 notes in the scale, so there are
5 patterns. Pretty straightforward, no?

How to Play the Minor Pentatonic Blues Scale

So now we know the minor pentatonic scale is probably the most useful scale in the world of guitar, you’ll be wanting to know how to actually play it. Well, the sequence is as follows:

Tone and a half – Tone – Tone – Tone and a half – Tone.

Or, to put it another way. In A, the notes would be as follows:

A – C – D – E – G … and then back to A (an octave higher than where you started).

What this means in terms of fingering the minor pentatonic in A is as follows:

Practice Tips

  1. Practice this across the neck until you can play it smoothly with an even tempo.
  2. Don’t rush it! Start slowly and only increase the speed when you have got it absolutely right (no buzzing frets or untidy open strings).
  3. Use a metronome to ensure you are playing at an even tempo.
  4. Make sure you use your fingertips. Avoid holding down more than one string at a time as you move across the neck.
  5. Learn the other positions and get practicing them!

So there you have the minor pentatonic – now you know how to play this most important of blues guitar scales, a whole world of improvisation awaits you.

But this is just position 1 of the blues scale in A. To learn more about the other positions and get more tips and advice, check out my guide to learning the blues guitar scales in all 5 positions for the key of E.

How to play guitar blues scales

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