If you’ve recently begun learning scales for guitar, you probably learned the minor pentatonic scale first. If you aren’t sure which scale to pick as your second one to learn, the blues scale is a fantastic idea. It’s only slightly different from the minor pentatonic scales, and it has the potential to really breathe new life into your playing. Here’s our guide to your blues scale guitar learning.
Blues Scale Guitar Learning: A Guide
The Blues Scale Vs. Minor Pentatonic Scale
You probably recall that the pentatonic scale is a five-note scale. The blues scale adds the sixth note. This is a flattened fifth, and it’s the “blue note” that gives the scale its distinctive bluesy sound. But what is a flattened fifth? The fifth in a scale is the fifth note of that scale (it is five notes away from the tonic, or root note). Flattening a fifth just lowers its pitch by a semitone.
Learning the blues scale is a logical second step for most guitarists after learning the minor pentatonic scale. The root notes are the same, and the scale itself is the same except for that added flattened fifth. This video can help you get a feel for the differences between the blues scale and the minor pentatonic scale.
Understand The Major Vs. Minor Versions Of The Blues Scale
Some guitarists tackle the major and minor pentatonic scales at once, while others only focus on the minor pentatonic scale at first. You may already know that the actual fingerings for each position of the major and minor pentatonic scale are identical; each scale just has a different root note.
Generally speaking, the minor pentatonic scale sounds good in songs that are in minor keys, while the major scale sounds good in songs in major keys. However, each major key has a relative minor. If you want to use the minor pentatonic scale in a song that’s in a major key, just make sure you choose the key that is the relative minor of the key of a song.
Essentially, the blues scale has both a major and a minor version, just like the pentatonic scale. As you work toward learning the scale, make sure you understand how you would use it in context. If you’d like a more in-depth look at the differences between the major and minor pentatonic scales (and by extension, the major and minor blues scales), this video offers an especially helpful explanation.
Practice The First Pattern
For many guitarists, the first pattern of the minor pentatonic scale is their first foray into playing scales. To play this pattern as well as the others, we’ll work with the blues scale in the key of C, starting on the 8th fret.
Starting on the 6th string, use your index finger to fret your root note (C) at the 8th fret. Then, use your ring finger to fret the string at the 11th fret. On the 5th string, fret the string at the 8th fret, then the 9th fret (this is the “blue note”), and then the 10th fret. You may find it easier to use your index finger, your middle finger, and your ring finger in that order. But don’t be afraid to have fun with the scale; you may find it interesting to experiment with sliding between notes. On the fourth string, fret your first note at the 8th fret and your next one at the 10th.
On the third string, you’ll hear the blue note again. Start by fretting it at the 8th fret, then the 10th fret, and then the 11th fret (the blue note). Then, on both the second and first strings, fret your first note on the 8th fret and your next note on the 11th. For some video guidance on this pattern, check out this short video that shows you how to play it.
Work On The Second Pattern
Pattern 2 is a bit more challenging than the first pattern, as it involves more finger stretching. Start with your index finger on the 6th string at the 11th fret. You’ll then need to fret it at the 13th fret (the blue note) and the 14th fret.
On the 5th string, fret first at the 10th fret and then at the 13th fret. Do the same on the 4th string. Then, on the 3rd string, fret at the 10th fret, the 11th fret (the blue note), and the 12th fret. On the 2nd string, fret at the 11th and then the 13th fret. And finally, at the 1st string, fret at the 11th, 13th, and 14th (the blue note) frets.
Check out this helpful video lesson to see and hear this pattern demonstrated. You might find it helps you remember the second pattern and the first pattern better if you start using them to create licks. If you want to get a jumpstart on improvising, you might even want to find backing tracks in the same key to start practicing with.
Master the Third Pattern
The third pattern, like the second pattern, overlaps with the one in front of it. On the 6th string, fret a note at the 13th fret, the 14th fret (the blue note), and the 15th fret. On the 5th string, fret a note first at the 13th fret and then at the 15th. On the 4th string, fret at the 13th fret, the 15th fret, and the 16th fret (the blue note). Then, on the third string, fret a note first on the 12th fret and then at the 15th fret.
On the second string, fret first on the 13th fret and then at the 16th fret. And lastly, on the first string, fret a note first on the 13th fret, then on the 14th fret (the blue note), and then on the 15th fret. To see a useful demonstration and video lesson on this pattern, check out this helpful video lesson. Keep in mind that this pattern involves a little more hand motion and finger stretching than some other patterns, so it may take some time to really master.
As you progress through the various blues scale patterns, you may find yourself getting impatient with your speed. One solid piece of advice almost any experienced guitarist will give you is to focus on accuracy over speed. However, there are a wealth of resources offering scale exercises to help build both speed and accuracy.
Practice The Fourth Pattern
Now we come to the second to last pattern of the blues scale. If you look at this diagram of the blues scale in C, you might be surprised to see that this pattern starts at the 3rd fret. That’s because the frets after the 15th and 16th frets become extremely narrow, and it becomes very difficult to play a scale well.
For this pattern, start on the 6th string on the 3rd fret. Play this note, and then fret and play the string at the 6th fret. Play the same pattern on the 5th string. On the 4th string, play at the 3rd fret, the 4th fret (the blue note), and the 5th fret. For the 3rd string, fret first at the 3rd fret and then at the 5th fret. On the 2nd string, play at the 4th fret, the 6th fret, and the 7th fret (the blue note). And lastly, on the 1st string, play at the 3rd fret and then the 6th fret.
Check out this helpful video for a few blues licks in the fourth pattern if you’re ready to start using the blues scale patterns you’re learning. Of course, don’t limit yourself to licks outlined by other players. Creating your own licks is one of the most rewarding parts of playing guitar. It can be somewhat anxiety-provoking to do at first, but don’t let that stop you.
If you aren’t afraid of sounding bad at first, you’ll have no problem improving your playing quickly.
Work On The Fifth Pattern
Now we come to the fifth and final pattern of the blues scale. While it may not be the easiest of the bunch, it’s one of the more straightforward patterns to learn. Like pattern 4 in the key of C, this one starts closer to the headstock. It overlaps with the pattern we just learned.
Start on the 6th string at the 6th fret. Fret this note, and then fret a note at the 8th fret. On the 5th string, play a note at the 6th fret, the 8th fret, and the 9th fret (the blue note). The 4th and 3rd strings require the same pattern — play a note at the 5th fret and then at the 8th fret. On the 2nd string, play a note at the 6th fret, the 7th fret (the blue note), and the 8th fret. And finally, at the first string, play a note at the 6th fret and then the 8th fret.
If you want to get some useful blues licks you can use while improvising or writing your own music, check out this video lesson (below left).
If you want to work on connecting this pattern to some of the others, a fun way to do so is to create a lick in two or more boxes and then work on playing them in sequence (Video above right).
Work On Putting It Together
Depending on how much work you’ve done on the minor pentatonic scale, you may already have some experience with putting the different patterns together. And as you’ve likely discovered, seamlessly connecting the patterns takes a good bit of work. It’s one thing to be able to play all patterns in order, but it’s quite another to move between them and visualize where one starts and the other ends.
One of the best ways to work on connecting the patterns at first is to play the entire blues scale in any given key up and down the neck. Once you’ve mastered that, try switching directions up and down the neck as you play.
Once you feel a bit more comfortable with the scale itself, you’re ready to start improvising. Improvising a solo to one of your favorite songs can be very difficult at first, and it might not sound great at first. Make an effort to move between blues scale patterns as you improvise. Doing so can be a nice break from repeatedly playing the scale up and down the neck.
To see a useful lesson on playing this scale all down the fretboard, check out this useful video lesson (below Left).
Part of the fun of putting this scale together is finding ways to use it in your playing. And as your understanding grows, your guitar skills and confidence will likely improve, too. Check out this video (above right) on the versatility of the blues scale and tips on how to use it.
Need Some More Guidance?
Mastering scales — even just one or two — can revolutionize how you play guitar. But everyone has a different learning style, and you may find that taking an online course with an expert guitar instructor can help you master scales more completely and efficiently.
Most online guitar courses allow you to choose a learning path tailored to your needs, and many also let you take individual lessons focused on what you need to learn. And best of all, with an online course, you have access to learning materials 24/7 so you can learn on your own time.
We hope that this list has helped you get started on learning the blues scale. It may take some time to master, but with diligent practice, it will soon become second nature. But what do you think? Have we left out any important tips or other bits of information? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to like and share if you found our list useful!