The blues scale, whether it’s major or minor, is one of the most widely used scales in modern music.
Minor and major blues scales are also the first scales that guitarists learn when exploring lead guitar.
Because they’re probably the first scales you learned, you might have studied them for a bit, got the shapes under your fingers, and moved on.
These two scales provide years of study if you dig into their various fingerings, applications, and melodic variations.
In this lesson, you learn how to build major and minor blues scales, apply them to soloing situations, and study classic blues scale licks.
Though this scale is relatively easy, and often left behind in place of more complex scales, over time the blues scale becomes like an old friend.
You have a love-hate relationship with these scales, but they’re always there for you when you need them.
Blues Scale Lessons (Click to Jump to Each Scale)
Minor Blues Scales
The minor blues scale is a staple concept for any lead guitarist to have under your fingers.
Alongside the minor pentatonic scale, minor blues is often the first scale guitarists learn.
Because of this, many players learn this important melodic device and then move onto other scales and modes.
The minor blues scale has a lot to offer when you dig deep into this scale on the fretboard.
To open new minor blues scale doors, or start you off on your blues scale journey, this section tackles this important scale from new angles.
In this section, you learn how to build and apply the minor blues scale, how to play it on the fretboard, and give you three licks to apply this scale to a soloing situation.
What Are Minor Blues Scales
The first item on your list is to understand the theory behind this important six-note scale.
The minor blues scale is built with the following interval pattern:
Because this six-note scale contains a b7, it’s used to solo over dominant and minor family chords.
You can even use it over major family chords if you’re careful.
This makes the minor blues scale one of the most versatile melodic devices at your disposal.
As well, the b3 and b5 create a bluesy sound when applied to minor, major, and dominant family chords.
The list of chords that you can solo over with the minor blues scale is long, and includes:
As you can see, this scale is used to solo over most chords, making it essential learning for any lead guitarist.
Now that you know how to build this scale, and how to apply it to chords, it’s time to take that knowledge to the fretboard.
Minor Blues Scale Box Patterns
To begin, here are the five minor blues scale box patterns, the most common shapes for minor blues on guitar.
If you only study one fingering system for minor blues, this is it.
It’s worth learning all five box-patterns when studying this scale on the fretboard.
Over time you find that some boxes will stay in your playing and others you won’t use as much.
This is perfectly fine, explore them all, and then decide which shapes are best for you and your musical tastes.
Here are those minor blues scale box patterns to learn in all 12 keys on the fretboard.
The note in red is the root note, it tells you the key for any scale shape you’re playing.
After you learn these minor blues box patterns, put on a backing track and use these scales to solo over chords and chord progressions in your studies.
One Octave Minor Blues Scales
Beyond studying box patterns, you can also work on one-octave minor blues scales to open up your fretboard.
These smaller scales help you navigate fast-moving chord changes, where playing two-octave scales are too bulky to play.
Here are four one-octave shapes that you can work out in your guitar practice routine.
After you’ve worked out these shapes from a technical standpoint, make sure that you put on a backing track and apply these shapes to your improvisational studies as well.
Minor Blues Scales – Two Octave Shapes
You can now connect the one-octave shapes to form two-octave scales on the fretboard.
When doing so, you connect the 6th and 4th-string minor blues shapes to form a larger scale shape.
As well, you connect the 5th and 3rd-string minor blues shapes to expand them on the guitar.
Here are those shapes to learn in 12 keys.
Once you have these longer scales under your fingers, put on backing tracks and solo over those chords in your studies.
3 Minor Blues Scale Licks
To help you take minor blues scales into your lead guitar studies, here are three licks that use this scale over different chords and progressions.
This first lick has the minor blues scale applied to an A7 chord.
Click to hear minor blues scales 1
You’ll now learn a minor blues scale lick where the scale is applied to the iim7 chord in a short ii-V-I progression in G.
Click to hear minor blues scales 2
Finally, here’s a lick where the scale is applied to both the iim7 and V7 chords in a long ii-V-I progression in G.
Click to hear minor blues scales 3
The minor blues scale may be the first scale you learn, but your exploration of this scale shouldn’t stop there.
Major Blues Scales
You’re now ready to move on to the major blues scale in your studies.
Though they share the same last name, these two scales sound completely different.
As well, major and minor blues scales are used in different ways in a lead guitar situation.
Though it takes you longer to use this scale in your solos, the payoff is well worth it.
The cool, swing, chicken picken‘, jump blues sound that this scale produces makes a solid addition to the repertoire of any modern guitarist.
What Are Major Blues Scales
Before you begin taking this scale to the fretboard, you learn how to build and apply the major blues scale to your solos.
The major blues scale is built with the following interval pattern:
Because this 6-note scale contains a major 3rd, it’s used to solo over dominant and major family chords.
These chords include:
As well, the major 3rd means that it’s less versatile than the minor blues scale, especially in the case of the 12-bar blues form.
For example, in an A blues you can play the A minor blues scale over the entire song and it sounds great.
If you want to use the major blues scale over the blues, it’s a whole different story.
Here, you have to play A major blues over the A7 chord, then D major blues over D7, and E major blues over E7.
Each 7th chord gets it’s own major blues scale.
Because of this, you want to work slowly when applying major blues scales to your solos.
Start by soloing over a blues and target only one chord with the major blues scale at a time.
Start by playing A major blues over A7, then the A minor blues scale over the other chords.
Move on to the other chords when you’re comfortable with A7 until you can hit each chord with the related scale.
It’s tough to get this scale into your lead playing, but it’s worth the work, as it gives you a new sound to use in your solos.
Major Blues Scale Box Patterns
To begin taking this scale onto the fretboard, here are the 5 major blues scale box patterns.
As was the case with minor blues box patterns, you’ll end up learning all 5 major shapes and then settle on 2 or 3 favorites.
Again, the red note is the root, so it’ll tell you which key you’re in as you move this scale around the fretboard.
After you learn any or all of these box patterns, put on a blues backing track and apply this scale to one, two, then finally all three chords in your solos.
Major Blues Scales – One Octave Shapes
After working on the box patterns, which are essential for any guitarist to know, you can practice one-octave major blues shapes.
These smaller shapes are essential for songs that are played at fast tempos.
In those kinds of songs, larger scales will only hold you back, whereas smaller shapes are perfect to hit those chords in your lead guitar lines.
Here are four major blues one-octave shapes that you can learn and use in your guitar solos.
After you’ve worked these shapes from a technical standpoint, put on a backing track and apply these shapes to your improvisational studies.
Major Blues Scales – Two Octave Shapes
After you’ve checked out one-octave major blues shapes, you can now connect them to form two-octave scales.
When building these shapes, you combine two one-octave shapes to form longer major blues fingerings..
Again, learn these shapes in your technical studies and then take them to your lead guitar workout to cover them from a few angles in your routine.
3 Major Blues Scale Licks
Here are three licks that use this scale in a variety of ways over a different chord progressions.
This first lick is a classic major blues line played over an A7 chord.
In this next lick, you bring chromatic notes into the major blues scale in this must know bebop line.
A repetitive lick, this line works well at the end of any blues chord progression.
This fourth lick features major blues applied to a Cmaj7 chord to practice using this scale outside of 7th chords.
Click to hear major blues scales 1
You now learn a lick where this scale is applied to the Imaj7 chord in a short ii-V-I progression in G.
Click to hear major blues scales 2
Finally, here’s a lick where major blues is applied to both the V7 and Imaj7 chords in a long ii-V-I progression in G.
Click to hear major blues scales 3
As you can see, both the major and minor blues scale run deeper than box pattern number 1.
They can be used in a plethora of soloing situations, and both bring a different melodic sound to your lead guitar playing.
Check them out and see how these essential melodic devices fit into your lead guitar vocabulary.