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 Scales Quick Facts
What is a blues scale? The blues scale is a 6-note scale that contains 5 notes from the major or minor pentatonic scales plus one chromatic note.
What is the major blues scale? The major blues scale is built by adding a b3 interval to the major pentatonic scale, forming the pattern 1-2-b3-3-5-6. This scale is used to solo over major, maj7, 7th chords and their related variations such as maj6, maj9, 9th, and 13th chords.
What is the minor blues scale? The minor blues scale is built by adding a b5 interval to the minor pentatonic scale, forming the pattern 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7. This scale is used to solo over just about any chord or key including major keys, minor keys, major chords, minor chords, blues progressions, and more. It is the most versatile of all the modern scales.
What is a blues note? For the major blues scale, the “blues note” is the b3, the note that gives the major pentatonic a bluesy flavor. For the minor blues scale, the “blues note” is the b5, the note that gives the minor pentatonic a bluesy flavor.
What are blues scale box patterns? On the guitar there are 5 box patterns for the major and minor blues scales that allow guitarists to perform this scale over the entire guitar fretboard.
How to play the blues scale on guitar? Outside of the 5 box patterns there are one octave, two-octave shifting, and 3-note-per-string shapes that guitarists also learn when studying the blues scale.
What are blues licks and riffs? These are phrases created by guitarists using the major or minor blues scale that are then used in songwriting or soloing.
What is a 12-bar blues pattern? The 12-bar blues is a musical form that is the basis for countless blues, country, rock, and other songs. It contains 12-bars and different chord progressions, but most contain I, IV, and V chords in various arrangements.
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.
To learn more minor blues scale riffs, check out Blues Guitar 101 – Classic Licks.
The first minor blues scale lick features a classic bend and then two upper strings in the first bar.
The line then ends with a slide up to the same note as you finished with in the first bar, A.
Notice that the A in the first bar, last note, and the A in the second bar are on different strings.
This is a trick that guitarists use to repeat a note but make the tone slightly different each time.
Click to Hear Audio Example 1
A classic blues lick; this minor blues scale phrase is a must know for any blues guitarist.
If you only learn one minor blues scale lick, this is it.
Click to Hear Audio Example 2
Here you repeat a hammer-pull off phrase to start the lick, followed by a descending group of notes to end the line.
Watch your timing on the first three beats, the triplets, as the slurs can cause you to play those notes unevenly.
When playing blues licks of any kind, the rhythm is as important, or more important, than the notes.
Keep that in mind as you nail this, and all future licks in this eBook.
Click to Hear Audio Example 4
The minor blues scale may be the first scale you learn, but your exploration of this scale shouldn’t stop there.
By working on small and large shapes, and using this scale to solo over a variety of chords, you always have a cool, bluesy sound at your fingertips.
Minor Blues Scale Solo
You now combine the scale fingerings and lines from this lesson in a blues guitar solo.
After learning this solo from memory, create your own solos using the scales and licks you just learned.
You can do this by writing out the solo as you see below, or improvising it in the moment.
The main goal is to be able to create solos such as this one in the moment, but if that’s tough at this point, writing them out is fine.
To learn more about blues soloing, check out Blues Guitar 101 – Solos.
Backing Track for Practice Backing Track – A Blues
Click to Hear Audio Example 4
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
You now move on to learning licks from the major blues scale.
To learn more major blues scale riffs, check out Blues Guitar 101 – Classic Licks.
As a reminder, these licks are only played over one chord at a time, compared to every chord in a blues with the minor blues scale.
This means that if you have a G major blues scale lick, you use that over a G7 chord in a blues solo.
Then, if you want to play that lick over C7, you have to move it to a C major blues scale position.
This is tough to do when first learning how to apply major blues scales to your solos.
But, not to worry, with a little focused practice you can add these licks, and the major blues scale in general, to your solos with confidence.
Apart from learning these licks, you also explore various ways to add repetition and development to your solos.
Both of these concepts help you develop a mature sense of melody and phrasing with this, or any, scale in your solos.
The first line is a major blues scale phrase that you hear in jazz, blues, country, swing, and other musical genres.
Because it’s such a popular lick across genres, it’s first in this chapter, and is essential to learn and add to your solos.
If you learn only one major blues scale lick, this is it.
Click to Hear Audio Example 6
Here, you bend up from the 2nd note to the b3, the blues note in the major blues scale, as well as repeat the line in both bars.
Often you feel like everything you play has to be new and different than what you played before.
But, repeating ideas in your solos helps establish a connection with the listener, as well as develops a sense of melodic phrasing in your solos.
Work this line as written, then take this concept to your own solos as you repeat ideas to solidify them in your playing.
Click to Hear Audio Example 9
In this major blues lick you play the same start to both bars, but end differently in bar 1 compared to bar 2.
This is a common blues soloing technique, and one you can use to extend your ideas, as you don’t need two full ideas for two bars.
If you dig this concept, explore it further in your own playing over various blues chord progressions.
Click to Hear Audio Example 10
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.
Major Blues Scale Solo
You now learn a sample solo using the major blues over each chord in a blues progression.
After you can play this solo from memory, write out a solo or two using the shapes and licks from this chapter.
When that’s comfortable, create your own major blues scale based solos in real time over backing tracks in your studies.
To learn more about blues soloing, check out Blues Guitar 101 – Solos.
Backing Track For Practice Backing Track – A Blues
Click to Hear Audio Example 8