Basic Blues. Part 2 - Blues Scale

Those who want to play blues, should know the blues scale. Here you`ll find all about blues scale and tonality.

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Those who want to play blues, should know the blues scale. Guitar players should know how to finger blues scales all the way up the neck in the so called "box position". But let us start with some peculiarities of blues tonality. If you start from the root note and play a scale, a major scale is like this: (A major scale is often called a diatonic scale):
I + II + III - IV + V + VI + VII - I.
In the most favored blues-guitar keys, it will be (starting in C-this time):
C: C + D + E - F + G + A + B - C
G: G + A + B - C + D + E + F# - G
D: D + E + F# - G + A + B + C# - D
A: A + B + C# - D + E + F# + G# - A
E: E + F# + G# - A + B + C# + D# - E
If there is a + between two notes, it indicates a whole step (two frets), and - means a half step (one fret). The interval between notes I and III determines if it is major or minor scale: A major third, consisting of two whole steps (four frets) between the I and III notes gives major, and a minor third with one whole and one half step (three frets) between notes I and III gives minor. The blues scale is like this:
I + - IIIb + IV + V + - VIIb + I.
In the five keys, it will be:
C: C + - Eb + F + G + - Bb + C 
G: G + - Bb + C + D + - F + G 
D: D + - F + G + A + - C + D 
A: A + - C + D + E + - G + A 
E: E + - G + A + B + - D + E
It consists of 5 notes, compared to the 7 notes in the major scale. Notice that there is no II or VI notes, and the III and VII notes are lowered one half step. If we write a major and a blues scale in parallel, they look like this:
Major:   I + II + III - IV + V + VI + VII - I 
Blues:   I + - IIIb + IV + V + - VIIb + I
The interval I + - IIIb is a minor third, that should indicate a minor scale. But a blues melody is usually played over major chords. And a major chord consists of the notes I + III + V. So we will often play a melody based on a scale with a minor third over chords with a major third. For that reason, blues does not have a very well established tonality, and that is part of the blues-sound. You should also note the VIIb in the blues scale, compared to the VII in the major scale. If you read my lesson about the 12-bar blues form, you will remember that I stressed the dominant-7 to tonika [tonic - ed] relationship, and I stressed the effect of the intervals built on the VII note: First of all the minor fifth interval from the VII note to the IV note, but also the minor third interval from the VII note to the II note. Now you can notice that both the VII note and the II note are omitted from the blues scale, but are still part of the blues-harmony. Let us then introduce the "box positions":
   |   |   |   |   |   | 
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   1   4  7b  3b   5   1
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +===+===+===+===+===+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   5   1   4   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   3b  |   |   |   7b 3b
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
Box 1. The numbers refer to the numbers in the scale. I will refer to the fret marked with a double line as the position. If you play it in 5th position, you will be in the key of A, 8th position will give you C, and note that both the 12th and the 0th (open) positions give you the key of E.
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   5   1   4   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +===+===+===+===+===+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   3b  |   |   |  7b  3b
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   5   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   4   7b  3b  |   1   4
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
Box 2: 7th pos -> A, 10th pos -> C, 12th pos and open -> D, 2nd (and 14th) -> E.
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   5   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +===+===+===+===+===+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   4  7b  3b   |   1   4
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   5   1   4  7b   |   5
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |  3b   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
Box 3: 9th pos -> A, 12th pos and open -> C, 2nd ps - > D, 4th pos - > E.
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   5   1   4  7b   |   5
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +===+===+===+===+===+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |  3b   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   5   1   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   7b  3b  |   |   4  7b
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
Box 4: 12th pos and open - > A, 3rd (and 15th) pos -> C, 5th pos -> D and 7th pos -> E.
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   5   1   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +===+===+===+===+===+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   7b  3b  |   |   4  7b
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   1   4   7b  3b  5   1
   |   |   |   |   |   |
   +---+---+---+---+---+
   |   |   |   |   |   |
Box 5: 2nd pos - > A, 5th pos -> C, 9th pos -> E, 12th pos and open -> G. Class Assignment: Have someone play a 12-bar blues accompaniment or play along with a tape. Practice those 5 boxes in the 5 keys mentioned. Listen carefully how the scale works over different chords. After a while you will realize that it is boring to play the scale up and down. You must play melodies, and you have to utilize notes outside the blues-scale as "spices" in your playing. But we will cover that in a later lesson, where we will look at some blues-licks. - Olav Torvund.

39 comments sorted by best / new / date

    mollonvicente
    Hi, I just want to make a correction, the scale showed in the article is NOT de Blues scale, is just the Pentatonic scale, to build tue Blues scale you just need to add the IVb to the pentatonic scale. So you get in a key of A: A, C, D, D#(this is the one you add), E, G. For the people who are asking about the roman numbers: this numbers represents the grade of the note counting from the root. Ex. If root is A the IV (fourth grade) grade is D, and the V (fifth grade) is E, and so on. I will try to upload the pentatonic and the blues scale in Guitar pro format to help you to understand a little more this issue. Now, my recomendation to all is to learn all the notes in the freatboard, an then begin to identify the notes and the grades begining from a root (any you like). AND PLAY, PLAY, PLAY, is the only way you will get all you want, and create your own style. Thanks
    fancy footwerk
    a little to much showing off and not enough explaination what the *** does III IV /////I IIV mean anyway nice that you try to help but a little frustrating that it all seems to be in another language and also i think you make us feel a little stupid cos we dont get it xxx
    mollonvicente
    to build tue Blues scale you just need to add the IVb to the pentatonic scale
    Sorry, is not the the IVb grade is the IV#. So you get in A: A, C, D, D#(this is the one you add), E, G.
    Peanut1614
    Who ever wrote this is an idiot, or named it wrong? As mollon says
    Hi, I just want to make a correction, the scale showed in the article is NOT de Blues scale, is just the Pentatonic scale,
    mp3stalin
    it has to do with intervals. root, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII (roman numerals for 1 through 7 [1 and root...same thing]) if you dont know how those work... it's based off the major scale... look it up... UG has alot of GREAT Major scale articles.
    PekarGuitar
    yeah you definitely forgot the "blue note." A.K.A. the Vb or the IV#. Otherwise its just the minor pentatonic. Other than that it's a pretty decent lesson.
    crazyhands
    he did a great job explaining how the blues scale comes from the major scale. he didnt quite explain the blues scale well enough though. maybe in another lesson
    SirJoesephXD
    But theyre right... this didn't go too in depth with the blues scale. It gave me information I didn't know I'd need. So I give it a 7. It taught me alot.
    bluesman2009
    get a scales book,then some jams to play with,it will come to you easier this way.plus it will help you learn the fret board.quote]
    SirJoesephXD
    You know... if you guys just learn where the bloody notes are on the neck and create a note chart, this will come alot easier. Being I don't have much music theory behind me, I decided to create a chart and figure out scale construction. Once you stop being impatient and study this (like music is supposed to be) you get to understand it much better. I understand the 12 bar blues on Harmonica a little better thanks to this, and DEFINATELY understand blues a bit better. This is coming from someone who LITERALLY started picking up Music theory a few hours ago... Just stop being impatient and read and actually think. Nobody is going to hand you tabs in a jam session guys. Theyre going to tell you notation.
    Goshdangit88
    This isn't really that hard to understand. I've been playing for about 5 months and I get it, it's just boring. I'd give it a 4
    JackSavage
    UG Team: don't let these kids get ya down, this is a REALLY GOOD article. Some people obviously just don't get it.....
    daryl
    could someone please explain to me everything under the sun about this article...i'm really lost... i'm really eager to know this... could someone explain to me through my e-mail... luv_ur_smile@hotmail.com. . please make it idiot-proof..i mean explain every detail...
    Rhoads
    this is just pentatonic scales, a blues scale goes 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7-8va. its that simple...the articles kind of good though
    Emile
    I like the fact you did'nt put the tabs with it now I finaly know where the notes are, you forced me t find them out my self great lesson
    adm
    will you tab it out like a normal person so us lower mortals can understand trying to be a big shot doesnt help any one you tosser.
    guitaraddict
    Great lesson! Finally a lesson which covers blues scales all over the fretboard. Don't be bothered by people who should be in the basics-lesson part of this site. Keep on the good work!
    milk_it_good
    But the point of this lesson was teach you the blues scale!!! It's like it's testing to see if any of the experts can decipher that dribble!!! I just want the scale, pure and simple.
    MoshMaster101
    Someone please tell me what language this is in. I am fluent in English and French and have NO IDEA WHAT YOU ARE ON ABOUT DUDE!!!