Blues Scales And Progressions

Learn how to apply blues scales to simple soloing, and how to play the 12 bar blues progression.

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Blues Scales And Progressions
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This little document is mainly on how to solo using the blues pentatonic scales.

A blues pentatonic scale, from what I understand, is simply a minor pentatonic scale with a blues note between the 3rd and 4th tone.

Now, the scale is located on five places on the fretboard.

The first one is the simplest I think, as it is the one most popularly known. It goes like this:
 Ascending                         Descending                       
|---------------------------0-3-||-3-0-----------------------------|
|-----------------------0-3-----||------3-0------------------------|
|-----------------0-2-3---------||-----------3-2-0-----------------|
|------------0-2----------------||------------------2-0------------|
|-------0-1-2-------------------||-----------------------2-1-0-----|
|-0--3--------------------------||----------------------------0--3-|

Box I

Obviously, seeing the tabs, this scale is in E. However, if you want to make it in, say, G, then all you have to do is transpose all the tabs up three frets... get it? Now then, while you can actually use just this little box to solo with (and quite nicely, too), I think that it would highly benefit you to learn the next four boxes, as well.

Now, all these are in E, so in order to make them into a different key, you must simply transpose them accordingly. Also, (and this refers to the previous scale as well), the fingers used really depend on your preference; I personally use my index and ring finger, and occasionally my middle, which leaves my pinky to be used only when holding a chord. So, it's all up to you.
 Ascending                           Descending                     
|------------------------------3-5-||-5-3--------------------------|
|--------------------------3-5-----||-----5-3----------------------|
|------------------2-3-4-----------||----------4-3-2---------------|
|-------------2-5------------------||-----------------5-2----------|
|--------2-5-----------------------||---------------------5-2------|
|-3-5-6----------------------------||------------------------6-5-3-|

Box II

 Ascending                         Descending                       
|--------------------------5-6-7-||-7-6-5--------------------------|
|---------------------5-8--------||--------8-5---------------------|
|-----------------4-7------------||--------------4-7---------------|
|-----------5-7-8----------------||---------------8-7-5------------|
|-------5-7----------------------||-----------------------7-5------|
|-5-6-7--------------------------||--------------------------7-6-5-|

Box III

 Ascending                                 
|-----------------------------------7-10--|
|-------------------------8-10-11---------|
|--------------------7-9------------------|
|-------------7-8-9-----------------------|
|-------7-10------------------------------|
|-7-10------------------------------------|

Descending
|-10-7------------------------------------|
|-------11-10-8---------------------------|
|------------------9-7--------------------|
|----------------------9-8-7--------------|
|------------------------------10-7-------|
|------------------------------------10-7-|

Box IV

 Ascending                                        
|------------------------------------------10-12-|
|-------------------------------10-11-12---------|
|-------------------------9-12-------------------|
|-------------------9-12-------------------------|
|-------10-12-13---------------------------------|
|-10-12------------------------------------------|

Descending
|-12-10------------------------------------|
|--------12-11-10--------------------------|
|-------------------12-9-------------------|
|------------------------12-9--------------|
|----------------------------13-12-10------|
|------------------------------------12-10-|

Box V

So, there's the boxes. Now, if you just didn't want to play those middle notes, and just use the pentatonic scale, well, that would be alright, but it wouldn't sound as... rich, for lack of a better word, when played with a blues song. It's a little difficult to incorporate that note into a solo, but when you find out where it fits, it adds a nice touch to the song. Oh, and let me throw in a hint for soloing: when I first started, I solo'ed only picking in one direction, which slowed down my tempo. If you alternate picking a string down and up, your speed could more than double. I dunno, that was just meant for beginners.

Now, onto the blues progressions. The 12 bar blues progression is simply made up of the first, fourth, and fifth tones in a major scale, and is spread over twelve measures (bars). For example, in E, the first tone would be E, then - (E, F#, G#, A) - A would be the fourth, and - (E, F#, G#, A, B) - B would be the fifth. Thus, the chords would be E, A, & B. Now, we know the chords... what about the progression? Well, let's say that each letter below is a whole note held in that chord (in 4/4 time, so whole note = 4 beats). In order to play just the plain old 12 bar, you would go:

E - E - E - E - A - A - E - E - B - A - E - E (end)
   E     A     B          
E|-0-|E|-0-|E|-2-|
B|-0-|B|-2-|B|-4-|
G|-1-|G|-2-|G|-4-|
D|-2-|D|-2-|D|-4-|
A|-2-|A|-0-|A|-X-| (muted)
E|-0-|E|-0-|E|-X-|
Go on, play it. Get the hang of it. Now, most blues songs aren't in the major. Most are in seventh. So, try it in seventh now.

E7 - E7 - E7 - E7 - A7 - A7 - E7 - E7 - B7 - A7 - E7 - E7
   E7    A7    B7          
E|-0-|E|-0-|E|-2-| (Pinky)
B|-0-|B|-2-|B|-0-|
G|-1-|G|-0-|G|-2-| (Ring)
D|-0-|D|-2-|D|-1-| (Index)
A|-2-|A|-0-|A|-2-| (Middle)
E|-0-|E|-0-|E|-0-|
B7 is hard to go into, but it sounds nice.

Now, then... you've gotten this far. To make it a little better sounding, let's throw in an extra A7, for extra flavor:

E7 - A7 - E7 - E7 - A7 - A7 - E7 - E7 - B7 - A7 - E7 - E7

That's what the song, "Sweet Home Chicago" uses in its progression. Now, to finish it off, let's add another B7:

E7 - A7 - E7 - E7 - A7 - A7 - E7 - E7 - B7 - A7 - E7 - B7

Like it? I do. Now, to make it sound better, use this stroking technique, where the sound isn't like "one-and-two-and" but is instead, "one-a-two-a" so that you sound like you are actually playing blues rhythms (listen to a few blues songs to get what I'm talking about)

Up... and down... up... and down...

I'm sorry, I just can't think of any other way to describe it. I don't have access to note symbols... Well, anyways, on to the next step. Now, you have the chords... let's add a little riff in there to make it sound better. We're still in E7, so here it is.

This next chords are E7 and A7, with an extra note in there to throw in so that it sounds more complex:
   E7    A7 
E|-0-|E|-2-|
B|-2-|B|-2-|
G|-1-|G|-0-|
D|-0-|D|-2-|
A|-2-|A|-0-|
E|-0-|E|-0-|
Now, use these extra notes with your ring or pinky finger (whichever is easier). Hit them every other beat, and your sound will be a lot better! B7 doesn't have an extra note as far as I know, or at least one that is fairly simple to reach. And now you know the 12 bar blues progression! I will answer any questions on the comments board, or you can email me at chadcarlile@att.net. Have fun!

114 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    leijsa
    Very good article, it was really easy to understand. I learned alot from it. Great job!
    stutterfly
    that is alright to play with some basic blues progressions but i still love KRISPY KREAM DOUGHNUTS
    thesmartguy50
    oh, yes... very diplomatic, AnthonyZ.... you stated your reasons very efficiently and have proved your point beyond a shadow of a doubt. You know, it's arses like you that deserve to watch their own guitar get run over by a Mack truck. What is the point of your statement? Why bother writing that at all? You just make yourself look like an imbecile, you know that, right? I don't care that much, but one of these days, you're gonna do something ignorant like that and completely throw off a potential guitar star from ever posting a lesson again, simply because you wanted to make a little two word mark on a comments board. Real smooth, you ass.
    poontastic
    nicely done, i just had the greatest burrito. Congrats. One of the best lessons iv seen
    codyatkin
    great lesson. i've been havin trouble comin up with blues stuff. shud help
    IntlManOfMisery
    excellent except the blues note (a diminshed 5) appears between the 4th and 5th tones not 3rd and 4th...but you tabbed it fine
    jimihendrixWee
    nicley done...lots other blues stuff in the Guitar One blues issue.. diffinetly a must have for the newbs of the blues... 5 stars
    thesmartguy50
    Yes. "People, this progression is just as common as mine!" I forgot to add that one... Thanx man.
    thesmartguy50
    actually, it's pretty evenly divided between the two. However, it is true that your progression is very popular. There are even more progressions out there that are really wierd, like the I-IV-I-IV-V-IV-I, etc. But thanks for mentioning that one, because that is an important thing to know, especially if one wants to play "Sweet Home Chicago," or some such song. I'm probably going to do another lesson on harder progressions later. Keep the suggestions coming!
    thesmartguy50
    let me expand on my last comment, just because i have nothing else to do. Lots of songs use my basic I-IV-V progression, such as "Use the Blues," and just about every James Cotton song you can name. However, LOADS of songs use SilentDefTone's version, as well. It is quite popular. To say that MOST songs use that method, however... a bit of an exaggeration, but a good point nonetheless.
    TobusRex
    An instructor showed me the E7-A7-B7-A7-E7 progression awhile back while I was working on Travis Picking. There are so many things to do with it.
    Wowbanger
    Great post. It taught me a lot. I'm 50 and it's getting harder to learn stuff, but this explained it really well. Thanks
    thesmartguy50
    Thanks for all your feedback. To answer Mr. Friction, I don't teach, as I'm only 15. BUT, if you wanna know anything else about the blues, I can do my best. Just private message me, or email me at chadcarlile@att.net. Also, I keep trying to post a lesson on modes, but they tell me that they won't post any modes lessons for awhile, so if'n theres anything you think I can help you with on that, feel free to contact me, as well.
    80s_rock_girl
    This is an excellent article. I've been playing for 3 years and I don't feel like I've learned as much as I could. To remedy that problem I decided to expand my horizons and learn some new stuff. I've never tried blues so I find this very helpful though I do have a question since I haven't been exposed to much of the technicalities to the guitar. I've strictly used tabs. How exactly do you transpose, let's say an E scale to a G scale. I'd greatly appreciate anyone who could explain it. Wonderfull article. 5++ stars. )
    Hardhead35404
    Nice Job chad... its quite easy to understand and learn from... i can see u are going to be a good teacher... lol
    f-e-z
    good job, helped me a lot, i now know what to do in school when we do blues work. Ta!
    Burning.Flag
    stutterfly wrote: that is alright to play with some basic blues progressions but i still love KRISPY KREAM DOUGHNUTS
    FAGGOT!
    thesmartguy50
    well, Mario, that would be a bit redundant and, quite frankly, time-consuming. The whole scale is easily transposable.
    Mario-Guitar
    good article... altough if an guitarist has any understanding of his instrument he would understand this for himself. and for an extra good tip!!! try to build that scale up over the entire neck and allsow the other notes (SOW NOT ONLY IN E)
    TI-Tiko
    thesmartguy50 wrote: oh, yes... very diplomatic, AnthonyZ.... you stated your reasons very efficiently and have proved your point beyond a shadow of a doubt. You know, it's arses like you that deserve to watch their own guitar get run over by a Mack truck. What is the point of your statement? Why bother writing that at all? You just make yourself look like an imbecile, you know that, right? I don't care that much, but one of these days, you're gonna do something ignorant like that and completely throw off a potential guitar star from ever posting a lesson again, simply because you wanted to make a little two word mark on a comments board. Real smooth, you ass.
    I love your rudeboy 15 year old goin on 40 style --- but ya i had no clue bout blues this had to be the best blues lesson i've seen, actually combined with some chords from one of the other lessons i came up with a mean blues song. Im so pissed i dropped my electric with it still plugged in and busted it wtf, the input jack still looks mint the washer behind the nut is a little bent and everytime i plug it in it just slips out any can help it'b be much appreciated
    W4T3V3R
    i am 14 and started last september so these are great, i can play loads already and reasonably well, ti am very patient to learn scales and theory as i hear thats what makes a great guitarist. aswell as other things. ALSO how do you put thme into different ones for g he says 3 frets up explain please somebody
    RockYourFace
    lil_angus_young, nice name. Good article. Anyone who reads this may end up being as good as Jake and Elwood Blues.
    xfreakonaleash0
    pretty kool. It was useful. I was just in the middle of righting a solo for my band. and i added that middle note here and there. it sounds awesome.