Create Your Own Custom Blues Shapes

Learn how to mix minor and major blues shapes to create unique and interesting box shapes of your own.

Ultimate Guitar
The very first scale a guitarist learns is often the minor pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale is easy to familiarize oneself with and is incredibly versatile.

After this may come the addition of the blues note - to make the blues minor scale. From there, a guitarist will probably branch out and learn other available scales, such as the full natural minor scale and the major scale and its modes. But wait. Let's backtrack a bit here. There's a lot more to "the blues" than you may think.

The first realization that excited me was that I could play either a pentatonic minor scale over a typical blues progression or a pentatonic major. They both sound "right." The blues is a musical anomaly. Famous blues players make use of this concept all the time. Listen to some BB King songs and you'll soon hear that some of his playing is a happy blues sound and some is a sadder blues sound. A good player will know how to mix the minor and major tonalities on the spot.

Step 1: Superimpose the major pentatonic scale onto the blues minor scale

The blue notes are "blues notes" or flat fifths and the red notes are major thirds. Try playing this mixed scale shape. You may find that it sounds too "full." There are too many notes to really get any emotion out of it. I'd recommend that you use this scale shape to simply remind you of what notes are available to you. A better approach to mixing the scale shapes would be to pick and choose what notes you want to play from the mixed scale shape.

In other words - make a custom box position.

Step 2: Using the mixed scale shape, create a custom box position

Here's a custom shape that I came up with and use frequently:

Be sure to make your own custom positions by choosing whatever intervals you wish from the mixed scale. The more you make and learn, the better you'll become at mixing the major and minor blues sounds! But, a word of warning: avoid playing major thirds over blatantly sad blues jams. It won't work well at all. A good rule is to use mixed scales at your own discretion.

About the Author:
By Alfred Potter

12 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I usually don't say anything in the comments, but this is truly a simple, yet eye-opening lesson. Quick and to the point. Opened up my playing! Thanks man!
    Wtf if sad blues? Minor blues. It's funny how in step 1 he brings in tones from an altered dominant scale shape and then... removes most of them. All that color is gone, because he didn't know about it or because he didn't care enough to explain. Lessons like these seem to be more about advertising then teaching.
    There are some bluesy jams which use minor seven chords on the root 4th and 5th. That's what I meant by sad blues. Perhaps I should have specified. I've found that it's never a good idea to use the major tonalities over these types of jams. Haha you're right about the removal of notes. I designed this to be a visual exercise to get people thinking differently. It's up to the individual to select the notes they want. The goal was to teach how to mix scales in a very easy and intuitive way and to prove that it doesn't have to be difficult (especially for beginners). Didn't mean to ruffle any feathers!
    Yeah, I think "minor blues" would make more sense, or blues with a minor tonic chord. You can usually play minor over major, but playing major over minor just doesn't sound that great.
    I'm sorry, but I don't understand the diagrams and haven't figured it out yet. Thankyou for the advice, but unfortunately I haven't got any use out of it. :[ I'll work it out.
    Oh man! Sorry dude. Well just pick some notes from that mixed scale shape I provided. Even draw them out on paper? Spend some time until you've made a shape of your own that uses some notes from the blues minor and some from the major pentatonic
    This rules man! Been playing for a long time and never put these pieces together myself.