How to Make the Blues Scale Your Own

In this lesson you'll learn how to break down the blues scale into fragments in order to come up with your own licks and gain more control over the sound of your blues playing.

How to Make the Blues Scale Your Own
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When you start out playing blues guitar one of the most challenging things is to make the blues scale actually sound bluesy. It's one of those scales that require an extra effort in order to get some rewarding sounds out of it.

You could learn a bunch of licks and try to incorporate them into your playing but I think it's much more productive to come up with your own licks and understand what you're doing rather than rely on well-worn licks and runs. 

Here's the blues scale in A:


If you run the scale it sounds like it has potential but at first it's a little difficult to get some good bluesy sounding licks going.

Scale fragments

I've found that breaking the blues scale down into fragments makes it a whole lot easier to get into. As the blues is based largely on tension and release you'll want to keep either your first or second finger (depending on the fragment) anchored to the root note in order to resolve your licks.

Fragment 1


This is one of my favorite fragments. Keep your first finger rooted on the 1. Bend that b3 up slightly or a half-step or indeed a whole-step. Resolve chromatic 4-b5-5 runs to the 1 and don't hang on the b5!

Fragment 2


This second fragment is great for practicing just touching on the b5 and resolving it. Keep your third finger rooted on the 1. Again, bend the b3 up slightly and don't hang too long on the 4, it won't sound good. Use the b7 below the root to resolve too.

This pattern can also be played further up the neck. Remember it's the same pattern only warped by the B string. There are some nice double stops in this fragment.

Fragment 3


This is an interesting fragment as it only has 3 available notes from the blues scale yet the range of licks you can come up with is incredible. Keep your second finger rooted on the 1; bend the b7 on the 12th fret up a tone, slight bends work well too. You can hang on the 5 and use the other b7 for double stops and resolving to the 1.

The idea here is to come up with your own licks, and by restricting the amount of notes you gain more control over the sound of what you're playing.

About the Author:
Graham Tippett has been playing for over 20 years and writes extensively about all things guitar over at www.unlocktheguitar.net.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

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    JackA7X
    The trick is knowing your pentatonic inside out, and knowing where that b5 fits in. Then learning how to incorporate it. Don't try to learn the blues until your normal pentatonic licks are up to scratch.
    bazdesh
    Do not only stay with b5, learn, where there are m3/M3 for each chords and use them as passing tones (along with b5) to a "neutral" chord tone (inside pentatonic)... After some time the chromatic scale will be your "blues" scale.
    Abacus11
    Great article! I think too many aspiring guitarist jump into more "exotic" scales before REALLY learning how to play the pentatonic and blues scales. Unless you're learning how to play with imagination and feeling you'll just sound like you're running through scale exercises like a robot. I've been playing for 26 years and still find myself revisiting pentatonics and blues scales and I found this lesson very helpful!
    xijack
    i read in an interview with Gatemouth Brown, that he developed his best licks by swearing (cussing he said) through the guitar at annoying people in the audience
    FL_Bob2002
    I'm not interested in blues at all so why do I as a classic country player need to learn them?
    obby459
    bazdesh is right you need to understand the chords however the b5 works well because of its natural "blue note". Using the major and minor thirds as well as the 7th of the chord makes for the interesting notes. There is a great analogy that Chase Sanborn uses. The 3rd and 7th are the juicy notes in the cheese burger. You always want to have a bite of the cheese and meat in each bite, and that my friends is how you play the blues