Learn how to play the Blues scale!
The Blues scale is the second most common scale guitar players use when they improvise. To build it, all you do is add the b5 to the Minor Pentatonic.
If you have been calling out the intervals as you practised your Minor Pentatonic you will know where all your 4th and 5th are in each shape. To build the Blues scale, simply add the b5 in between!
Knowing where the intervals are within the scale is the key to being able to just add a note like this to the shapes.
Later on, when you learn the modes, you will do this again, just with other intervals.
The Em shape
The Em shaped Blues Scale is built from the Em shaped barre chord and the Em Pentatonic shape.
Notice how the b5’s position sits inside the Em shape, just in between the 4th and the 5th.
When you can play this in Am, move the scale shape around the neck using the cycle of 4th, like this: Am – Dm – Gm – Cm – Fm – Bbm – Ebm – Abm – Dbm – Gbm – Bm – Em.
This will ensure your hands know the Em shape.
The Am shape
Compare the Am with the Em shape, it is almost as if it all happens a string up.
As you practise the Am shape, notice the slightly awkward position of the b5 on string 2. Decide how to finger this.
To learn the Am shape or any shape for that matter, you need to understand all building blocks of how this scale is built.
Practise the scale as it is constructed, play:
- Chord shape
- Minor Pentatonic
- Add b5
- Chord shape
This way you will see it clearer and your hands will learn the connection between chord shape – pentatonic – blues scale.
Don’t forget to say the intervals out loud as well.
The Dm shape
As with all blues scale shapes, Dm is built from the Dm chord shape – Dm Minor Pentatonic shape – add b5.
The video lesson demonstrates how you can play the b5 on the 5th string instead of the 6th, choose what is most comfortable for you.
The Gm shape
This shape is really useful, especially the top two strings. For some reason, the b5 sounds the best when it’s played on a string surrounded by the 4th and 5th.
Remember to take the scale shape around the cycle of 4th in order to make sure you know it.
The Cm shape
To solo freely over the entire neck you need to know this shape as well as you know the Em shape.
Can you see all intervals clearly? Can you see the Cm chord shape?
Possibly the most difficult scale shape to use, the Cm shape offer big jumps (string 3 and 4) in combination with chromatic areas (string 1).
To get such extremes to work you need to spend more time with the Cm shape, compared with other shapes.
To find licks in the Cm shape, translate your favourite licks in other shapes into the Cm shape.
When you get really good at seeing the intervals it is possible to move licks on the fly, more on this in the intermediate course.
This exercise connects all five shapes of the Blues scale. Don’t expect to nail this on your first go, just take it slowly, in time you’ll get it.
Once you’re cool with playing this in Am, as I do in the video, crack on with Dm, Gm etc, all the way around the cycle of 4th.
Triplets are used in this connect shapes exercise. As well as triplets, why not play this exercise using 16th note clusters? Just like you do with chromatic exercises.
Cycle of 4th
Your final Blues scale exercise move to the nearest shape possible as we go through our favourite cycle, the cycle of 4th!
Just like when you practised the Minor Pentatonic, the movement of this exercise is:
- Am, Em shape
- Dm, Am Shape
- Gm, Dm shape
- Cm, Gm shape
- Fm, Cm shape
When you played through five shapes without mistakes, increase the BPM on your metronome.
This improvisation uses the Blues scale, look out for when the b5 appears.
Make sure you can see all scale shapes and intervals used.
It’s easy to build a Blues scale if you:
1. Know all you Minor Pentatonic shapes really well
2. Know where each interval in the Minor Pentatonic is located
If you know this, you just add a b5.
The best way to achieve this is to sing along when you play the scale, sing: Root, m3, 4, b5, 5, b7.
You’ll learn more about the Blues scale, how songs use them in licks and melodies when you take the intermediate guitar course.