Music Theory: What Is A Blues Scale?
Updated on 06/03/19
In the contemporary music world, it is used regularly, but what is a blues scale?
The far-reaching influence of the blues is something that is often overlooked in the modern musical world. Nearly all pop and rock music features some aspect that bears its hallmarks, and the vast majority of guitar icons ply their trade with a debt to it.
Within musicians circles, you’ll often hear mention of ‘blues scales’. But what is a blues scale?
Minor Pentatonic (sort of)
Blues music has several defining characteristics that have been around practically since its inception. The familiar 12-bar blues chord progressions, for example.
But what is that makes the blues, well, blue?
The key to its familiar character is the blues scale.
A typical major scale would have seven notes and the octave note.
For example, C-major – C, D, E, F, G, A, B, C
The blues scale is actually based on a minor pentatonic scale, which has five notes. Pentatonic scales have a very long history within music, going back possibly even thousands of years. And yet, they still pervade in traditional folk styles all over the world.
A minor pentatonic takes the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th notes of this scale, but flattens the third and fifth notes.
So, the above becomes:
C, Eb, F, G, Bb, C
This is often mistaken for a blues scale, and playing though it, it certainly has a similar sound. So, how does the blues scale differ from this?
Well, it has typically six notes for a start. It adds a sharpened 4th note. This is key to the characteristic ‘bluesiness’ of the musical style.
The above becomes,
C, Eb, F, F#, G, Bb, C.
Playing melodies with the notes from a blues scale will instantly create blues character. The guitar has numerous moveable blues scale shapes, the most popular of which is shown below. The first note on the 6th string is the root note of the scale- so, if this is played at the 5th fret in standard tuning, it would be in A.
So, now that’s settled, pick up your Strat, put on your blues hat and give it a bash.
If you liked that, then you might like this
If you’re after the perfect guitar to capture your bluesy licks in style, then check out our “Best Guitars for Blues“.
On the lookout for an amp to go with the guitar? Then check out our “5 of the Best Amps for Blues“.
Finally, if you want to get out of ever having to fork out for a pint again, you’ll want to know these “5 Essential Blues Licks“.