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Solo Guitar The Blues Scales

The Blues are a simple music and Im a simple man. But the Blues arent a science, the Blues cant
be broken down like mathematics. The Blues are a mystery, and mysteries are never as simple as
they look!
- BB King, interview by David Ritz [1]

When you want to play a solo, you have to know which notes you can play. T his set of notes is called a scale.
It must f it to the song and the chords, not all notes on your f retboard would give a nice sound if played in one
song. Looking into a music book youll f ind dozens of dif f erent scales and modes, major and
natural/melodic/harmonic minor, dorian, lydian, mixolydian, aeolian or phrygian mode and even more. If you want
to learn more about these, look at the basics.
T he classical music theory is not well suited to describe the Blues, but we dont have a choice. From that
point of view Blues is crazy and wrong playing dominant major 7th chords all over minor pentatonic scales,
using chromatic scale pieces f or intros and turnarounds, using a 5 tone scale instead of the accustomed 7
tone scales, adding notes that dont belong to any scale and these stupid chord progressions so its only
an attempt to describe what we call the Blues. Why is it so weird? Its because the black people in the USA back
in the beginning of the 20th century tried to play their Af rican music styles on western instruments i.e. the
guitar, the harp and the piano. Take the guitar: the f rets are made f or equal intonation, to play classical
(western) music. To get the notes between you need special techniques like a string bend or a slide. T he
simplest way to describe the Blues scale with standard music theory is using a pentatonic scale and add some
extra notes. But this does in no way mean that Blues is a kind of limited music or that the black slaves back
then could be reduced to people who only know 5 notes. Its the opposite true Blues is much more than
pentatonic music. But to get started with need a description, and the classical music theory is what most
people know.

The pentatonic scale a simple way to start

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T his scale is called pentatonic, because it contains only 5 (greek penta: 5) dif f erent
notes. We start with the minor pentatonic scale in E (theres also a major pentatonic
scale, which sounds not so sad, but f or a deep basic Blues well take the minor). We
start with the key of E, because its a guitar key all open strings belong to this scale.
Here it is, noted in tab (E is the key, that means the scale begins with E):

E I---------------------0-3-I
B I-----------------0-3-----I
G I-------------0-2---------I
D I---------0-2-------------I
A I-----0-2-----------------I
E I-0-3---------------------I
E minor pent at onic scale, rst pat t ern
You start with the open E-string; thats (of course) E. When you reach the 2nd f ret of the D-string, its also E
(play both at the same time, you will hear it). And f inally the other open E string is also E. So youve stepped
through 2 octaves. T he notes are E G A B D.
Playing the open strings also contains all notes of the E minor pentatonic scale, but not in the correct
sequence, every 2nd note is lef t out. T hat means you can play simple rhythm guitar and even small solos with
only open strings! No need to take your lef t hand(sorry, lef thanders).

The Blues scale: Blue notes

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Next step: to get the typical Blues sound, we add a special note: the Blue note (which
is usually a diminished fifth, see basics).
However, there are more def initions of the Blue note, I use the most common def inition.
T he diminished third and the diminished seventh are the other ones of ten called Blue
notes, or in general notes played at a lower pitch than those of the major scale, of ten
bend to a higher pitch.
T he diminished (flat) third is the note which in classical (western) music styles determines if
its a major or a minor scale. In Blues music it is of ten a bend f rom the minor note into the major
note, usually not reaching exactly the target note.
T he diminished (flat) seventh is the note which is part of the dominant seventh chord, the one which leads
back to the tonic (root) note.
Another more simple def inition youll f ind is that a Blue note is always played at a slightly lower pitch than
those of the major scale to express a certain f eeling. All these def initions show us the impossibility f or an
exact def inition using classical music theory. T he Af rican roots of the Blues music used non-equal tempered
(natural harmonic) scales, so this is obviously an attempt to describe these in-between notes using classical
notation. So you can consider American Blues music as a well grown mixture of Af rican and European music
Back to the scale it now the scale gets more dramatic and looks like:
E minor Blues scale

T his new note is a great starting point f or string bending, in Blues music a note is of ten bended into a Blue
note. Another note to bend into is f or example a note f rom the major scale while playing in a minor scale. By the
way you can play this scale also 12 f rets higher using the same f ingering pattern, its still in E:

Other keys easy!

And now the great advantage of playing guitar: with a bright smile on your f ace you look to the keyboard player
and give him the sign f or changing the key. While the keyboard player is wondering about the black and white
keys on his keyboard (what was it? F-sharp? damn), you just have f inished your solo. T he secret is that you
only have to move the f rets up or down to change to another key. T he fingering pattern is still the same!
Look at the f retboard scheme to locate the root notes f or a scale. Moving up or down a f ret means moving up
or down a semi note: if you want to play in F you can use the pattern of E and simply move up one f ret.
Example: Blues pentatonic in A would look like (start at the 5th f ret!):
A minor Blues scale

More f ingering patterns and box playing

With this scales you can play your f irst Blues licks. T he advantage is that you can play every time every note
of the scale. T here is no wrong note, but some will sound better, some not so good. You can not only play
pentatonic scales to Blues music, but also to rock, pop and even jazz music. (On the other hand, you can never
get any Spanish f lamenco or country music f eeling with it, there are some notes or better intervals missing)
T his is not the only position f or the pentatonic Blues scale. T here are dif f erent f ingering patterns, so you can
play it all over the f retboard. But f or the beginning its better to start with only one and add sometimes a note
f rom another f ingering pattern.
Depending on the key and personal inf luences like f inger size or strength most players use a special parts of
these patterns called boxes. Within this box you have all the notes f rom an octave in a comf ortable
arrangement, f or example small distances f or small f ingers or a position that allows you to bend the important
notes with your ring f inger. Some technique oriented guitarists tend to doom this box playing and like to f ly all
over the f retboard. However, as long as you dont want to be a shredder, but play the Blues instead, its okay.
Spend your time searching f or your positions where you can put all your emotions to the string.

Common box example for t he A Blues scale
Below are schemes of your f retboard with all pentatonic f ingering patterns f or the two most common Blues
keys (this is NO tab, just directly a look at the f retboard). You can see the minor pentatonic scale f ingering
patterns (with root notes and blue notes) plus the additional notes f rom the major pentatonic scale, which you
dont need in the beginning, but will give you more room to play. You can cut out your own boxes in which you
can play comf ortably.
For the open strings of a scale take a look at the 12th f ret. For other scales, look at the basics.

The scales
How do I use the following graphics to improve my solo guitar?
Lets say we have a standard 12 bar Blues in E with the chords E(7)/A7/B7. Use the E scale below and locate
the red root notes (E). To get the minor pentatonic scale, add the black notes (E-G-A-B-D). You can now
play in saf e mode with these notes, each note will sound more or less good, there are no wrong notes. T he
next step is adding the blue note (yes, its colored blue, Bb in this case). If you reach the point that it gets
boring, caref ully try to add some of the gray notes f rom the major pentatonic. Some not all! Handle them
with care, youll soon f ind out when to use which note to get the tonal ef f ect you want to express. If you
wonder why there are less gray notes than black notes: both scales share the same root (red) plus the V (B in
this case), which is colored black to avoid conf usion.
T ip: Many more scales graphics in every key and f or dif f erent tunings and other nice extra f eatures are at the
scale and chord generator.