The scales that are used the most in blues music are the Mixolydian scale and the pentatonic scale, both enhanced with blue notes.
Blue Notes are a drop of pitch of the 3, 5 and 7 of a major scale.
Most of the time when someone refers to the blues scale they mean the pentatonic minor scale with a b5 (blue note).
Most of the blues’ harmony consists of dominant chords. Why is it that playing a minor scale over a dominant chord sounds so good? Because the b3 of the pentatonic scale is a blue note to the dominant chord and the tension of the b3 of the scale against the natural 3 of the chord creates the typical blues sound. You can use this tension in your solos by playing with the contrast between the blue note and the natural 3.
Some techniques to do this:
- hammer on or slide from the b3 to the natural 3
- mix the Mixolydian scale with the blues scale
Here’s an example of mixing scales:
The first part uses the C Mixolydian scale (with a natural 3), the second half of the second bar uses the C minor pentatonic scale (with a flat 3).
Here’s another blues lick. It uses a blues scale in G.
For more examples of the blues scale, listen to recordings of blues guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan or BB King. For examples of the blues scale in jazz, check out jazz guitarists like George Benson or Kenny Burrell.
There are some other ways you can use the blues scale. Have a look at the following guitar tabs:
These are the first eight bars of a blues chord progression in F. The traditional way to use the blues scale would be using the F blues scale on the F7 chord, but instead I play the D blues scale on the F7 chord.
Functions of the D blues scale on F7: 13, 1, 9, b3, 3 and 5.
You see there is both the blue note and the natural third in it.
On the Bb7 I use the F blues scale.
Functions of the F blues scale on Bb7: 5, b7, 1, b9, 9 and 11.
Look out for the b9, don’t stop on the flat 9, resolve it into the 9 or the 1.
Something similar happens in this lick:
It starts with an F arpeggio, followed by a Dm7 arpeggio in bar 2. Note that the b7 of F7 is delayed until the last bar. Doing so creates variation and is a good technique to announce the chord change to Bb7.
More alternative uses of the pentatonic scale
Blues Chords & Chord Progressions
The majority of blues chords are dominant 7 chords. (More about Chords). The foundation of chord progressions used in blues is the 12 bar blues with it’s many varieties. (Chords progressions for blues). Walking bass is a frequently used bass guitar technique in blues. Here’s a lesson on fingerstyle walking bass. (Walking Bass on JazzGuitar.be)
A technique used a lot in blues are double stops: playing 2 notes simultaneously. 😉 Here’s an example: 💡
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