A new vision of the blues

We are all exhausted playing the same scales, the same way, over and over again. A common solution to this guitar anxiety is to look for other scales, in the hopes of finding a new muse. While learning new scales is an important part of your development as a player, you can often overlook certain structures within a scale that you already know.


The blues scale is generally one of the first scales a guitarist learns and is arguably used in almost all genres of guitar playing. Just for review, take a look Ex. 1, which features the notes of the blues A scale (A – C – D – Eb – E – G). If you’ve ever worked on the blues scale, consider whether you can identify every tone in the scale on every string. This knowledge is important! You will have a better understanding of what you are playing, and it will take you away from the “sounds like cool” approach.

The most common fingering for the A blues scale is in the 5th position, and the second most common pattern is in the 12th position. Ex. 2 shows all the positions of the A blues scale. Base your fingerings on these patterns on the minor pentatonic modes, but note that adding the blue note creates a new offset that you’ll need to keep an eye out for.

So now you know the scale and you know how to play it all over the neck. But here’s the problem: Think of the scale as a six-note (hexatonic) scale rather than just a minor pentatonic with one note added. This will allow you to design new and different things to play. A common way to rearrange notes in a hexatonic scale is to combine the notes into thirds or all other notes. To concern Ex. 3 where these pairs are plotted in 5th position and shows the intervals they create.

If you did this with a minor pentatonic, you would get four perfect fourths (P4) and a major third (M3) for a total of five intervals. With the blues scale, you get a perfect fourth, a minor third (m3), a major second (M2), a major third, then two perfect fourths for a grand total of six intervals. The b5 in the middle of the scale is the reason for the variety and curious nature of the results and gives you different tools to add a new dimension to your blues playing.

To put them under your fingers and give you something to play, listen Ex. 4 where these pairs are played ascending through the scale pattern in fifth position.

Ex. 4

Naturally, whenever you are working on a sequential model, it helps to twist them into different permutations. In Ex. 5 I go down each pair of intervals up the ladder.

Ex. 5

Let’s mix it up! In Ex. 6 and Ex. 7 I alternate through the intervals, first I go up then I go down before inverting the pattern. The fingerings will be fairly logical and common, but some latitude and creativity will be required at some point. Find something that makes sense to you but doesn’t stray too far from the typical fingering of the scale. Apply the same method to the other four ladder models and hold them in place. Moments of fun.

Ex. 6

Ex. 7

Now it’s time for the meat and the potatoes. Ex. 8 uses the scale models we worked on. The first two bars use the concept of descending intervals leading to rotating major and minor intervals played in triplets in bar 3. Bar 4 is a “two up, one down” combination of intervals that lead to a few. ascending intervals to complete the line.

Ex. 8

Ex. 9 is designed to raise the neck a bit more, using scale models through multiple positions. The original idea of ​​bar 1 is played in 5th position and uses rotating intervals. It is replayed in bars 2 and 3 an octave up in 7th position, then is answered by descending intervals in 10th position entering bar 4. As with any new concept, the challenge is to make music and not not like you are playing an exercise. In these examples, I added rhythmic variety, space, and musical scale to create something more like a line, not an exercise.

Ex. 9

This sequence of intervals can also be played on adjacent strings. Whether together or apart, you can use them to move up and down the neck to change positions solo, create a vampire, or add another note for bluesy and funky three-note chords. See Ex. Ten for mapping these intervals to all adjacent string sets.

Ex. 11 adds the intervals on the 4th and 3rd strings to a traditional blues-rock riff. Measures 1 and 3 are identical, and the notes of the intervals are stretched to obtain a little more grain. Bar 2 has a descending sequence of intervals to reach the barline, ending with another descending sequence of eighth notes while changing the set of strings.

Ex. 11

In Ex. 12Instead, I was going for a triplet feel that ran the length of the neck. Mission accomplished. But don’t forget this pro tip: What looks good on paper can be really painful to play. In bar 1, the intervals are not played in order, but by skipping one of them and then backing up. After that, I try to use the b5-5 combination to switch from the first two strings to the shapes of the 3rd and 2nd strings. The fingerings are fairly form-oriented until you get to measure 4. My advice is to be resourceful.

Ex. 12

Keep in mind that this is only a potential way to group the notes of the blues scale. Explore other possible groupings of two notes, either in position or lengthwise along the fretboard. Create a three-note chord shape and run it through the scale just to see what you get. Play it all along with a backing track to really hear what it sounds like. Keep the good stuff and don’t worry about others. There is always another way of looking at a ladder.

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