The blues scale is one of the essential guitar scales to learn because it can be used across different music genres such as rock, blues, jazz, and pop music. The blues scale is a powerful improvisation tool because it has a catchy and unique sound that can make your playing stand out.
Learning this scale makes improvising so much funner to play over chord progressions and songs. In this post, we cover the scale theory, how to play blues scales in different keys, learn the five shapes throughout the fretboard, and scale patterns that you can use as ideas for improvisation.
Let’s get started!
What is the blues scale?
The blues scale is a set of 6 notes based on the pentatonic scale with an added chromatic note. This extra chromatic note, sometimes referred to as the blue note, gives the scale its distinctive sound.
There are two types of blues scales, the Major blues scale, and the minor blues scale.
Major scale blues formula
The Major blues scale has the scale degrees 1, 2, b3, 3, 5, and 6. For example, a C Major blues scale has the notes C, D, Eb, E, G, and A. The Major blues scale is essentially a Major pentatonic scale with an added half step between the 2nd and 3rd scale degrees (see the formula below).
Minor scale blues formula
The minor blues scale has the scale degrees, 1, b3, 4, #4, 5, and b7. For example, a C minor blues scale has the notes C, Eb, F, F#, G, and Bb. The minor blues scale is essentially a minor pentatonic scale with an added half step between the 4th and 5th scale degrees (see the formula below).
Major blues scale examples
Now let’s apply this Major blues scale formula to different keys. Each scale below will cover two octaves on the guitar in standard notation with tabs and audio examples included.
Even though these blues scale examples are written 4/4 time, you can apply the notes to any time signature.
C Major blues scale
The small numbers on top of the notes represent the suggested fingerings for your fretting hand. The C Major blues scale has the notes C, D, Eb, E, G, and A.
E Major blues scale
The E Major blues scale has the notes E, F#, G, G#, B, and C#.
A Major blues scale
The A Major blues scale has the notes A, B, C, C#, E, and F#.
Major blues scale chart in all 12 keys
Here is a chart of the Major blues scale in every key.
|Major blues scale||1||2||b3||3||5||6|
|C Major blues scale||C||D||Eb||E||G||A|
|D Major blues scale||D||E||F||F#||A||B|
|E Major blues scale||E||F#||G||G#||B||C#|
|F Major blues scale||F||G||Ab||A||C||D|
|G Major blues scale||G||A||Bb||B||D||E|
|A Major blues scale||A||B||C||C#||E||F#|
|B Major blues scale||B||C#||D||D#||F#||G#|
|Db Major blues scale||Db||Eb||E||F||Ab||Bb|
|Eb Major blues scale||Eb||F||Gb||G||Bb||C|
|Gb Major blues scale||Gb||Ab||B||Bb||Db||Eb|
|Ab Major blues scale||Ab||Bb||B||C||Eb||F|
|Bb Major blues scale||Bb||C||Db||D||F||G|
Minor blues scale examples
A minor blues scale
Did you know that the A minor blues scale has the exact same notes as the C Major blues scale? The only difference is that you are starting on the 6th degree.
Here is an A minor blues scale which has the notes A, C, D, D#, E, and G.
If you know your Major scale shapes, you will see how the relative minor scale includes the same notes.
C minor blues scale
The C minor blues scale has the notes C, Eb, F, F#, G, and Bb.
E minor blues scale
The E minor blues scale has the notes E, G, A, A#, B, and D.
Minor blues scale chart in all 12 keys
Here is a chart of the minor blues scale in every key.
|Minor blues scale||1||b3||4||#4||5||b7|
|C minor blues scale||C||Eb||F||F#||G||Bb|
|D minor blues scale||D||F||G||G#||A||C|
|E minor blues scale||E||G||A||A#||B||D|
|F minor blues scale||F||Ab||Bb||B||C||Eb|
|G minor blues scale||G||Bb||C||C#||D||F|
|A minor blues scale||A||C||D||D#||E||G|
|B minor blues scale||B||D||E||F||F#||A|
|Db minor blues scale||Db||E||Gb||G||Ab||B|
|Eb minor blues scale||Eb||Gb||Ab||A||Bb||Db|
|Gb minor blues scale||Gb||A||B||C||Db||E|
|Ab minor blues scale||Ab||B||Db||D||Eb||Gb|
|Bb minor blues scale||Bb||Db||Eb||E||F||Ab|
Now that you have a better understanding of the music theory behind the Major and minor blues scales, let’s start learning the scale shapes throughout the fretboard.
5 blues scale shapes on guitar
We can break down the blues scale into 5 different sections of the guitar fretboard. You can play these shapes starting on any root note.
How to read the scale charts
For the charts below, the lowest horizontal line represents the thickest string (Low E) while the top horizontal line represents the thinnest string (high E).
The green circles represent the root note of the Major blues scale, the purple notes represent the root note of the minor blues scale and blue is every note in between. (Remember that the Major and minor blues share the same notes by starting on different scale degrees.)
The numbers inside the circles represent the suggested fingering to use on your fretting hand.
If needed, check out how to read guitar notation symbols.
Blues scale shape 1
Blues scale shape 2
Blues scale shape 3
Blues scale shape 4
Blues scale shape 5
One thing to note about using these shapes is that whenever you have scales where you can use open strings, you will have to rearrange your fingers to play the shape. For example, if a shape includes the fingering 1, 3, and 4 on one string, you can play (open string), 1 and 3 instead.
Although you will need to change some shapes if you include open strings, once you move over to the next shape where you’re fretting all the notes, you will get back to the original shapes we covered here.
Blues scale guitar patterns
A way to practice blues scales is to learn scale patterns for creative application in your playing. Use the following blues scale patterns as a guide for you to use over a chord or chord progression. You can create your own scale patterns based on these examples. I also recommend trying these patterns in different keys to truly master them on the guitar.
The following 6 note and 8 note patterns are all based in the key of C Major or A minor.
6 note ascending blues scale pattern
For this 6 note pattern, I’m playing the 6 notes of the blues scale starting from the lowest string and then starting the consecutive pattern again on the next string (6th, 5th, 4th, then 3rd string). I start each pattern on the 1st note of the scale shape rather than thinking about what degree comes next.
Check out the example to show you what I mean.
6 note descending blues scale pattern
This is the same concept as the last example, except you move down the blues scale in a 6 consecutive note pattern.
8 note ascending blues scale pattern
For this pattern, I’m playing the 8 notes of the blues scale starting from the lowest string and then starting the consecutive pattern again on the next string.
8 note descending blues scale pattern
This is the same concept as the last example, except you move down the blues scale in an 8 consecutive note pattern.
Ascending blues scale – 3 octaves
For this pattern, we are playing the blues scale in 3 octaves to show you how to connect the notes on the fretboard.
The next two examples will be in the key of E Major or C# minor.
Descending blues scale – 3 octaves
This pattern is the same as the previous example but moving down the notes of the scale in 3 octaves.
For more ideas to incorporate the blues scale in improvisation, check out these 7 jazz and blues licks over a dominant 7 chord.
In this post, we covered the difference between the Major and minor blues scales. They are both 6 note scales which include a chromatic note, also referred to as the blue note.
We looked at how to play these blues scales in different keys, learned the scale shapes throughout the fretboard, and learned different patterns that you can use for improvisation.
Playing the blues can also refer to a song form known as a 12 bar blues. To learn more, you can check out how to play the blues on guitar in 3 levels of chords.
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All the best,
JG Music Lessons