Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Scales – Part 2

Dec12

The Blues Scale

Almost all of the other scales we use can be seen as the pentatonic scale with the addition of one or more notes. This has led to teaching methods based on five scale positions (like the CAGED system that you might have heard of), but I think that’s limiting. As we add notes to the scale, we’ll end up with MORE than two notes on some strings, which opens up a lot more fingering possibilities. But for the next couple of scales we’ll keep things simple, and look at only five fingerings.

Blues is a traditional music that uses the pentatonic scale with additions. Many blues tunes use a number of additions to the pentatonic scale, but a lot of blues tunes add just one note – the b5 of the major scale, often called the “blue note”. That gives us a scale formula of 1-b3-4-b5-5-b7.

Looking at our first pentatonic fingering, here’s the scale you’ve learned:

 | 8  |    |    | 11 |
 | 8  |    |    | 11 |
 | 8  |    | 10 |
 | 8  |    | 10 |
 | 8  |    | 10 |
 | 8  |    |    | 11 |

Here’s the same scale with the addition of the “blue note”:

 | 8  |    |    | 11 |
 | 8  |    |    | 11 |
 | 8  |    | 10 | 11 |
 | 8  |    | 10 |
 | 8  | 9  | 10 |
 | 8  |    |    | 11 |

When we take this scale into the next fingering, we have a problem: not all of the note fit under your fingers. This is a lot like the situation we encountered in the minor pentatonic scale’s 3rd fingering, where we have to shift on one string. But now, because of the layout of the guitar’s tuning, we have a couple of different options…

We can add the “˜blue note’ by reaching back:

      |    | 11 |    | 13 |
      |    | 11 |    | 13 |
      | 10 | 11 | 12 |    |
      | 10 |    |    | 13 |
 | 9 || 10 |    |    | 13 |
      |    | 11 |    | 13 |

Or we can add the blue note by stretching forward:

 |    | 11 |    | 13 |
 |    | 11 |    | 13 |
 | 10 | 11 | 12 |    |
 | 10 |    |    | 13 |
 | 10 |    |    | 13 |
 |    | 11 |    | 13 | 14 |

Because we’ve got a couple of options, we now have more than five scale fingerings. The trick to unlocking the possibilities lies in learning which note is which in the scale fingerings.

Our first minor pentatonic scale fingering looks like this, in terms of the notes we’re playing compared to the major scale:

 | R  |    |    | b3 |
 | 5  |    |    | b7 |
 | b3 |    | 4  |
 | b7 |    | R  |
 | 4  |    | 5  |
 | R  |    |    | b3 |

“R” designates the root note (the tonic) of the scale; each additional pitch is now designated by its position in the major scale. The “˜blue note’ is the b5 of the major scale, which is one half step (one fret) below the 5… or one half step above the 4. Applying this to minor pentatonic fingering 1, we get this:

 | R  |    |    | b3 |
 | 5  |    |    | b7 |
 | b3 |    | 4  | b5 |
 | b7 |    | R  |
 | 4  | b5 | 5  |
 | R  |    |    | b3 |

Now let’s look at minor pentatonic fingering 2:

 |    | b3 |    | 4  |
 |    | b7 |    | R  |
 | 4  |    | 5  |    |
 | R  |    |    | b3 |
 | 5  |    |    | b7 |
 |    | b3 |    | 4  |

We can add the blue note by going one half step below the 5:

   |    | b3 |   | 4  |
   |    | b7 |   | R  |
   | 4  | b5 | 5 |    |
   | R  |    |   | b3 |
 b5| 5  |    |   | b7 |
   |    | b3 |   | 4  |

or by going one half step above the 4:

 |    | b3 |    | 4  | b5 |
 |    | b7 |    | R  |
 | 4  | b5 | 5  |    |
 | R  |    |    | b3 |
 | 5  |    |    | b7 |
 |    | b3 |    | 4  | b5 |

Changing the third minor pentatonic fingering is easy:

 |    | 4  | b5 |  5 |    |
 |    | R  |    |    | b3 |
 | 5  |    |    | b7 |    |
 |    | b3 |    | 4  | b5 |
 |    | b7 |    | R  |    |
 |    | 4  | b5 |  5 |    |

The fourth leads to two fingerings, one moving back:

 | b5 | 5  |    |   | b7 |
 |    |    | b3 |   | 4  |
 |    | b7 |    | R |    |
 |    | 4  | b5 | 5 |    |
 |    | R  |    |   | b3 |
 | b5 | 5  |    |   | b7 |

And one moving forward:

 | 5  |    |   | b7 |
 |    | b3 |   | 4  | b5 |
 | b7 |    | R |    |
 | 4  | b5 | 5 |    |
 | R  |    |   | b3 |
 | 5  |    |   | b7 |

The fifth position also leads to two different fingerings:

 |   | b7 |    | R  |
 |   | 4  | b5 | 5  |
 | R |    |    | b3 |    |
 | 5 |    |    | b7 |    |
 |   | b3 |    | 4  | b5 |
 |   | b7 |    | R  |    |
 |    |   | b7 |    | R  |
 |    |   | 4  | b5 | 5  |
 |    | R |    |    | b3 |
 | b5 | 5 |    |    | b7 |
 |    |   | b3 |    | 4  |
 |    |   | b7 |    | R  |

As you work with incorporating the b5 into your fingerings, you’ll see how being able to view it as the b5 (one fret below the 5) or as the #4 (one fret above the 4) will help your mastery of the fretboard.

Tom (“Noteboat”) Serb is a longtime Guitar Noise contributor and founder of the Midwest Music Academyin Plainfield, Illinois. This advice first appeared in Volume 4 # 15 of Guitar Noise News. Sign-up for our newsletter to receive more free tips like this by email.

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About Tom Serb

Tom Serb is a Chicago area guitarist who has been making music professionally since 1978. Over the course of the past twenty-five years he has managed to amuse himself by teaching, writing, performing, producing and composing. He is the author of Music Theory for Guitarists (NoteBoat, Inc., 2003), and a frequent contributor to the Guitar Noise forums.

Comments [1]

  1. Great thing about pentatonic scales is the mileage you can get out of one pattern. One technique I like is to consider the notes of the minor pentatonic scale are the I-III-IV-V-VII of the Dorian mode. So if I am playing an Am pentatonic box pattern I can also play the same pattern up a whole step and up a perfect 5th, or Bm pentatonic and Em pentatonic over the same Am chord. They all contain the notes of A Dorian which is the same as G major. Nice way to add color and tensions to the blues. Great site by the way, lots of good info.

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