How the Blues Scale Is Made

Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series - Lesson 7/12

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Welcome to the seventh video of the Blues Guitar Quick-Start Series. In this lesson, we’re going to look at theory of how the blues scale is made. If you don’t know much about theory, that’s okay. You don’t have to go through this lesson to continue with the blues series, but if you’re curious about blues music theory, then this will be a very valuable lesson.

As we talked about before in this series, the blues is a bit of a hybrid between major and minor tonalities. Blues is its own world, and understanding how that world works is valuable for your playing. What we’re going to do is build a blues scale, starting with the major scale since that’s where all of our chords and scales come from.

We’ll start with the major scale, turn that major scale into a minor scale, turn the minor scale into a minor pentatonic scale, and then add one note to the minor pentatonic scale to turn it into a blues scale.

Let’s get started with the major scale, where all of our chords and scales come from. We won’t get too deep into theory now, but know that the starting point for building a blues scale can be its equivalent major scale. Since we want to build an E blues scale, we’ll start with an E major scale.

As you can see on the graphic on-screen, the E major scale is spelled E F# G# A B C# D#. If you don’t know all those note names yet, that’s okay. I’m going to play through a common shape for an E major scale, and you can follow along with the diagram on-screen. There are lots of shapes for the major scale, but the one I’ve played through in the video shows you how changing a few notes in the major scale gives you a minor scale.

The first step in making the blues scale is changing the major scale into a minor scale, and to do that, you’ll need to change three notes. You can lower those notes by one fret or a half step to give us the equivalent E minor scale. The notes to lower are the third, sixth, and seventh notes, as you can see in the diagram on-screen.

In the video, I play through the first seven notes of the E minor scale. By adjusting the third, sixth, and seventh notes the way I do, we’ve gone from an E major scale to an E minor. You don’t need to memorize this shape, but it’s good for you to know that changing just three notes turns the major scale shape into a minor scale shape.

The next step in building a blues scale is to change the minor scale into a minor pentatonic scale. This is easy because all you need to do is take away the second and sixth notes of the E minor scale. In the video you can see me demonstrate this and follow along with the diagram on-screen.

For the second octave of this minor scale, you can take away the second and sixth notes again. However, we’ll often take the remaining notes in the second octave and move them back, giving us a more convenient shape to play for the minor pentatonic scale.

The last step to creating the blues scale is adding one note, the flat 5 note, to the minor pentatonic scale shape. You’ll add a flat 5 note on the thirteenth fret of the A string with your second finger. In the second octave, you’ll add the flat 5 note on the fifteenth fret of the G string with your fourth finger.

We started with an E major scale and lowered the third, sixth, and seventh notes by a half step to make it a minor scale. Then we took two notes away from the minor scale, the second and sixth notes, to make it an E minor pentatonic scale. Finally, we added the flat 5 note to the minor pentatonic scale to end up with the blues scale.

This lesson had lots of theory in it, and while I didn’t want to overwhelm you, I wanted you to have some background so you could understand the blues a little more. There are other ways to look at building the blues scale, but relating everything back to the major scale is a great way to see the whole picture.

In the next lesson, we’re going to look at how to choose your notes in the blues scale instead of just randomly playing through scale shapes. I’ll show you how to choose notes to play over the 1, 4, and 5 chords in the 12-bar blues progression.

Next Lesson - How To Choose Blues Notes