In this lesson, we’re going to look at the ‘Minor Blues Scale’.
The minor blues scale is perhaps the most popular scale for guitarists (and indeed other instrumentalists). Why? Because it can be used effectively in many different situations, it has an in-built ‘blues sound’, and it lends itself very easily to things such as bends and slides.
So What Is The Minor Blues Scale?
Just like any scale, we can look at the Minor Blues in terms of intervals:
- (from root note) – min 3 – T – S – S – m3 – T (root note again)
We can also look at the scale in terms of the notes that it contains, relative to the major scale:
- Root – b3 – 4 – b5 – 5 – b7
Of course, the best way to demonstrate the scale is to actually play it. Firstly we will look at one scale shape, then we will look at the notes/tabs for an example position.
If you’re not sure how to read scale diagrams, read the following lesson on reading scale diagrams. Of course, the above shape is a movable scale shape. If we play the scale diagram in the 5th position (for example), we get an ‘A Minor Blues Scale’, like the following:
The Blue Note
The most characteristic part of the Minor Blues scale is what’s known as the ‘blue note’. To understand what the blue note is, you need to know that the Minor Blues scale is really just the Minor Pentatonic scale with one extra note.
Observe the following two scale diagrams:
The first shape is the Minor Pentatonic scale. The second shape is the Minor Blues scale that we just looked at, but with the extra note (relative to the Minor Pentatonic) in blue. This highlights that there is only one note added to the Minor Pentatonic scale to produce a Minor Blues scale (yes, there are actually two blue notes, but they are the same note, one octave apart).
As you may already know, the Minor Pentatonic scale is a very popular scale, because it can be used in many situations, is easy to play and almost always sounds good. You can read about the minor and major pentatonic scales here.
What makes the Minor Blues scale so special is that it has all the perks of the Minor Pentatonic scale, but the extra note (the ‘blue note’) gives the scale a very cool, bluesy sound that is very emotive. It is a scale that is relied heavily upon by blues guitarists, but it is also used extensively in rock, pop, jazz and countless other genres.
What Makes The Blue Note So Good?
It’s hard to describe the effect that the blue note has. The best way to understand it is to play it and experiment with it. Play the Minor Pentatonic scale first, and then add in the blue note, so that you can really hear the effect of the note being added in. There is just a certain sound or feeling that it creates, that is unmistakably bluesy and cool. Get to know it!
Bringing the Minor Blues Scale To Life With Bends
Another kind of in-built feature of the Minor Blues scale is that it is very easy and effective to use with bends. While this is not a lesson on bends, bending notes is a great articulation that can add feel and emotion to one’s playing.
When you bend a note, you are increasing the pitch of the note that you are bending. The amount that the note increases depends on how far you bend it.
The reason why bends are so well suited to the Minor Blues scale (apart from bends just being an emotive articulation in general) is because there are three notes of the scale that are separated by one semitone. Have a look at the notes/tabs of the C Minor Blues scale, with the intervals along the top.
The above image shows the intervals between each note. It also circles the three notes that are ‘in a row’. The best way to understand this is to look at the tabs. As you can see, there are three notes next to each other – ‘8’, ‘9’ and ’10’.
What this means is that the first of these three notes is a great one to bend. As you bend the note, it increases in pitch, moving towards the second note (of the three). If you keep bending, it eventually moves past the pitch of the second note and towards the third. In summary, by bending the first note (of the three that are next to each other), you effectively play through the other notes of the scale.
This ‘bendable note’ is the note that comes before the ‘blue note’ in the scale. It is the 3rd note of the scale.
In actual fact, you can bend any note of the scale, if you do it properly, but bending the 3rd note of the Minor Blues scale is the most effective.
Using The Minor Blues Scale
We’re not going to dive too deeply into the practical uses of the Minor Blues scale in this lesson, but as I mentioned earlier, it is a scale that can be used very easily in many different musical contexts. It is a scale that is just easy to make work, when soloing and improvising. One of the great advantages of the scale is that it can be used over both minor and major chords. What you should do is learn the scale in five positions, and then practise using it over different chords and chord progressions. You will find that it ‘fits’ into almost any situation.
I will post more lessons in the future on actually using the scale, but for now, simply learn the five positions and experiment with the scale.
Here are the five positions. If you’re unsure of the significance of five positions, read the following lesson on the CAGED system.
5 Positions Of The Minor Blues Scale
I will post links to individual keys of the Minor Blues scale soon.
- Scales Page – The scales page of this website.
- How To Read Scale Diagrams – A lesson on how to read scale diagrams (like the ones in this lesson).
- The CAGED system – What is the CAGED system and the importance of learning scales in 5 positions.
- Position Playing – How to practise scales by staying in one position.