The Blues Scale: Simple and Timeless Historical Music
“What is blues? Life. Life as we live it today, life as we’ve lived it in the past, and life as I believe we will live it in the future.” –B.B. King
It all started in the Mississippi Delta alongside New Orleans, also the fatherland of Jazz music. The arrival of 20th-century blues music is directly associated to slavery and African-American experience. This genre affects the music industry especially in America, then the rest of the world. It became a culture in the south – like Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Chicago, and many more. In these places, they continued the tradition of expressing their emotions through music. Famous blues artists such as Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters wrote songs about the roots and the slave experience of the black community. They usually do a solo performance with just a guitar.
Riley B. King was one of the very first to incorporate the electric guitar into blues music. Riley King’s music is known today as the “Chicago Blues” or “City Blues”. After releasing tons of blues music around the United States, blues began to spread worldwide. This resulted in subgenres that led to rock and roll music. In the 1960s, the white guys came in. European bands such as Cream, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and The Animals used these bluesy licks in their songs.
Blues music continue to grow expanding into many modern genres. Black people’s music continues to evolve in rap, gospel, and soul music. The biggest influence that blues had in the music industry is still going on up to this moment. Hundreds of bands incorporated blues to their style of music. Wondrously, all these genres are all part of the blues family – psychedelic rock, rock and roll, punk, ska, metal, grunge, and funk.
Understanding the Blues Scale
What is a blues scale? A blues scale is a series of notes involving the “blue note” which is the dissonant note of a given scale. For example, you are playing a C Major scale C D E F G A B C, and suddenly played an E-flat which is not related to the C tonality, the sound will be unusual. But if you play it chromatically the sound will be pleasing to the ear. You will just treat the blue note as a passing note and you’ll be good to go doing the blues!
If you know your pentatonic scale, you are actually near on doing your blues scale. The pentatonic scale will be your core to doing a certain blues scale. So, learning these two basic types of scale will help you do blues licks like a pro.
Before we start learning the blues, try to listen to this music. A cool sample of jazzy blues music, the Pink Panther theme song. Certainly, this will give you an idea of how blues music sound like.
Major and Minor Pentatonic
The blues scale and the pentatonic scale are interrelated because of the fact that you just have to add the blue note to the scale. As a music teacher, I tend to teach the blues to my beginner students. Here are the reasons why:
- Easy to memorize scale shapes.
- The pentatonic / blues scales are almost always applicable to any song.
- A good starting point for doing improvisations.
- It involves guitar techniques such as bends, slurs, slides and others. As a result, you will be able to practice efficiently because you are doing scales and techniques at the same time.
The major pentatonic has a flattened third. So the blue note will be the E-flat if you are on the C scale. On the other hand, minor pentatonic has a flattened fifth which will be the G-flat. The best thing about these scales is, both major and minor have the same scale shape. You can also use major and minor alternately within a given chord progression. With that, you will be able to play licks at ease. (show video of that particular scale shape)
Application of the Blues Scale to the Guitar
What instrument are you thinking when you hear the word “blues”? For me, it is the guitar. Because the guitar is one of the instruments that can give justice to the bends, percussive sounds, groove, and soul of the blues. Now, get your guitar and let’s do some exercises.
Try this out! A very common pentatonic scale for guitar beginners. All the red dots from the fifth, seventh and eighth fret can be played ascending and descending. This pattern of notes can match an A-minor progression.
The image below is also a pentatonic scale, but now in two octaves. Playing around with those red dots will give you the A-minor pentatonic.
Diminished chords also perfectly fit the blues scale. The tritone within your diminished chords combined with the chromatic flavor of the blues scale will give it a punch! Moreover, a major scale has the highest possibility of playability in a blues scale. Just don’t hit a flat two and flat six, and you can shred all the chromatic notes in a major scale.
Now, try adding flat five to your pentatonic scale. After that, try to realize what it sounds like after adding blue notes. So, where does your scale belong now? Is it on the major scale or the minor scale or both? Lastly, always remember that a pentatonic blues scale has a special set of pitches and boundless set of rules. Compared to the fixed and organized Western scales.
Pro tip: The blues scale is used around the world because it supplies a distinct sound that every guitarist wants to have. Well, most of my students whom I taught using the blues scale already does licks after 2 sessions. Practicing is the key!
Now that you know the basics of the blues scale, continue learning other music methods that can excite you as a guitarist. Combining the blues to other scales like harmonic, melodic and natural minor will allow you to create a new “effect” to your music. You can also apply modes to set you apart from other blues players.
Try listening to Take the A Train, a 1940s tune by Billy Strayhorn. This was made popular by Duke Ellington and was later covered by a lot of other artists such as Ella Fitzgerald and the Delta Rhythm Boys
The blues scale is a universal harmonic language that fits all kinds of music.
So when in doubt doing solos using conventional scales, don’t hesitate to try out the blues scale. As a result, composing songs will be a lot easier because of the harmonic ideas coming out from the blues methods. Lastly, a dominant seventh chord will be standard towards learning with this new tool of yours, the blues!
Here’s a video to ignite the blues fire in you guys!
“It came from the south. It’s a reminder of hard times, depression, slavery and just being black.” -Koko Taylor: Queen of Chicago blues
List of blues genres
Learning the blues will be easy with our awesome teachers. Other in-depth blues scale video tutorials will be in our lesson area. So, keep following the Guitar-elite community to learn more about the blues!
A pentatonic scale is a musical scale consists of five notes per octave.
An octave is a series of eight notes within a scale. The perfect octave (P8) is the interval between pitches doubling the frequency of the other.
Blue notes are microtones between your regular pentatonic blues scale.
For other music theory terms that you want to learn about, just leave your questions below in our comment section.