Blues 4 - Soloing - the Pentatonic Minor scale


Hi! In this lesson, part 4 on Blues guitar playing, i'll describe the most common scales in Blues, the pentatonic minor and also the Blues scale, how to play these scales, and how to practice them.


A scale is a group of tones with different pitches. Every scale consists of a different group of tones and has it's own specific sound. The existing tones in our western musical system are C, Db, D, Eb, E, F, Gb, G, Ab, A, Bb and B. Together these tones form the chromatic scale. Note that the tones Db, Eb, Gb, Ab and Bb are also called C#, D#, F#, G# and A#, depending on the harmonical context.


After the B tone, a C follows again. That C is one octave higher than the C at the beginning of the chromatic scale. After that C comes a high Db, high D, and so on.


The Pentatonic Minor Scale

The pentatonic minor scale is called 'pentatonic' because it consists of five tones. And it's called 'minor' because the distance (interval) between the first and third tones of that scale is a minor third, or three half tones.


Let's look at the A pentatonic minor scale, as the previous lessons featured a Blues in A. The tones of A pentatonic minor are from low to high:


A, C, D, E, G.


After the G comes an A again, one octave higher than the first A. After that a high C, and so on. Together, the tones A, C, D, E and G yield the pentatonic minor sound, which is an important characteristic of the Blues.


When playing the pentatonic minor scale on the guitar, we could play all the A's, C's, D's, E's and G's on the whole neck, yet that would be impractical. The easiest way to play the scale is to keep the lefthand on the same place on the fretboard, and play all the A's, C's, D's, E's and G's available there. This is called playing 'in position'.


If we play the A pentatonic minor scale while the left hand index finger is on the fifth fret, the pattern of the scale is as depicted in the image on the top right of this page.


blues guitar soloing - the blues scale

The Blues Scale

The Blues scale has 6 tones: all of the tones of the pentatonic minor scale, plus one extra: the flat 5. In the key of A, the flat 5 is an E flat (Eb). The flat 5 does not sound great by itself, but works perfectly when leading to the tones right next to it: D or E.


As we can see, the tones of the A Blues scale are:


A, C, D, Eb, E, G.


We can play this in exactly the same position, with the left hand index finger on the fifth fret. In that position we find the extra tone, the Eb, two times: on the A string and on the G string (see the image).


How to practice the pentatonic minor and blues scales

Start by practicing these scales by playing from the lowest tone (A) to the highest tone and back. When playing low to high, the order on each string will be: lowest fret first (index finger), then higher fret. When playing high to low it's the other way around of course.


Keep the fingertips of your left hand as close as possible to the strings. This is important in order to keep all your movements efficient, so you'll be able to play easier and play faster.


Use alternate picking, so pick up and down alternately. Because there are two tones per string, you have two options of picking each string: upstroke -> downstroke, or: downstroke -> upstroke. Practice both these options.


When you can play both scales up and down comfortably, start changing the order of the tones. Mess around a bit with all the tones in the pattern until you have them memorized. Listen closely to what you're playing, to get a good sense of what each scale sounds like.


How to use these two scales in a Blues guitar solo

When playing a good Blues guitar solo, of course you'll not be playing the scales up and down just like that. You have to treat a scale more like a collection of tones, each of which has it's own color and function depending on the moment and mood of the music. At a specific moment in a blues form, some notes will sound better than others. This is normal. It just takes some experience playing the both the pentatonic minor and blues scales over the blues form and getting a feel for which tones work at a given moment.


I will describe how to play a good Blues guitar solo by using musical sentences, phrases, in the next Blues lesson. Happy playing!


blues guitar - the A pentatonic minor scale