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Guitar soloing with the Blues Scale

Exercises to practice the Blues Scale effectively - Part 3

Hey guys and welcome back to our ‘Guitar Soloing 101’ series. I hope that you’ve been practicing hard and are feeling ready for part 3. So let’s get right to it.

In the last installment of the series I introduced you to the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scales, and we also worked on “meandering” across the fretboard by using these scales. Now if you applied yourself to the meandering exercises I left you with in the last installment, by now you should have a pretty good feel of what the minor and pentatonic scales sound like and feel like. So in today’s lesson we’re going to work on expanding your scale knowledge a little bit more so as to make your soloing abilities more multi-faceted.

The Blues Scale

The blues scale is a six tone scale that we create by adding a flatted fifth note to either a major or minor pentatonic.

For example, let’s take a look at the A minor pentatonic scale; To turn this scale into a blues scale, all we have to do is add the note on the 6th fret on the 5th string (i.e. the flatted 5th note of the A minor pentatonic scale).

minor penta to blues guitar scale

Now what I want you to do first here is to simply play up and down the scale until you really start to be aware of the difference in sound and feeling that the blue note adds.

The next thing that I want you to do is to then start meandering across the scale while experimenting with the blue note. And remember, the point at the start isn’t to sound musical or melodic. The point is to simply get your mind and your hands used to including the blues note into the pentatonic scale. When doing this you’ll notice that while the blue note works well in conjunction with other notes of the scale, it doesn’t sound too great as a target note.

For example, if you emphasize the blue note in your licks or passages, it can result in a diminished sound which doesn’t sound too pleasant. But if you use the blue note as a transitioning note between other notes in the scale, this can result in a pretty interesting sound.

Exercise #1

The first exercise that I want you to work on in this lesson is to take all 5 positions of the A minor pentatonic scale, and meander across them while adding the blue note. Once you’re able to visualize and identify where the blues notes are across all five positions of the A minor pentatonic scale, I want you to then work on meandering across other minor pentatonic scales while adding the blue note. This way, when you’re soloing in any given key, you’ll know where all your blue notes are with absolute certainty.

Next what we’re going to do is to learn where the blue note is added in a major pentatonic scale.

For example let’s take the first position of the A major pentatonic scale; the blue note in the major pentatonic scale ends up in a visually similar place to the minor pentatonic. In the case of the A major pentatonic scale, it’s the note on the 3rd fret of the 5th string. This is also called a raised 2nd or a flatted 3rd.

penta to major guitar pentatonic scale

Exercise #2

The second exercise that I want you to work on for this lesson is to first meander across the 5 positions of the A major pentatonic scale, while incorporating the blue note into your passages. And remember, the point here isn’t to just add the blue note here and there, but to memorize with absolute certainty where the blue note is located in all 5 positions of the scale across the fretboard. Once you feel confident that you can point out all the blue notes in all 5 positions of the A major pentatonic scale, I want you to move onto meandering across other major pentatonic scales while adding the blue note.

Suggested reading

To learn more about the blues scale and on how to incorporate the blue note into your playing, you can take a look at my Blues Basics Lesson at https://www.fachords.com/blog2014/blues-scale-basics

Combining the major and minor pentatonic scales

The next thing that we’re going to touch on in this lesson is an interesting little concept that involves combining the minor and major pentatonic scales.

Now the great thing about the minor pentatonic scale is that it can be used in a thousand different ways to express different emotions and feelings in a particular solo or lick. But the problem with it is that it always has that dark, classical, minor pentatonic sound, which can sometimes get a bit boring if you don’t color it with something fresh every now and then. And one of the best ways to go about doing this is by combining various notes of the minor pentatonic scale with notes from the major pentatonic scale.

So let’s start off by taking the 1st position of the A minor pentatonic and the 1st position of the A major pentatonic, both which start on the 5th fret of the 6th string.

blues guitar scale exercise

Now to give you an idea of what this “combining” sounds like, let’s just look at the notes on the last two strings. In the minor pentatonic we’re playing the notes on the 5th and 8th frets while in the major pentatonic we’re playing the notes on the 5th and 7th frets. So to start off let’s just try combining these four notes by playing the notes on the 5th and 7th frets on the 2nd string and the 5th and 8th notes on the 1st string.

blues guitar scale exercise

You’ll immediately notice how this lends to a much more interesting sound than if we were to simply play using the minor or major pentatonic scale.

Exercise #3

The third exercise that I would like you to work on for this lesson is to practice ascending and descending using the minor and major pentatonic scales, in an alternating pattern for 5 minutes each.

So for example, for 5 minutes practice ascending with the minor pentatonic and descending with the major pentatonic:

blues guitar scale exercise

And then for 5 minutes practice ascending with the major pentatonic and descending with the minor pentatonic:

blues guitar scale exercise

Exercise #4

For the first part of this exercise what I want you to do is to practice meandering combining the 1st position of the A minor pentatonic and 2nd position of the A major pentatonic. When doing this, you’ll start to really hear and feel how different using this type of hybrid scale is as opposed to simple using the minor or major pentatonic scale.

Once you’re able to meander comfortably in this position while combining notes from both the major and minor pentatonic, I want you to do the same thing in all the other positions of the scales and finally across the fretboard. Do this to a metronome, while using pauses and stops, to create more melodic passages. The point of this exercise is to make you familiar with smoothly switching between notes from the minor pentatonic and the major pentatonic, while also improving your intuition of when to use notes from the minor pentatonic and when to use notes from the major pentatonic.

Adding bending and pull-offs

Another thing that I want you to start working on with this exercise is to start incorporating various techniques like string bending hammer-ons andpull-offs in your meandering.

Now all of this might seem like a lot of knowledge to absorb in one lesson, but I just want you to remember that there’s no rush. In fact, feel free to go back to any of the earlier lessons if you feel like you still haven’t mastered a certain area of knowledge before returning to this lesson.

And when you really start internalizing these concepts you’ll realize that you’re able to view your fretboard in multiple visual layers. For example, in the first layer you should be able to see all the notes across your fretboard and in the second layer you should be able to visualize all the minor pentatonic and major pentatonic scale positions across the fretboard. And then in the next visual layer you should be able to see where your blue notes are located, and etc. etc.

So keep practicing and applying yourself, and I’ll see you soon!

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