Blues Scale – 4 Things You Need To Know

Want to learn the blues scale? Then this article will show you everything that you need to know!

blues scale

In this free lesson you will learn:

  • What the blues scale is, complete with notation and tabs!
  • Why and when you would use the blues scale.
  • 3 awesome blues licks and flicks!
  • Blues scale theory which is useful for musicians and guitarists!

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What is the blues scale?

A scale is a group of musical notes which work together. Certain scales work particularly well for certain genres of music.

Blues music has its own dedicated scale.

This is what’s known as ‘the blues scale’.

The blues scale has a fantastic sound and is perfect for those deep soulful riffs and licks!

With that in mind, let’s take a look at this awesome scale.

Learning the blues scale

blues scale Here we have the blues scale written in the key of A. This means that A is the starting root note.

If you want to know a little bit more about root notes, this article will help you: Guitar Notes Explained: A Guide For Beginners

We’ve provided musical notation and tab for this killer scale.

So whether you’re a guitarist, pianist, clarinet player or even if you play the didgeridoo you should be able to understand this scale!

blues scale

Here’s what this scale sounds like:

Download our lead guitar cheat-sheet to make things easier

It can be disorientating for guitarists to understand which scales work with which keys.

With this in mind, we created a cheat-sheet; a key and scale-finder that you can use again and again. Click here to download your copy.

What makes up the blues scale?

The blues scale consists of 6 notes.

Each of these notes has a specific interval.

Those intervals are:

  • The Root (1)

  • Flattened 3rd (b3)

  • Perfect fourth (4)

  • Flattened 5th (b5)

  • Perfect 5th (5)

  • Flattened 7 (b7)

When we play this scale in the key of A those notes are:

  • Root – A

  • Flattened 3rd – C

  • Perfect fourth – D

  • Flattened 5th – D#

  • Perfect 5th – E

  • Flattened 7 – G

So the notes in a A blues are:

A C D D# E G

This theory can seem a little unsettling at times, so if you don’t quite understand what this means, these two articles will clear up a few things!

Blues Notes

In the blues scale, there are particular notes which have a bluesy sound.

Those notes are the flat 5 and the minor 3rd.

If you’re playing this scale on guitar, those notes would be on the –

  • 3rd fret of the A string (C  – Minor 3rd)
  • 1st fret of the D string (D# flattened 5th)

These notes are the notes which sound the bluesiest, so if you’re looking for a quick easy route to sound bluesy! These are the notes that you want to play.

It is possible to learn the blues scale ALL over the fret board, there are hundreds of different ways to play this scale.

Here’s a road map to help you find the blues scale over the neck.

blues scale This may seem a little over whelming at first, but in time you’ll find that it’s useful to have a variety of ways that you can play the blues scale.

This comes in handy when you want to learn how to play lead guitar.

If you’d like to know more about lead guitar, go here!

How To Play Lead Guitar

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

If you’re looking for a simpler version of the blues scale, you might find that the minor pentatonic is a good solution.

The minor pentatonic is actually the same as the blues scale, except it has one less note.

The blues scale has 6 notes, where as the minor pentatonic scale has 5 notes.

The note which is missing out the minor pentatonic scale is the flat 5 (Aka the blues note!)

Here’s a tab and notation of the scale:

A minor pentatonic scale


So the notes in a minor pentatonic scale would be:

  • Root (1)

  • Flattened 3rd (b3)

  • Perfect 4th (4)

  • Perfect 5th (5)

  • Minor 7 (b7)

So if we were playing this scale in the key of A, those notes would be:

  • Root – A

  • Flattened 3rd – C

  • Perfect 4th – D

  • Perfect 5th – E

  • Flattened 7th – G

Can you see how this is the same scale, minus the flattened 5th?

If you’d like to know more about the minor pentatonic scale, you can learn about it in more detail here:

blues scale

Why would I use the blues scale?

The 3 main reasons for using the blues scale are that:

  • You want to learn how to improvise.
  • You want to write an awesome melody!
  • You want to create a cool blues riff.

All of these are valid reasons as to why you’d learn the blues scale.

Learning how to improvise

Improvising is one of the coolest things you can do on guitar.

We like to think of improvisation as the creation of melodic ideas in real time.

Usually if you write a melody or phrase, you spend time crafting it until it’s perfect.

Improvisation doesn’t have that feature.

It’s raw, edgy and a fantastic way to express yourself as a musician.

Here’s a couple of cool tips and tricks you can do get you improvising with the blues scale!

Learn your blues scale

Before you even attempt to improvise with a blues scale, it’s vital that you understand:

  • How to play it.
  • What it sounds like.
  • What it feels like under the fingers.

If you have a clear and concise understanding of these fundamentals, improvising with this scale will be FAR easier.

Too many guitarists, rush into a scale and try and play it as fast as they can. It’s important you slow down, you need to soak up those bluesy notes.

blues scale Improvise to a backing track

Once you feel comfortable with the scale, immediately try and improvise with it!

As the scale is fresh inside your head, it’s a good a exercise to try and improvise with it straight away.

As well as this, it gives you a greater understanding of how the scale works.

Here are a few things you can do when improvising over a backing track:

  • Find a backing track which is in a key that you’re comfortable in.

So for example, if you’ve been practicing your blues scale in the key of A, for this scale to sound good, you need to find a A blues backing track.

  • Try and improvise with this scale over the backing track.

At first you may find improvising difficult, however if you persevere it will soon come!

Here’s a blues backing track in the key of A, have a go at jamming over this!

Creating blues melodies and riffs

Let’s say you wanted to create a melody or riff which had a bluesy feel.

A really good place to start would be with the blues scale.

We know that if we play the blues scale, It’s instantly going to give us a bluesy sound!

Here are a few things you can do to help you create a bluesy melody or riff:

  • Learn your blues scale.
  • Try picking 3 -4 notes out of the blues scale which sound good to use.
  • Try to create a melody or riff which sounds awesome to you! You want your riff or melody to be exciting and memorable.

If you’re stuck for ideas or inspiration, sometimes sourcing a blues artist can kick start your creativity!

Here’s a list of the 30 best blues musicians by The Telegraph.

30 key blues musicians in pictures

Maybe you’ll find someone in here who truly inspires your musical journey!

blues guitar

When could I use the blues scale?

There are a lot of scenarios where you could use the blues scale. One of the most common times that you’ll be using a blues scale is when you’re improvising.

However, you may be thinking, I know my blues scale, I can improvise with it and it sounds awesome! But when can I use it?

When can I unleash the blues monster inside of me?

The secret to knowing when you can use your blues scale is to know what the chord progression to a song is, and what the key of a song is.

This information gives you the answers to when you could use the blues scale!

Let’s find out more..

What’s a musical key?

A musical key is a group of notes and chords which work well together! That’s all there is to it.

We like to think of the musical key as a ‘home’.

And that scales and chords are the ‘walls’ and ‘building frames’ which work together to construct the key!

A musical key relies solely on musical notes and chords.

How do I find out what the ‘key’ of a song is?

If we have three major chords in a chord progression, usually two of those chords will be alphabetically next to each other.

The chord that tells us the key is ‘the other one’. The one that is on its own.

Let’s try it out!

This progression is a 12 bar blues:

Blues - Simple-A

If you’d like to know more about 12 bar blues progressions, go here: Blues Guitar – 6 Awesome Tips

Which two chords are alphabetically next to each other?

Yep, it’s D7 and E7!

So what’s the one chord that’s on its own?

Yep, it’s A7!

This means that this chord progression is in the key of…..*drum roll please*.

Yep, you guessed it, A!

How does this help me know what scale to use?

Well, put simply, the chord sequence is in A, and it’s a blues, so we need the A blues scale.

The clue that this is a blues sequence and not just a ‘normal’ sequence is that each major chord is played as a ‘7’.

Similarly, if we ever encounter a chord sequence in G made up of ‘7’ chords (G7, C7 and D7), then we need the G blues scale.

blues scale

What if this weren’t a blues sequence?

This method works for the same for different types of chords and keys too.

For example, if the chords are simply A, D and E rather than A7, D7 and E7, then we have a non-bluesy sequence in the key of A, so we would use an:

  • A major scale

Can you see how the musical key determines the scale you play?

To learn about musical keys and scales, go here:

How To Play Lead Guitar

blues icon           

Blues Scale – 3 Killer Licks

One quick fire way to sound like a blues god, is to learn some awesome licks! While we could always find a tab and learn a specific blues song, the best thing about playing blues guitar is being able to jam.

Here are 3 of our all time favourite blues licks.

All of the licks we’re going to learn are in the key of A, so this means that you could use these awesome blues licks over a blues in the key of A.

Blues Scale – Lick #1

This lick will sound AWESOME if you kick start your solo with it!

Here’s the tab:



Here’s what it sounds like:

You may have noticed that this lick actually descends down the blues scale.

So to help you to play this lick quickly, make sure that you’ve practiced the blues scale before hand!

Blues Scale – Lick #2

The second blues lick is a great way to exercise those blues notes.

This also works great as a separate riff.

It would sound great played through a cranked up amp!

If you want to get the most out of this lick, play it with power and authority.

But most importantly, make sure that you’re amp is cranked up to 11!

Here’s the tab:

blues scale


Here’s what it sounds like:

Blues Scale – Lick #3

This lick is a fantastic descending lick. For this blues lick, we actually step outside of the blues scale. This can sound a little weird to begin with, but once you’re comfortable with the riff, it sounds awesome!

This riff would work perfectly at the end of a blues progression, or at the end of your solo.

Here’s the tab:

awesome blues scale

Here’s what it sounds like:

If you’d like to learn more blues tips and tricks, this article is perfect for you: Blues Guitar Lessons For Beginners: 4 Ways To Sound Awesome Quickly

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