Using the Blues Scale for Guitar

When playing a blues solo, the blues scale is treated interchangeably with the minor pentatonic scale. The scales are identical except for the addition of one note, the ‘b5’ in the blues scale.

The minor pentatonic scale has the formula

1 b3 4 5 b7

And the blues scale has the formula

1 b3 4 b5 5 b7

The addition of this one note makes quite a marked difference to the sound of our solos.

Here are the fretboard diagrams of both scales:

6 a min pent Using the Blues Scale for Guitar

6 a min blues Using the Blues Scale for Guitar

Take this line for example: A great way to hear how this one extra note can make a huge difference to your playing is to begin by altering some minor pentatonic licks that you already know.

Blues Scale Licks for Guitar

Example 6i:

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Giveaway: Four Free Guitar Books to Download Right Now

Giveaway: Four Guitar books to download right now.


Please note that this offer ended on Monday the 31st of March.

The last two weeks have been pretty awful for me. I managed to contract Dengue Fever in Thailand and have been extremely sick and in hospital. I’m getting a bit better now but I’m still not up to continuing with Complete Blues Three which is currently about 50% complete. I’m normally writing constantly so this is very frustrating!

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How to Play a Blues Guitar Riff

How to Play a Blues Guitar Riff

There are literally hundreds of tunes that all use a blues guitar riff around the 12 bar blues form. In the following lesson we are going to try out a few ideas using the form and also a Minor 7th Arpeggio. Here it is in the key of A, and we will be moving it around a lot so make sure you have it really mastered before you continue!

blues guitar riff 1 How to Play a Blues Guitar Riff


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Using Guide Tones in the Blues (3rds and 7ths)

Using Guide Tones in the Blues

Over the years I have listened to and transcribed the music of a lot of great guitarists over a range of genres. Through this I have come to notice two very important lessons:

  • In Melodic and Rhythm comping lines the placement of the 3rd and 7th chord tones is crucial to establishing strong tonal centres.
  • Anticipated chord tones- those that come on the upbeat before a chord provide a forward motion to the music

Understanding how to use these key notes or ‘guide tones’ helps to develop good blues phrasing, a sense of the form and an ability to develop memorable and contrasting melodies that are more pleasing to listen to. In this lesson we will look at a really fun exercise that will help your phrasing to develop around the key notes.

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Building Blues Guitar Language

Building blues guitar language

What separates good improvisers and soloists from amateurs?  I remember having an experience when first learning to improvise and thinking – this sounds lame, just like scales over and over. Meh.  It only took one shift in perspective to make a huge difference though.  Once I figured out this key element, I sounded legit!


The key is ‘vocabulary’.  I’m not talking about learning the words about blues, or jazz, or country.  But the ‘words’ of music – the small phrases that make up solos.

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Guitar Finger Independence Exercises

Picking and Finger Independence

While clearly not the same thing, it is difficult to give useful independence exercises which don’t involve some degree of pick control.

It’s a tricky ‘chicken or egg’ situation, but we have to start somewhere. As many apparent ‘picking’ problems are caused by a hidden fretting hand weakness, we will start with finger independence in the fretting hand.

The most common problems I see regarding finger independence involve a lack of dexterity between the 2nd and 3rd fingers, and weakness in the 4th finger.

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Chromatic Approach Notes Minor ii V I

Chromatic Approach Notes

Chromatic approach notes really deserve an entire book to themselves. They form a massive topic and we can only really explore the tip of the iceberg here.

A crude explanation would be to say that “the melody notes that fall on the strong beats should be chord tones and the notes that fall between the strong beats should be scale tones or chromatic approach notes”.

While even the shallowest exploration of the previous statement will find it to be untrue in many circumstances, it is nevertheless a useful starting point to learn one of the most important concepts in bebop.

We will explore soloing with scale tones in a later lesson, but for now let’s examine the concept of inserting chromatic approach notes before rhythmically strong chord tones.

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Lead guitar fills between chords

Lead Guitar Fills between Chords

Rhythm guitar playing isn’t just about playing chords, it is important that we learn to decorate the chords we play to provide movement and counter melody to the singer or soloist. When we provide lead guitar fills the art is to never over-play and to make sure what we play is appropriate to the music. There should always be space for the melody to shine through. Cluttering the melody is one of the easiest ways to get kicked out of your band! Aim to play in the spaces left by the singer, don’t fill every possible gap and turn your volume down a bit so you don’t overpower everyone else on stage!

Lead Guitar Fills on the I Chord

The following rhythm fills work well on a static (held) A7 chord.

Example a:

9a 0008 1024x347 Lead guitar fills between chords

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