The Blues pentatonic scale (sometimes also called the minor Blues scale) is, as you can probably guess, a type of pentatonic scale used for Blues music. However, you’re welcome to use this scale to spice up soloing and lead lines in other types of music, especially Jazz and Rock music.
Before jumping into this scale, make sure you’re familiar with at least the minor pentatonic scale on guitar that the Blues pentatonic scale is based on. It’s also a good idea to get your head around the major pentatonic on guitar as well. Then you’ll be well equipped to tackle the Blues.
What Is The Blues Pentatonic Scale?
A pentatonic scale is a scale consisting on five notes (“penta” means five). Most basic scales have seven notes, and a pentatonic dials those basic notes down to five.
The funny thing about the Blues pentatonic scale is that it actually has six notes. Why? Because it’s based on the minor pentatonic scale, but adds a flat 5th to the mix. If you look at a minor pentatonic scale and a Blues pentatonic scale, the only addition is the flat 5th. I guess you could call the Blues pentatonic a hexatonic scale, but that would both make too much sense and also ignore the fact that the scale is based on the minor pentatonic.
What Notes Are Played In The Blues Pentatonic Scale?
Based on a seven note scale, the degrees of the scale played in the Blues pentatonic scale are 1, b3, 4, b5, 5, and b7.
The flat 5th adds the “Bluesyness” to the scale, but don’t stay too long on it because it’s quite dissonant. The flat 5 is really a passing note that needs to be used in moderation.
How To Read Scale Diagrams
On the scale diagram, the left most string is the 6th string (the low E), while the right most string is the 1st string (the high E). I’ve marked the root note in red and the 5th in green. Since the unique thing about the Blues pentatonic scale is the flat 5th, it’s useful to know where the 5th is for reference.
These scales are designed to be played anywhere on the fretboard, so the numbers shown are suggested fingers, not frets.
Here Are The Five Blues Pentatonic Scale Patterns
Take me to a scale pattern
While my suggestion for minor and major pentatonic scale patterns is to thing of them in terms of their corresponding open chord shapes (and their barre chord counterparts), I suggest thinking of Blues pentatonic patterns in terms of their corresponding minor pentatonic patterns.
If you know your minor pentatonic scales well enough, figuring out Blues pentatonic scales should be easy enough. Getting your fingers to do the work may be a little bit trickier than your standard pentatonic scales, but with a little bit of practice you’ll be able to nail it.
As with all scales, practice them up and back down again, starting and ending on the root note. Do this again and again until you’re comfortable with the pattern, then you can start improvising a little bit.
E Pentatonic Blues Pattern
Of course, you can also find the flat 5th on the 2nd strong, but that would require a stretch or switching position. This is fine, and may be useful if you’re looking to slide up into the 5th. It’s good to know where all your notes are, even if they fall slightly out of the “standard” pattern.
The E pentatonic Blues pattern is probably the easiest and most accessible, so it’s a good one to get familiar with before moving onto the other ones.
A Pentatonic Blues Pattern
The A pentatonic Blues pattern is a little bit trickier because of the flat 5th either falls on the 2nd string, as mentioned, or the 1st string. Either way you need to change position or stretch a little bit.
But that’s why pentatonic Blues scales are not beginner scales. You need to learn the basics before moving on to these!
The scale diagram shown here has suggested fingering since you have to shift position. Depending on the succession of notes you’re playing, it may be more beneficial to play certain licks with different fingering. However, practice this scale with the suggested fingering so you can get used to it; make it become second nature.
D Pentatonic Blues Pattern
While I encourage you to learn, and become comfortable with, the D pattern as written. Also take note of where the 5th is found in this pattern, especially on the 5th string. This opens you up to playing the flattened 5th where it’s most convenient, depending on what you’re playing and how.
Also be aware that the note you’re playing with your fourth finger on the 1st string is the flat 5th. This allows for a nice extension of the pattern into the 5th and event shifting the pattern into a C Blues pentatonic pattern
G Pentatonic Blues Pattern
There is one slightly tricky shift in order to hit the flat 5th on the 5th string, but if you’ve mastered the other patterns so far, making those position shifts and stretches shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
C Pentatonic Blues Pattern
And That’s Pentatonic Blues Scales
And that’s it! That’s the pentatonic Blues scale in all five patterns. You probably figured these out pretty quickly, assuming you know the minor pentatonic scale patterns well enough. The tricky part is some of the stretches and shifts to get the flat 5th in there. But remember, the flat 5th should be played in Blues, but in moderation. There’s no reason to overdo it.