Learn How to Play Blues Guitar Scales

This lesson will focus on how to play blues guitar, which will include how to play blues chords and blues guitar scales.

Modern blues guitar lessons will emphasize the need to know how to play electric guitar, but equally as important as the mechanics of the blues guitar scales for understanding the Blues, is knowing something about the origin of the blues music itself.

The Blues is a form of music that, like jazz, has its origin in pre-twentieth-century African American music like spirituals and work songs. The Blues, therefore, was created in the context of hardship and toil, and the very best and most properly executed blues will draw on the emotion of these qualities. When someone is said to “have the blues,” what is meant is that they are sad or melancholy. Likewise, true Blues music will also be sad and melancholy.

The Blues is a uniquely American style of music. Over the past hundred years or so, different regions of the country have developed distinctive approaches to the Blues. Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Memphis, New Orleans, and other American cities all have their own particular sound. They all use the same blues guitar chords and the same blues guitar scales, but they all put a different spin on the Blues that gives each city’s take on the Blues a particular feel.

For the first half of the twentieth century, the Blues was confined primarily to the African American community. However, beginning in the early 1950’s, when popular artists learned how to play blues guitar, the Blues entered the mainstream American music and became intertwined with Rock and Roll. Today, the Blues has an enormous influence on the music of nearly every Rock and Roll musician.

Blues guitar lessons will show musicians that, when they play the Blues, they can use any scale they feel is appropriate, whether it is a major scale or a minor scale. Players who are very experienced with how to play blues guitar can switch rapidly between different scales multiple times within the same song. However, there are two very popular blues guitar scales that are used most often with the Blues.

They are the “pentatonic” scale and the “hexatonic,” or “blues scale.” The pentatonic scale, as its name suggests, is a scale with five notes. As anyone who knows how to play electric guitar will tell you, these five notes, unlike the major scale that we have learned, should be played beginning with the index finger. A pentatonic scale in the key of A looks like this on the neck of the guitar:

…and like this in tablature:

The difference between the two blues guitar scales is simply the addition of the note in between the third and fourth step. So, when playing a “blues scale” in the key of A, that means the addition of the D-sharp, like this:

In tablature it looks like this:

Of course, someone who really knows how to play blues guitar well will utilize the entire neck of the guitar like this:

As you learn how to play electric guitar, you will, too.