Using the Blues Scale
As the name implies, the blues scale is predominately found in blues music. It
also frequently appears in rock music, which was heavily influenced by the blues, and metal, which was
influenced by the blues and rock music.
In addition, the blues scale sometimes crops up in jazz music. While these are the most common genres, you can
potentially use the blues scale in any type of music that is not heavily based on a different scale or mode.
The blues scale is a hexatonic scale, which means it contains six notes. It is closely related to the minor
pentatonic scale and the two can often be used fairly interchangeably.
The blues scale consists of the 1, b3, 4, b5, 5 and b7 notes. For example, the A blues scale is A, C, D, Eb, E,
G. The same fingering used to play the minor pentatonic scale or minor scale can easily be adapted to the blues
The only difference between the blues scale and minor pentatonic scale is the addition of the b5 note. This is
played by pressing the key between the 4 and 5 notes of the scale. The minor scale can be turned into the blues
scale by removing the 2 and b6 notes and adding the b5 note.
The addition of the b5 note is what sets the blues scales apart from most other scales and has a major impact on
using the blues scale. The b5 note is the most dissonant note against the root. It is rarely used heavily in songs
because it usually sounds unpleasant when focused on. In most cases, the blues scale rarely highlights the b5
More focus is given to the 1, b3, 4, 5 and b7 notes. The b5 note is usually regulated to a passing tone. For
example, instead of playing the 4 note followed by the 5 note, a blues scale user might play 4, b5, 5 instead. This
can also be reversed by playing 5, b5, 4. Due to the dissonance of the note, it should rarely be focused on without
a specific purpose in mind.
From a theory standpoint, even in normally more complex jazz theory, using the blues scale is rarely
very musically complicated. The most common usage is to play a melody line with the blues scale in the key of the
song. You do not normally switch to other scales or modes when using the blues scale.
The basic philosophy is often less is more. You only have a limited number of notes, but, excluding the b5, all
of them can be easily used over any chord in the progression. In many cases, the blues scale relies more on
phrasing than composition diversity.
The blues scale is a fairly simple musical device, but it does allow for a lot of possibilities in the right
hands. You do not have a wide variety of tones, but the b5 does create a slightly different sound than could be
found in the minor pentatonic or minor scale.
The best way to work on the blues scale is to practice using it and trying to create interesting sounding piano
melodies. The more you work with this scale, the better you are going to understand it.