The Minor Blues Scale

The minor blues scale is one of the most important tools available to a blues musician. Material derived from this scale appears all over the place, and you can find it used by every major blues guitarist.

This scale is based on the minor pentatonic scale, with an additional note, the “blue” note.  The blue note can refer to a few different notes depending on the context, but it’s most common use is the note between the 4th and 5th scale degree.

First, start with the E minor pentatonic scale, which contains the notes E, G, A, B & D.


e minor pentatonic

Once you are comfortable with that, add the blue note (A# or Bb).


E Blues Scale

You should become so comfortable with this scale that you can play it without thinking about it.

notes on e stringOnce you can play it in E, practice moving it around. You play the scale in different keys by shifting the entire pattern up or down the fretboard. On the right side of this page is a diagram with all of the natural notes (up to the 15th fret) on the low E string.The scale is identified by paying attention to what note the root is on. In this case, the root is the lowest note of this scale. You will move this around the exact same way you move a bar chord.

To change from the E minor blues to F minor blues, you shift everything up one fret so that the root is on the first fret of the low E string, or F, instead of the open string itself. If you wanted to play a G minor blues scale, you would start the scale on the third fret; C minor blues would start on the eighth fret, etc.  Attached is a PDF with the minor blues scales in the natural keys (A, B, C, etc.) Remember, while you start in a different place each time, the shape of the scale is always the same! You should develop the dexterity to use all four fingers on your fretting hand, however you will see many great guitarists ignore the pinky. Make sure you can use it, but remember that sometimes you will need to stretch your ring finger and forget about your pinky. Minor Blues Scale Reference PDF

Once you’re comfortable with the shape referenced above, I recommend moving the second note of the scale to the next string and then shifting up.

For example, here is how you played an A minor blues scale without shifting.

A Blues No ShiftHere is how you would play it with a shift.

A Blues with Shift

Why would you want to add the shift? Realistically, if you’re play licks on the 5th and 6th strings, you’re going to want to use your ring finger to play the root so that your index finger can play the next note, making it easier to bend, because bending with your pinky is difficult. This does not work if the root of the scale is lower than G (unless you are past the 12th fret).

What fingers should you use to do the shift? First, start with your ring finger, then play the next note with your index finger. The next few notes depend on context. You will either jump your index finger up to the 5th fret, and proceed to play 6 with your middle and 7 with your ring OR play 5 with ring and slide it up (6 and 7 with ring). See what is easiest for you, and remember, context is extremely important. We have also attached a reference sheet for the scale with a shift on the 5th string. Minor Blues Scale with shift on 5th String Reference PDF

Have fun!


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