Spicing Up Your Blues Licks

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In this tutorial we will learn to spice up the minor pentatonic "box" blues shape with notes from the major scales. For these example exercises we will use the A minor pentatonic scale and a 12 bar blues form in A major.

If you are unfamiliar with the overall concept of the pentatonic scale and patterns then you can check out these tutorials which explains everything you could want to know about the major and minor pentatonic scales.

Pentatonic Scales: Boxes & Frameworks

Pentatonic Minor Scale Exercise - All 5 Shapes

Pentatonic Major Scale Exercise - All 5 Shapes

Pentatonic minor has 5 five notes (hence the name; "penta" means "five"). You take the normal, natural minor diatonic scale which has 7 notes and leave 2 of them out.

So, we start with the A natural minor notes and scale degrees:

A(1) - B(2) - C(3) - D(4) - E(5) - F(6) - G(7)

Then, we leave out two notes, in pentatonic minor, the 2 & 6:

A(1) - C(3) - D(4) - E(5) - G(7)

Putting this on the fretboard as a pattern/shape gets us the typical "box shape". Most beginning guitarists are familar with this pattern. And it is a great one to start with because it's easy to SEE on the fretboard. You can just bounce back and forth between the "walls" of that "box"! But notice that when you play a typical blues song you use major chords (or dominant 7 chords) for the rhythm part, while you are soloing using the minor pentatonic scale. This means that while your solo scale has a minor 3rd scale degree, your chord has a major 3rd scale degree!

This is one of the reasons "blues" sounds like it does: the use of minor notes in a primarily major harmonic context. This is the origin of the "blue" note sound of early blues and jazz.

So, in order to make our blues sound better, we should incorporate major notes into the minor scales when we solo, too!

Notice that if you play the major third of the A major chord along with the A minor pentatonic scale you immediately get an interestingly "bluesy" sound.

Let's give it a try!

Christopher Schlegel
Instructor Christopher Schlegel

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