Play Major Blues, Not Minor!

Weekly Newsletter #22

January 6, 2022

If you’re anything like me then I’m sure the blues have something to do with why you play guitar. 

There are some folks who have no desire to play blues music, and that’s totally fine. However, most of us guitarists are either enthralled by the blues or are very influenced by musicians who have a deep appreciation for this style of music. 

Whichever camp you fall into, one thing is for sure; learning and playing the blues will make you a much stronger guitarist, particularly if you can do it well. 

Many of us learn the minor pentatonic scale and the associated minor blues scale and that’s where the learning ends. Fortunately if this describes your way of playing and improvising over a blues, then you’re in for a treat today. 

The vast majority of blues music uses something called “Dominant 7” chords. These are four note chords; essentially a major chord with a b7 attached to it. An example of this is A7: A-C#-E-G. 

Think about that for a second and think about the scale you would use to solo over an A blues. Most likely you chose the minor blues scale starting on the 5th fret 6th string. But why would you choose a minor scale when the chord is actually a major chord? 

This doesn’t make sense, but yet we’ve all heard players doing this and it sounds OK. But the part you’re missing is that all the great players mix minor blues scales with major blues scales. If you’re only playing the minor scale, you’re leaving at least 50% of your potential on the table! 

Today, I’m going to show you how to use a major blues scale to solo over the blues, which will drastically change your approach to improvising. 

Take a look at this TAB and VIDEO for reference. 

The A major pentatonic scale is not the same thing as A minor. The notes of the A major pentatonic are: A-B-C#-E-F#. These correspond to the 1-2-3-5-6 of the scale. 

If you’re used to thinking in minor, this will sound quite different and will likely be the missing piece of the puzzle that you’ve been looking for. 

The A blues scale is a slight alteration of the pentatonic. The blues scale uses the “blue” note, which in this case is the b3 or C in addition to the C#. This helps to create that classic blues flavor as the b3 can be moved up or down a half step to the 2 or the 3 of the major scale. Take a look at Licks 2, 3, & 4 on the TAB for examples of this idea. 

If you’re really looking to spice things up with this major blues scale you can also incorporate the b5. The b5 or Eb creates a diminished idea as the b3-3-b5-5 resembles the half-step/whole-step diminished scale. 

It’s not so important right now to know the theory of this, but as you get more comfortable with this sound you may want to investigate its origins. 

In addition to the b5, the b7 or G is also a way of adding some different color to the A blues scale. Lick 6 uses this note several times. 

All in all, the main aim of yours should be to learn how to stop instinctively gravitating towards a minor blues scale and begin to think, hear and play in major blues scales. 

Once you can easily visualize and navigate the vertical pentatonic boxes of this blues scale, check out last week’s Newsletter#21 for an awesome diagonal shape of this major pentatonic scale. 

Play Like The Pros, Play Major! 

-Max Rich