Scales

This is what we're shooting for, Brian Setzer Style.

Click Image for Brian Setzer solo

( Click arrow to play mp3 )


To learn how to play this way we gotta dig into some new scales. Here we go !

This chapter may seem pretty technical to you, but bear with me on it. You can always come back to it after you've played some of the examples. Even if you don't get the big picture in one glance: there is logic to it. Now, let's bring in the brain.

Our goal is to expand your options for soloing and accompanying in blues.
Instead of racing up and down the blues scale we want to add other notes that sound good, too. Instead of chopping bar chords, we'd like to be more subtle. This chapter contains the theory to learn how to do this.

Let's limit our scope to the things you probably already know. A 12-bar progression blues, with three chords and a minor pentatonic scale.

TAB Blues in G

TAB 1st Blues Position in G

Chances are that on any given night, this blues is being played in a few thousand clubs all over the globe. A lot of players stick to this framework and will probably do this for the rest of their natural lives. And be very happy. But what if you want more?

Roughly said: if you play a melody, sing a song or whip out a solo, you're using a bunch of different notes. If you line these notes up in pitch order (low to high) you've got a scale.
Sometimes melodies use more than one scale, but let's stick to simple melodies.

Each of these scales has a different feel to it. Each scale has a TONIC, its centre point. To find the tonic of a scale, try to 'feel' where your melody ends. The tonic is often the last note of a song.

Every scale can start on a different pitch. But the feel of the scale remains the same no matter what pitch you start on. So the melodies stay the same but are relative to the tonic. To keep things clear, we give each note a number, again relative to the tonic.

The tonic is number one.

Major Scale

Blues Guitar Lessons

Most scales contain seven notes. You already know at least one: the major scale ("Doe a Deer a Female Deer, Ray a drop of golden Sun" and other horrible, upbeat songs)

Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

 

 

In the key of G, the major scale would contain these notes:

G   A   B   C   D   E   F#   G note
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 nr.
  2   2   1   2   2   2   1   nr. of frets up

 

 

 

It's called a major scale because it contains a major third.
This 'third' is the interval (meaning distance) between the tonic and the third note of the scale, in this case a G and a B. This interval is 4 frets and sounds upbeat.

Every scale that has this formula (2,2,1,2,2,2,1) of frets between notes is a major scale.

As you can see, a scale is nothing more than a bunch of notes lined up with a certain formula of intervals.

TAB G Major Scale

Each interval has a name.

G - A Major Second 2 frets
G - B Major Third 4 frets
G - C (Perfect) Fourth 5 frets
G - D (Perfect) Fifth 7 frets
G - E Major Sixth 9 frets
G - F# Major Seventh 11 frets
G - G   Octave 12 frets

If you continue to play the scale up from the octave, you'll encounter these intervals:

G - A Major Ninth 14 frets
G - C Major Elevent 17 frets
G - E Major Major 21 frets

Minor Scale

Blues Guitar Lessons

Because we're not going to use this scale much in this book/website, we'll race through the minor scale. The G-minor scale (or sometimes G aeolian or natural) contains these notes:

G   A   Bb   C   D   Eb   F   G note
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 nr.
  2   1   2   2   1   2   2   nr. of frets up

 

 

 


As the name suggests, it has a minor ring to it, it sounds sad. This is because of the minor third interval (3 frets), the distance from the tonic G to the third note of the scale (Bb).

It also contains a minor sixth (G to Eb: 8 frets) and a flat seventh (G to F: 10 frets)

Every scale with this formula of intervals (frets up) is an aeolian minor scale (2,1,2,2,1,2,2 frets up).

TAB Minor Scale

Note: If we call a chord or a scale 'minor', we're ALWAYS referring to the THIRD of the chord or scale! If we call an interval "flat", it means it's 1 fret back from the major version. This is sometimes confused with the word 'minor'.

As the names G eolian or natural minor suggest, there are other minor scales. They fall outside of the scope of this book/website, but can be used to jazz-up your solo.

Blues Scale

Blues Guitar Lessons

A blues scale only has 6 notes; 5 notes from the minor pentatonic scale (here we go) plus one that sounds really whiny when overused.
If you're looking for that bluesy feel, play this scale:

G   Bb   C   (Db)   D   F   G note
1   b3   4   (b5)   5   b7   8 nr.
  3   2   1   1   3   2   nr. of frets up

 

 

 

Every scale that has this 'formula' of frets between the notes is a blues scale. Just find the tonic, play this formula of frets up (3,2,1,1,3,2) and you'll be playing the blues scale.

'Minor Pentatonic' means exactly what it says. It's minor, meaning it contains a minor third in the scale. This minor third can be found three frets up from the tonic (a Bb in a G blues).

"Penta" is Greek for "five", in this case, a scale containing five notes. The added note to make up a blues scale can be found 6 frets up from the tonic (or one string down, one fret up). This flat 5 in the scale should be used with taste.

TAB Minor Pentatonic with added 'blue notes'

Mixolydian Scale

Blues Guitar Lessons

Every chord we use in blues or any other type of music is derived from a scale. The chords we used in our first example G blues are "dominant seventh" chords. They are derived from a mixolydian scale.

This scale has seven notes and looks like this:

TAB G mixolydian scale 1st Position

It contains these notes:

G   A   B   C   D   E   F   G note
1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8 nr.
  2   2   1   2   2   1   2   nr. of frets up

 

 

 

As you can see, it looks a lot like a regular major scale. The only note that's different is the F, a flat seventh up from the tonic.

A mixolydian scale sounds a certain way because of the intervals (number of frets) between the notes. This is the case with every mixolydian scale. If you find a scale that has these intervals, it's a mixolydian scale and it'll sound this way.

If you want to play a C or D mixolydian scale, find the tonic on the first string and play the pattern in the diagram above. That didn't hurt, now did it?

Positions

Blues Guitar Lessons

Blues scales can be played in 5 different positions (or patterns) across the neck (see Overview Blues Scale Positions). If you know where the tonic is (which string, which fret) you can figure out which position you can play.

With the mixolydian scale it's exactly the same, only you've got seven different positions.

You'll get to know them all by playing the examples and solos in this book. If you're the classic over achiever you can look at the diagrams in the back of this book/end of the website and practice them till your fingers bleed.
But if you want to shoot first and ask questions later, the good stuff is in the Solos chapter.

The mixolydian scale is where it all starts. This scale and the chords that can be formed with it are your way out of the blues box.

By adding notes of this scale to your playing, you'll open up a whole new world of colours. You can sound jazzy, play swing blues, jump, rock & roll and boogie with the best of them, without being confined by the blues scale. You WILL SOUND WAY COOL.

We'll learn a Standard Riff to help us find the mixolydian scale positions quickly, based on where the tonic is.

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