Using Minor Pentatonics And Blues Scales

A Dual Edged Sword

The minor pentatonic and blues scales are duel edged swords, meaning that they can help and hurt your guitar playing and the level of general overall musicianship. As wonderful and powerful as these two scales can be, if you base your style entirely and playing these box patterns you are missing the boat. The common knowledge box patterns can sound red hot and rockin just as easily as they can sound pointless and out of tune.

Well Known Advice.

I’m not the first person to say it, but the thinking on pentatonic and box battern playing among serious guitarists is as follows. Don’t build a style exclusively on the one or two scales that every kid with a guitar knows, expand your vocabulary and palette as long as you play. ‘Hack’ is a word that many people use to describe a single minded approach to lead guitar playing, its like knowing just enough to get in trouble – able to sound merely OK and passable. This approach to improvising can sound good in a lot of situations but relying only on one or two scales, and one or two basic concepts, is simply not the way to go.


Just The Facts

Before we practice the minor pentatonic and blues scales in the key of E, lets review the basic music theory associated with these two scales. Serious music students know studying these types of graphic organizers is a good way of learning basic music theory and developing a base of highly useful knowledge.

When compared to the major scale we can see that the minor pentatonic scale contains a flat 3rd and 7th degrees, these notes were introduced to the modern musical vocabulary by trend setting blues musicians and are therefore called the blue notes. The minor blues scale adds another blue note, the flatted 5th.

Ear Training

When you play, you play what you know. If you want to play and use blues scales and minor pentatonic scales you must know them -really know them. Knowing the scales in your ears and figures, study the following diagram, taking in all the information you can as you visualize the scale pattern.


The exercise below is a drill designed to get your fingers gliding across the neck and to gety the sound of the scale firmly in tour ear. Of course, play through the music with speed and accuracy, playing them with care and treating them as a favorite melody. Be sure to listen to the sound and character of the scale.


With the addition of a new blue note, the flat 5 or B flat in this case, the E minor pentatonic scale becomes the E minor blues scale. As before, get to know the scale in your ears and figures. Use the diagram to soak in all the information you can as you visualize the E minor blues scale in position XII and listen to your fingers run up and down the pattern.



Licks, Tricks, Fills & Thrills

If you are playing rock, pop, blues or any modern style you have to be extraordinarily adept with minor pentatonic scale and minor blues scale usage. The first step towards that goal is learning idiomatic likes and fills. A lick, fill or riff is a short bit of melodic material that musicians use to create or extend solos and melodic ideas. In modern music, licks based on the minor pentatonic and minor blues scales are not only absolutely indispensable they can be absolute knockouts.

In this lesson you will be focusing on six such ideas written out in the key of E, the sound of these licks are so well-known and recognizable that they are often called clichés. Typically, in pentatonic box playing, the b3 G blue note (Fret XV String 1 in this case) is often given a slight bend up in pitch, higher than G but not quite G sharp. The D note on Fret XV of string 2 and the E note on fret XIV of string 3 usually are bent up one whole step in pitch.

All of the licks and fills require some type of bending and there are lots of little tricks in general so before you start playing licks and fills, check out the video below.

Use the following interactive transcriptions to really nail down the 6 cliches you have learned here today, play with the recordings to practice bringing an excellent sense of rhythm and timing to your lead guitar playing.

Full Length Blues Solo Or Blues Head

Below is to part video lesson, the first part is a nicely written 12 bar solo suitable for use in lead guitar work or as the melody section for instrumental jams, the second part is a backing track put there to help you practice your licks, scale runs and cliché moves.

A transcription of the solo, along with a short listening track for quick reference and study is just below. To make sure you are bending to the “E” note, and your vibrato is steady, try playing the piece a few times without using the backing track


Play Along Tracks

It is almost as if the minor pentatonic and the minor blues scales were made for ripping on a medium tempo shuffle blues in the key of E, as can be found in the first play along video below. The secon video has a funk/ rock feel to it these tarcks are for you to use as a daily practicing tool, making sure the that the rhythms of your solo, the right hand picking rhythms you are improvising with, match the groove. Its good practice to lock in your right hand picking in with certain aspects of the groove you hear coming from the drumset, locking your soloing solidly to the beat.

12 Bar Blues In E: Shuffle Feel

12 Bar Blues In E: Funk/ Rock Feel


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