Pentatonic and Blues

Pentatonic and Blues Scales

The minor pentatonic scales are played by blues guitar players extensively. Historically speaking, the blues scales and minor pentatonic scales have no connection that I can see. The word “pentatonic” comes from the Greek word pente meaning five and tonic meaning tone. The pentatonic scale consists of five notes within one octave, that’s why it is also sometimes referred to as a five-tone scale or five-note scale. It is believed that the history of the pentatonic scale dates way back in ancient times.

Below is an open E Minor Pentatonic Scale, noted in guitar tabs (E is the key, that means the scale begins with E, E is also the root note of the scale, or starting note): E, G, A, B, D, (E) restart E, G, A, B, D…5 Notes only in the pentatonic scales.
E I———————0-3-|
B I—————–0-3—–I
G I————-0-2———I
D I———0-2————-I
A I—–0-2—————–I

There is no “heavy metal” scale. Not a “country” scale. But there is a “blues scale”. And the blues scale is a slightly modified version of the minor pentatonic scale. A blues scale is nothing more than a minor pentatonic scale with an added note. That added note is sometimes referred to as the “blue note”. That particular note creates a certain amount of tension and release, call and response, that is a common sound in the blues. I call the extra note a chromatic note. Although it may ruffle a few feathers using my explanation, it makes the blues scale easier to understand.

Here is an open E blues scale, which has 6 notes, noted in guitar tabs (E is the key, E is also the root note of the scale, or starting note, that means the scale begins with E): E, G, A, A#, B, D, (E) restart E, G, A, A#, B, D…6 Notes in the blues scales. The A# is bold because it is the extra, 6th (blue) note in the scale.

I-------------------------0-3-I
I---------------------0-3-----I
I---------------0-2-3---------I
I-----------0-2---------------I
I-----0-1-2-------------------I
I-0-3-------------------------I
E minor Blues scale

In the guitar course, ‘Learn To Play The Blues‘, it is explained and used in a logical and understandable manner, we can see how 5 notes translated into 6 notes and hence the Blues.

Without going into the detailed and technical definitions and pictures of guitar tabs to educate you, I think this is an easy way to sum up a blues scale in terms that makes more sense than a music theory lesson, which is about all I can find on the Internet.

Without a doubt, the majority of explanations of the pentatonic scales and blues scales found in the top 20 queries of a Google or Yahoo search are pretty much the same, and perhaps all came from the root source, Wikipedia. I seek to be unique and gave you my simplified version. The blues scale looks like a pentatonic scale with a chromatic note slipped in (the blue note). As mentioned earlier, it is it’s own scale, a 6 note scale.

You can see in the second picture of guitar tabs that on the second to bottom line, which is the A string, there are 3 notes played in a row. Open A, A# and B. (The A, A# & B are in a row next to each other, no intervals)….. You can see as the 5 notes reoccur again, starting with the E note on the D string, then you see there are three notes played in a row starting with the #2 and #3 notes on the G string (line 4) A & A#, then it continues with it’s three note run on the B string (5th string) with the 0 or open B. That is three notes played in a row also. This pattern will continue over and over. Remember this is only the key of E, and it is an open scale. That is my simplified definition of chromatic.

Basically speaking the definitions show us the impossibility for an exact definition using classical music theory. The blues scale is a bastardized scale that became the African roots of the Blues music using non-equal tempered (natural harmonic) scales, so this is obviously an attempt to describe these “in-between” notes using classical notation. So you can consider American Blues music as a well grown mixture of African and European music styles.

Hopefully this is somewhat clear. If you read the technical part a few times it will make sense. The bottom line is that there is really no relationship theoretically speaking between the pentatonic scales and the blues scales. Although the pentatonic scale is one of the, if not the most popular scale for the blues, rock and roll and country music. Obviously it has its place in many other forms of music.

The illustration below is of an A minor Pentatonic Caged Scale.

Caged A Minor Pentatonic Scale

Caged A Minor Pentatonic Scale

The A Minor Pentatonic Scale pattern starts on the fifth fret of the low E string. This is the A note on the low E string or the Root note of the scale (square notes, as opposed to the round notes). What is really cool about this simple pattern is that if you memorize the pattern, in essence you have just learned 12 scales. Why is that? The shape or cage does not change shape. For instance, if you wanted to play a B minor  Pentatonic Scale, one would move up the low E string two frets to the B note (7th fret), hence, you are now playing a B Minor Pentatonic Scale.

You can move this scale anywhere you want to up and down the neck, which would give you 12 minor pentatonic scales you can play from the low E string. As a matter of fact, since the notes restart again on the 12th fret, one can play the same scales starting from the 12th fret, one octave higher than the notes that start with the open strings at the nut and first fret. Simply put, once you etch this simple pattern in granite in your muscle memory, you have added 12 or more scales to your musical vocabulary.

Blues Guitar Lessons For Beginners

The blues scale is a somewhat modern development in music compared to the invention of classical musical theory and the minor pentatonic scale. There is so much more to say about the “blue” note, the development of the blues scale, the black notes on a piano and how they relate to the blues and plenty more.¬† GuitarPlayersCenter.com. Enjoy Guitar Lessons..

4 Responses to Pentatonic-Blues Scales On The Guitar: History and Relavence..

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  2. Electric Guitars

    Fantastic, you are so brilliant. After long time i got something different and intersecting to read. Thank you.

  3. Do you like blues?? listen to this guy

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