As it is one of the first scales that many guitarists learn when exploring lead playing, the major blues scale is an important melodic device that you can use to solo in many different musical situations and genres.
To help you get started with this important scale, we’ve put together this primer that will teach you how to build this scale, how to apply it to your soloing ideas, how to finger this scale on the guitar, as well as provide you with samples licks and a sample solo to explore in the woodshed.
So, grab your axe, crank your amp and let’s get the major blues scale under your fingers, into your ears and flowing into your jazz guitar solos today.
Let’s look at how to build this scale and how it is related to the major scale and the major pentatonic scale, two closely related melodic devices.
As you can see below, the major scale has 7 notes. The major pentatonic scale is made up of five of those notes (Root, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, and 6th notes of the major scale). To produce a major blues scale, you simply take the major pentatonic scale and add in a blues note, the b3 of the key. This added note gives the major blues scale it’s bluesy vibe, and separates it melodically from the major pentatonic scale.
Major blues scale = major pentatonic scale + blue note b3
Major blues scale = 1 2 b3 3 5 6
Here is how it looks on paper:
Here is a sample two-octave fingering for this scale to get under your fingers so that you can begin to visualize this scale on the fretboard, and hear how it sounds on your guitar. Start with this fingering in a few keys before learning the rest of the fingerings laid out for you below.
There are two main ways you can use the Major Blues Scale in your solos:
As you can see in the following example, the major blues scale works over both maj7 and 7th based chords. This is because there is a major triad in the scale, but no 7th.
The 6th note of the scale can act to produce:
The main difference between the major and minor blues scales is that as the chords change in a blues, or other standard form, you have to change scales along with them.
So, in a I-IV-V blues (see in the last example of this lesson) you could play a G minor blues scale throughout the entire form, but you need to play a G, C and D major blues scale for each of the three chords in the tune, G7-C7-D7.
This is the hardest part about learning to use the major blues scale in a jazz context, so take your time with it and start by soloing over a one or two-chord backing track, switching scales with each chord. Once that is easy, then take it to a blues chord progression and later a standard.
The fingerings of the major blues scale resemble fingerings that you may already know for the minor blues scale, but just starting on different notes. This is the main issue players usually find when working on this scale, that it looks like the minor blues scale but isn’t played from the same root notes.
C major blues scale = A minor blues scale
The notes of the C major blues scale (C D Eb E G A) are the same as the notes from the A minor blues scale (A C D Eb E G), but they start on a different note and are used in another way.
So, make sure that you differentiate the major from the minor blues scales in your practicing so that they are distinct and easy to move between when you apply them to your jazz guitar soloing ideas.
There are 5 main fingerings for the major blues scale. Here are the scale diagrams for a C major blues scale. The root notes of the scale are red, the blue notes are orange:
To help you get started with the major blues scale, and learn how to apply it to soloing situations, here are a few sample licks that you can learn, work in 12 keys, and use as the basis for your own lines.
This first lick is one of the most commonly used, and heard, licks built from this scale. To really get this lick into the swing style, try and accent the first and last note (play them louder) of the lick. This will bring an emphasis to the outer notes of the lick, and add an extra layer of rhythmic interest to the line itself.
Listen & Play
The next Major Blues Scale lick is based on a three-note repeated pattern (the b3-3-5 of the chord), that is reminiscent of the jazz guitar solos of the great player Pat Martino.
Because the pattern is 3 notes long, but played in an 8th-note rhythm, you are syncopating the lick so that it starts on a different part of the bar each time. This allows you to build energy in your solo, as well as use a repeated lick without it sounding boring as you apply it to your own jazz guitar blues solos.
Listen & Play
Here is a sample solo over a G blues chord progression to learn, dissect and practice in the woodshed. Start by playing the solo as written. Then, play the first 8 bars as written and improvise the last 4 bars. From there, play the first 4 bars as written, and improvise the last 8 bars, before moving on to a fully improvised solo after that. This kind of transitional exercise is a great way to learn vocabulary, and integrate it into your playing in an organic way at the same time.
Listen & Play