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Blues Scales

In Flatpicking the Blues you were given a number of blues scales and blues scale exercises to practice. You were also encouraged to work with the blues scales in a free-form manner while you were being accompanied by a variety of rhythm tracks that were presented on the audio CD. On this page of the web site we will provide you with more blues scale exercises to practice in order to continually increase your knowledge of the fingerboard in the context of the blues. Before practicing the exercises below, it will help to be familiar with the blues scale "box" patterns shown on page 31 of the book.

Blues Scale #1 (G): The scale exercises presented in Flatpicking the Blues primarily worked with scales across one and two octaves using patterns in the lower regions of the neck (first six frets). On page 31 we presented "box" patterns that displayed how you could move the blues scales around to all areas of the neck. On page 32 you were asked to explore this "box" patterns on your own, however you were not shown any specific exercises in order to help you grasp those positions (with the one exception of the scale exercise shown at the bottom of page 32).

When we presented the scale at the bottom of page 32 (which connected box pattern 1 and pattern 2 from page 31), we suggested that you explore other ways to connect these patterns. While the box patterns taught you how to move across the neck, if you went through this exercise you also learned how to move up and down the neck. The first several blues scales on this page will provide you with some various ways to move up and down the neck connecting the box patterns that are shown in the book. This first blues scale is the same as that shown on the bottom of page 32, however, we have included the fingerings in order to show a suggested position shift. Practice this two octave scale with the position shift as it will be the basis of the next three scales that we present on this page.

Blues Scale #2 (G): This scale is the same as the previous scale but instead of just ascending, you will ascend up the scale and then descend back down. Pay attention to the fingering and position shifts. Once you have practiced this exercise many times, go back to track 5 of your audio CD and practice some free-form improvisation using this two octave scale as the basis for your improv.

Blues Scale #3 (G): This scale builds onto scale #1 by adding another octave, Here we are connecting box pattern 1 (first octave) with box pattern 2 (second octave) and then connecting box pattern 2 with box pattern 3 (first six notes of the third octave), then moving to box pattern 5A for the last two notes. In the book we only had room to give you one and two octave scale exercises, however, practicing this particular three scale octave will help you open up the fingerboard in a big way. The third octave that we've added to this sequence is one where you are apt to do a lot of note bending. Several of the note bending examples shown on page 33 of the book are up in this region of the neck.

Blues Scale #4 (G): This scale contains the same notes as the last one, however, here you are working to ascending up the entire three octave scale and then back down the scale exactly opposite of the way you ascended. Once again, pay attention to the fingering and position shifts.

Improv: After you feel comfortable with this exercise, go back again to track 5 of your audio CD and work on some free-from improvisation using all three octaves of this scale. Working with this exercise in a free-form manner will really help open up the fingerboard for you in the context of the blues.

Blues Scale #5 (G): Now we are going to start again with box pattern 1 and move up the fingerboard, but instead of moving from box pattern 1 to box pattern 2 as we did in Blues Scale #1 above, we are now going to move from the G note on the D string of box pattern 1 to the A note of the D string in box pattern 3. You are playing the same notes as shown in Blues Scale #1, but you are moving up in a different area of the fingerboard. Take a look at the scale and practice it until you become familiar with its movement and position.

Blues Scale #6 (G): Now we are going to add the third octave scale of Blues Scale #3 to Blues Scale #5. So basically you are starting with box pattern 1 until you reach the G note on the D string, then moving into box pattern 3 with the A note on the D string and then staying with box pattern 3 until the last two notes when you then shift to the tail end of box pattern 5A.

Practice: You will notice that for the last two scale patterns (5 and 6) we only showed the ascending line. It would be good if you practice both the ascending and descending lines when you study these scales. Additionally, it would be helpful to mix and match Blues Scale #3 with Blues Scale #5 by ascending with #3 and then descending with #5 or vice-versa. Any variations that you can come up with in your own practice are going to help when you start to practice blues improvisation. The more familiar your fingers and ears are with all of the various patterns and possibilities, the easier it will be for your to improvise.

Speaking of improvisation, after you have spent time practicing scale patterns #5 and #6, it would be a good idea to once again go back to practice track number 5 of the audio CD and practice improvising with these new scale patterns in mind.

Blues Scale #7 (E): The majority of the scales that we had you work with in Flatpicking the Blues were in the key of G. At the end of the book in the section titled "Moving to Other Keys" we talked about how you could convert all of the scales you learned in the key of G to other keys and we gave some examples on page 84. It is well worth the time and effort for you to go through the exercise of converting all of the scales that were presented in the book (and presented above on this site) to various keys, especially the key of E.

Why the Key of E? The first reason to work with the key of E is that a lot of traditional blues tunes are played in the keys of E and A. As we stated in the book, it is fairly easy to convert all of your G scales and licks to the key of A because you just move them up two frets. Conversion to E is a little more difficult. Another reason to become very familiar with blues scales in the key of E is to help you get the blues feeling in your bluegrass when playing in the key of G. Em is the "relative minor" in the key of G and licks in Em fit nicely when playing in the key of G. Em blues licks fit very nicely and if you play through some of your favorite signature bluegrass runs in the key of G, like the Lester Flatt "G-run" for example, you will find that they come directly from the E minor pentatonic blues scale shown at the top of page 84 in Flatpicking the Blues. We have provided some "G-run" examples as well as a few other popular bluegrass runs in the key of G that are based on the E minor pentatonic blues scale in the "blues licks" section of the website.

Practice becoming very familiar with the open position E minor pentatonic blues scale shown here as Blues Scale #7. It is the same scale shown at the top of page 84 in the Flatpicking the Blues book, however, we have added one extra G note at the end. Work to becoming familiar with this scale and some of the licks that are based on this scale as shown in the blues licks section of the web site, then play through some of your favorite bluegrass solos in the key of G and see if you can recognize the sound of the E minor pentatonic blues scale in your own playing.

Another good practice exercise with this scale is to try and transpose the ascending and descending patterns shown in G on page 29 of the book over to the key of E using this open E blues scale. You can also try to connect these ascending and descending lines across two octaves as you did for the key of G in the homework problem on page 30.

Go back to the two-minute G rhythm track on your audio CD. Practice some free-form improvisations mixing notes of the G blues scale with notes from E blues scale (Blues Scale #7). Stay in the open position at first, later try it in closed positions.

Blues Scale #8: After you work with the E minor pentatonic blues scale in the open position, it is a good idea to play that scale at various locations on the fretboard (working with the "box" patterns shown on page 31 and page 83 of the book), as you did with the G blues scale in the book. In bluegrass you will use the open position scale (Scale #7 above, which is based on box pattern #1 from the book) most of the time, however, another position that you will use quite often the "core" scale of box pattern #2. This is the closed 2nd position scale which starts on the E note at the 2nd fret of the D string and ends at the E note on the 5th fret of the B string.