Blues Guitar Scales – and why they are important for more than just learning how to play blues guitar…
In my last post, which went into the benefits of learning easy guitar songs, I mentioned the importance of getting a little information on guitar theory under your belt early on.
Now, don’t roll your eyes, groan and tell me that you’re only interested in playing for fun and that you don’t want to spend time on the study of “boring” music theory. If you don’t have any desire to learn blues guitar scales at the moment, I’m hopng that I’ll be able to convince you otherwise by the end of this post. Because if you only ever learn one scale, the minor pentatonic – or blues scale – should be it.
So why is the humble blues scale the best place to start with guitar theory? There are several reasons:
- It’s easy to remember and play.
- It’s used in many different types of music – not just the blues itself.
- It sounds great!
- It’s relatively simple musically and there is less to go wrong, making it ideal for beginners.
There are probably lots more reasons I could think up if I had the time and the inclination, but I’d rather spend the rest of this post talking you through the basics of the blues scales themselves. An introduction to the subject, if you will, before sending you off in the direction of an article on how to play blues guitar on one of those useful websites that I routinely seek out for your delectation.
First of all, I should give you some background about the blues in general before gong on to discuss the blues scale in more detail.
The blues originated in the deep south of the United States of America and was very popular among African Americans in the early part of the twentieth century. The notes employed and the musical origins of the blues genre are rooted in the desert songs of Africa but have been given their own identity and have taken on a whole new life of their own in the United States of America, where artists such as BB King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf took the genre to a whole new level. In fact, these American blues artists went on to influence many of the rock and blues giants of the later twentieth century, with bands such as The Rolling Stones owing much of their underlying musical foundation to the songs, rhythms and melodies of the early blues pioneers.
Just as with all music, the blues is a language. A musical language comprising letters, words and sentences etc. If you think of a blues guitar lick – or lead part – as a word, the notes of the blues scale that make up that lick are the letters. Different players put their notes together in different ways to make different words, which they play with different “accents”. A lick in the style of BB King could be said to have a BB King “accent”.
In much the same way as someone from the southern states of America might have a particular accent, you can discern a distinctive and unique rhythm, intonation and “pronunciation” that makes BB King’s lead guitar sound like BB King. The same is true for all guitarists to various extents. Think about it. I bet you can tell Eric Clapton from Mark Knopfler, or Jimi Hendrix from Gary Moore (RIP) just by listening to their playing. When you pay attention to how they play, you can hear it’s them because they have their own way of “talking” the language of blues guitar.
Blues guitar scales are utilised in many different genres of music and you only need listen to pretty much any modern guitar-orientated band to realise that blues scales are used everywhere from rock-and-roll to pop, from folk to rockabilly. Once you become aware of them, they turn up all over the place.
The blues scales are really quite easy to learn and play, and rather than go into detail here, I’ll point you to this excellent resource for beginners that takes you through a whole series of guitar lessons step by step. The website doesn’t look like much, but take the time to read through the articles because they contain some really useful information that will help you to learn guitar fast, which is what we all want. This series on blues guitar scales has some excellent practice tips, tablature and even a short video showing you exactly how to play the notes of the scale in each of the five positions on the neck.
So follow the lessons, practice what you learn and soon you’ll have the basics of how to play blues guitar…enjoy.