A beginner bassist's foray into the unknown

Blues Scales

Its been a while since I outlined any chords or scales. With my practicing the 12-bar blues and a 12-bar blues variant in the Hal Leonard book, it’s a good time to tie the reading in with some theory. Back in 2011, the first theory post I ever wrote was about the blues scale. I’ve since come to learn that there are two variants: the Major blues scale and the Minor blues scale.

I’ve discovered that information about variant blues scales difficult to find online – especially for bass. Most sites show one that I’ve come to learn is the Minor version. There’s little-to-no information about the major one, especially for beginners. So, here’s what I learned when going through actual printed books from my shelf:

The following is from a great book called Stuff! Good Bass Players Should Know by Glenn Letsch. 


If you want to play the blues (and you’d better be able to), its much easier if you already know the basic scales employed by the great blues musicians. A generation ago, every aspiring player wanted to learn the blues. The main reason was that we loved that genre. It sounded cool. 

Sadly, many young musicians these days do not know how important the blues is to almost all their favorite styles of music. Some don’t even like the blues, which is difficult for me to fathom. Blues is the universal language of musicians. If you found yourself in a room with a bunch of musicians and nobody knew the same songs, you could always say, “Let’s play a blues in G.” A rocker can play the blues. A country player can play the blues. A jazzer can play the blues. Even a classical musician can probably play the blues. 

The blues is arguably the easiest genre to play on a rudimentary level. Once you learn the basic 12-bar format and a few bass licks, you can jam with most anyone. Here are several basic scales that make it easier to play the blues.

The book then details the construction of the Major blues scale, Minor blues scale and an altered form of each. Its actually more info than I was able to find in my usual go-to books: Bass Guitar for Dummies and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bass Guitar.

Here are the formulas and some diagrams. For scale degrees, chromatic notes (notes from outside of the scale) are marked with “chr”. The Minor blues scale is the same one that I originally posted back in 2011. I think it’s the one people have in mind when they think blues scale:

Major blues scale: The major blues scale is a major pentatonic scale (1-2-3-5-6) with one extra note: the minor 3rd.

Note in C: C D Eb E G A
Scale degree: 1 2 b3 3 5 6

Blues Scale - Major

Minor blues scale: The minor blues scale is a minor pentatonic scale (1-b3-4-5-b7) with one extra note: the b5.

Note in C: C Eb F Gb G Bb
Scale degree: 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7

Blues Scale - Minor

Altered major blues scale: The altered major blues scale is really a 6-chord (1-3-5-6) with chromatic passing tones from the 3rd to the 5th and from the 6th to the octave.

Note in C: C E F F# G A A# B
Scale degree: 1 3 chr. chr. 5 6 chr. chr.

Blues Scale - Altered Major

Altered minor blues scale: The altered minor blues scale is a minor blues scale (1-b3-4-b5-5-b7) with one extra chromatic passing tone between the minor 7th and the octave.

Note in C: C Eb F Gb G Bb B
Scale degree: 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7 chr

Blues Scale - Altered Minor

I tried these out a bit today. The minor one is fine, and the altered minor allowed me to figure out some Black Sabbath parts, but the major ones are just weird to me. If played without the chromatic notes, they sound more palatable. Of course – I could just be misunderstanding the whole thing!


4 responses

  1. Nice article! I just would like to report an error in the position of the A note in the first image, major blues scale. I think it should be on the D string, below the E note. Unfortunately this happens creating stuff with the computer! 🙂

    May 28, 2015 at 2:31 am

    • vishalicious

      Thanks, Marco! I corrected the error on the image and in the PDF. That was entirely my fault for neglecting to sleep so often and blogging in the middle of the night all the time.

      May 28, 2015 at 5:47 am

      • I imagined that! 😀

        May 28, 2015 at 6:25 am

  2. Reblogged this on I Write The Music.

    May 28, 2015 at 4:20 am

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