Blues Scales Part 1

When we talk about blues scales, or the blues in general, it is important to keep in mind that the blues is in many ways its own harmonic language. It does not follow the “rules” of major and minor keys in the same way other music does. Keeping this in mind as you learn about and utilize blues scales can help avoid confusion when learning about non-blues languages, like tonal and modal music. 

While the number of different “blues scales” in existence is up for debate, this lesson will focus on what is commonly called the “minor blues scale” (the name used in this lesson) or simply “the blues scale.”

The minor blues scale can be thought of as a minor pentatonic scale with the addition of the “blue note” which is found on the “b5” of the scale. The blue note has a particular quality, in that it creates a higher level of tension than the other notes in the scale. Because of this, it has particular usage in blues melody, often acting as a neighbor tone, or leading tone to the 4th or 5th of the scale. 

The blue note in the F minor pentatonic scale is B natural (also spelled Cb). When this note is added to the scale, the resulting scale is the “F minor blues” scale: 

The F minor blues scale can be used as the basis of a solo on many standard jazz tunes. It can also be used in sections of tunes, or whenever your ear tells you that it fits. Blues sounds are often freely mixed with tonal (in a key) or modal (in a mode) sounds by advanced improvisers. Blues scales are often expressed through blues “vocabulary,” or small phrases used by many performers. Below are some example phrases, or licks, that someone might play using the F minor blues scale. 

Watch the video to practice playing call and response with the written phrases: 

In the example below, Lee Morgan uses the F minor blues scale, with the addition of the 6th (D natural) and the 9th (G natural) to create some wonderful phrases over the Bobby Timmons’ classic, “Moanin’.” 

This excerpt starts at 0:59 in the original recording: