SMG Guitar Tips: Blues Philosophy and Basics!

Understanding the Blues with Robert Johnston!

Blues scales are based around the pentatonic scale, which is a popular type of five-note scale, but with an added sixth note for additional color. Because there are five basic octave positions on the guitar, and only five notes in the pentatonic scale, it follows that there are only five basic blues scale patterns or “box” patterns as they are often called.

The interval formula for the basic blues scale is as follows: root, minor/flat 3rd, 4th, flat 5th, natural 5th, and flat 7th. You can use my musical compass to figure out the notes in any blues scale simply by turning the dial to the desired root note or “key” and selecting the above-mentioned intervals.


It’s important to remember that when we refer to a blues “key” that it will have a completely different structure than that of a Major “Key” or any minor “Key”. Many a musician tend to use the term “Key” quite loosely, so it’s important to clarify, especially when we’re dealing with the blues, that we’re actually in the “key” of (such-and-such) blues, as opposed to (such-and-such) major or minor or (such-and-such) mode.

When you study the theory behind blues music, and especially traditional blues progressions, you’ll realize that blues is essentially created by merging together major and minor scale structures. Major scales tend to sound bright and uplifting, while minor scales tend to sound darker and it’s largely this interesting juxtaposition that makes blues music so dynamic, colorful, and compelling.

It’s infinitely helpful to be able to know how the 12 chromatic intervals relate to the 5 octave positions of the guitar, so that we can better master the subtle nuances of blues guitar. The 12 chromatic intervals are as follows; root, flat 2, 2, flat 3, 3, 4, flat 5, 5, sharp 5, 6, flat 7, and 7.



In this exercise, fill out where the intervals fit around each octave position. The end goal is that you should be able to do this quickly without hesitating, double checking or second guessing. Especially take note of the six intervals of the blues scale as you begin to visually recognize each of the five blues scale patterns. The more you do this exercise, the stronger a player you’ll become!

Remember, hard work pays off in the end. These are movable shapes that can be applied to any key, so mastering them is a quintessential step towards being able to play virtually anything! Doesn’t that sound like a great goal to have?

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Below is a template you can print out to practice this exercise on your own:


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