If you want to learn how to play the blues on guitar then a great place to start is to learn the pentatonic scale. I remember the day that I learnt the pentatonic scale on my guitar. I was so pleased because it was one of the first things that I had really actually mastered on the guitar. But more than that it also opened up a wide choice of musical styles for me to play. The reason I was so determined to learn the pentatonic scale was that it sits at the core of blues music and therefore a lot of rock guitar music. Once I had mastered the pentatonic scale across the fretboard I started to experiment and quickly found that the notes that I was playing had been used before in some of my favourite guitar riffs and solos. From Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix through to Guns n Roses and AC/DC if you know the pentatonic scale then you can pretty quickly pick-up some of their great riffs and solos.
So what is the pentatonic scale and how can you use it to learn how to play the blues on guitar?
The pentatonic scale, as the name suggests, is composed of 5 tones or notes within one octave. This compares to the major and minor scale which are heptatonic scales made up of 7 notes. There is some suggestion that the pentatonic scale was used in very ancient music and was even used by composers such as Claude Debussy to add effect to their music. Interestingly the pentatonic scale is widely used in folk music and has been used in African folk music. This may be the reason why blues musicians use this scale so widely as it was the scale that was used in the music that was handed down from generation to generation.
As with the heptatonic scales there are major and minor pentatonic scales and both play a major part in blues so should form the backbone of what you do as you learn how to play blues on the guitar. I have to admit that the music theory of how the scales are put together is lost on me so it is perhaps easier to represent them with some pictures so that you can see how the scales can be played on the guitar.
Lets start with the minor pentatonic scale.
This is a good place to start because the minor pentatonic scale has shaped blues music. There are five shapes which cover the entire guitar neck and can be moved up and down the neck to change the key. We will start on the 5th fret so that we are playing the A minor pentatonic. The note position on the frets or the scale shape of the first position is shown below The red dot shows the first note to play on the fifth fret.
Moving up the neck to the eighth fret you have the second shape in the A minor pentatonic scale.
Then to the tenth fret for the third shape.
The twelfth fret for the fourth shape.
Finally we move up to the fifteenth fret for the fifth shape in the A minor pentatonic scale.
Remember these shapes can be moved up and down the neck to change the key in which you play the scale. What I tend to do is move the first shape up and down the neck and use that as the anchor from which all the other shapes hang. Initially it might seem rather a big deal to learn all the shapes. But if you put a little bit of effort into learning the various positions you will be surprised as to how quickly your fingers naturally fall into place. The exciting thing is that once you have learned the minor pentatonic scale you can start to experiment with the scale playing sequences of notes with hammer-on, pull-offs, bends and vibrato you will soon be putting together blues riffs and solos.
To learn how to play the blues on guitar there are a whole load more scales and chords in the tool box. However, gaining a good grasp of the minor pentatonic scale is a great place to start. If you put in a bit of effort to really learn the minor pentatonic scale then you will quickly find that you are able to put together some great riffs and solos which will really sound great. But if you are looking for further inspiration then you can check out the video below from our friends at JamPlay. The video shows a pretty cool lick using the A minor pentatonic scale. If you want to learn how to play the blues on guitar then you could try signing up for a free account with JamPlay and check out a lot of the great lessons that they have.