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Modes, Pentatonic and Blues Scales
Download this Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that summarizes modes: Modes by FreeJamTracks.com.
Two Scales Only
Before we start on the modes I'd just like to say that there are really only two scales to learn on the guitar (or bass): the Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale. You only need to learn one pattern for each of these scales to be able to play guitar or bass guitar.
If you learn NOTHING else but one pattern for the Major pentatonic scale and one pattern for the blues scale then you'll have enough scale and guitar knowledge to play along with every song ever written. From Mozart to Metallica and everything else from A to Z (which is the Allman Brothers to Frank Zappa in case your wondering).
And I'm not talking about solos that are dumbed down. We're talking about the Real Deal here. 90% of the guitar solos that you've ever heard notes only from those two scales. (By the way, did you know that 93.5% of all statistics are made up!) Everything you listen to on the radio, concerts you go to, musicians you play with, it's all based around those two scales.
Why are they so powerful?
Well there's a reason for that and it comes from understanding where those scales are derived from. If you understand that, then you'll know why they fit so well over all chord progressions and every style of music.
Of course you can expand upon those two scales and the simple patterns associated with each one. You can learn all the scales in the world, the modes and every pattern and every single note on the guitar. That's great if you want to do it and have the time. However you don't want all of that additional knowledge and music theory to overwhelm you - so to keep things nice and simple we're going to think of music theory like this:
There are really only two scales: the Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale. Everything else we learn to play and every pattern on the neck is simply a variation and an addition on one of these two scales.
If you keep the above in mind as your musical reference point, music theory will become much easier for you to understand and in turn, master.
What Are Modes
Modes are scales. That's all they are, basic music scales.
Modes are a simple concept that are often seen as hard to learn on guitar and bass guitar (or any instrument for that matter). However if you understand how they are built, using the simple foundation of a C Major scale, you will be able to break all music theory down to one of the following scales: the Major pentatonic scale or the blues scale.
This information is going to take a bit of reading, thinking and re-reading for it to sink in. This is half-a-year to a year of music theory at guitar school explained on one page.
The aim is for you to realize why the Major pentatonic and the blues scale are the only two scales you really need to master. Knowing that if you have those two scales down pat, then all you have to do to step up to playing modes (and all other scales) is to add a couple of notes on top of either the Major pentatonic scale or to the blues scale.
So we're going to look at the modes. Strip them down to the Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale. And then you can play any of the modes just by adding notes to one of those two simple scales.
12 Notes, It's A Numbers Game - That's All Music Theory Is
Music theory uses the first seven letters of the alphabet. A, B, C, D, E, F and G. There are five more notes and they are named using # (sharp) and b (flat). The note between A and B can be called either A# (A sharp) or Bb (B flat). Similarly for the notes between C and D, D and E, F and G, G and A.
There are no notes between B and C or E and F. So there is no such note as B#, Cb or E#, Fb. If someone said (or you saw it written) to play a Cb then you'd be playing the note B.
The C Major Scale uses the seven natural notes above (i.e. there are no sharps or flats in the C Major scale.
So the C Major scale is:
If we use numbers to show what scale tone each note falls on we have the following:
The 1 is our Root note. In this case, C is the root note of the scale. Notice that when we get to the C one octave above we've used the number 8? Number 1 and number 8 are the same note, C, it's just that the 8 is one octave higher. If you keep moving up then the next D could be called the 9th note. It's ok to call it that but it's better to stick within the range of 1 to 7. So we're going to stick to using the numbers 1 to 7 and will reference 8 just to show that we've moved up one whole octave from where we began.
The numbers above are often shown using Roman numerals:
Regardless of if you see numbers or Roman numerals, all they are referring to is what degree of the scale the note falls on. The first note in the sequence C, falls on the 1st degree of the scale. Then second note, D falls on the 2nd degree of the scale. The third note E, falls on the 3rd degree of the scale and so on.
Remember that the first note of the scale is called the Root note of the scale. This is our '1' note. All the other notes are numbered relative to our '1' note. That's why it's called the Root note. It's the note that forms the Root of the scale which all the other notes are based upon.
Sharps and Flats - All 12 Notes
If we add the five notes that we haven't shown in the C Major scale above then we will see all 12 notes. All 12 notes are shown below along with the way that we number the notes.
Remember from above that the note C# is the same tone as Db. It's one note but has two different names. The reason it's got two names is that if you've already played the note C and the next note is this note, then you'd call it Db. Simply because you've already used the letter C.
The 2nd note in the C Major scale is D. So we call the note between C and D the b2nd (flat second). Similarly, the 3rd note in the C Major scale is E. So we call the note between the D and the E the b3rd (flat third).
Back to the C Major Scale
Here is the C Major scale. It contains no sharps or flats.
This time we've shown it with spaces left where there are notes that aren't in the C Major scale.
Ionian Mode - and why we use Numbers
The Major scale is also called Ionian mode. (There you go, you've just learnt the first mode). The reason we use numbers is because all scales follow the same patterns. They all have the same spaces (called intervals) between each note.
So for the Major scale, you play your starting note which is the Root note, then you skip one fret to play next note which is the 2nd note of the Major scale.
Playing from one fret to the next is called a semi-tone. Playing from one fret and skipping a fret to play the one above is called a tone. The notes C to D are one tone because they are 2 frets apart on your guitar. The notes E to F are a semi-tone because they are one fret next to the other one. If you play one tone from the note E then you need to skip a fret so you will be playing an F#.
By learning the Major scale in terms of numbers you are learning the sequence for any Major scale. When played on your guitar this will create a pattern. You can then move the pattern up and down the neck to play any Major scale using the same pattern.
Back to the C Major scale, the 2nd note is the D. D is one tone from C.
If we were to play a G Major scale then we'd use the same intervals to get the G Major scale as we used to play the C scale. So the 2nd note in the G scale would also be one tone up from the note G. Looking at our list of notes below:
We can see that the note one tone (i.e. 2 frets) up from the G is the note A. G is the Root note of the G Major scale and A is the 2nd degree of the scale. Just like C is the Root note of the C Major scale and D is the 2nd degree of the Major scale.
This is how you would write out the note names for every Major scale. Since there are 12 notes then there are 12 Major Scales. The C Major scale, the Db Major scale, the D Major scale etc
Instead of learning the notes of all 12 Major scales - if we just stick with numbers then we only have to remember the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Remember that the interval between each number is the same for each of the Major scales. This forms a pattern on the guitar which can be used no matter what your Root note is. It doesn't matter if your Root note is C, A, F or Bb. If you want to play a Major scale then to go to the 2nd note you move up 2 frets - i.e. one tone.
Using the C Major scale we can see that the full sequence of intervals for the Major scale is as follows. Remember, a semi-tone is equal to moving up 1 fret and a tone means you move up 2 frets.
You can also call a semi-tone a half step and a tone a whole step. Or a half and a whole.
What were saying above, shown by the letters/numbers in Blue using the C Major scale, is that from the Root note the sequence for the Major scale (or Ionian mode) is as follows:
Or say it like this:
Or like this:
It all means the same thing. i.e. music intervals for the Major scale.
This pattern holds for each and every Major scale. If you start on C then play the above sequence to play the C Major scale. Where a Whole Step = moving up 2 frets and a Half Step = moving up 1 fret. If you start on A (eg at the 5th fret on the low E string of your guitar) then again, play the above intervals to play the A Major scale.
The Major Scale on Guitar - Tab
Here is the guitar tab for the C Major scale on guitar:
We are starting at the note C on the 8th fret of the low E string. And moving up the sequence of intervals as stated above for the Major scale (or Ionian mode).
If you want to play an E Major scale then you play the EXACT SAME PATTERN above starting on the note E. i.e. you move it up 4 frets from the 8th fret on the E string to the 12 fret on the low E string to play the following:
See what we've done here? You've just played 2 complete different scales, the C Major scale and then the E Major scale. The great thins is that when we went to play the E Major scale we didn't learn anything new, just slid our fingers up 4 frets to the E and played the exact same patter we played when we played the C Major scale.
So now you can play all 12 Major scales - buy using the one pattern above.
That means you can play Ionian mode in EVERY key: 1 pattern for all 12 keys.
If you want to put the numbers we used above (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) in your head, when playing either of the above scales then you'd think of the numbers like this:
I've put them in Red because they are not the frets to play - they are the numbers that show which note falls on which degree of the scale. 1 is the Root note, 2 is the 2nd degree of the scale, 3 is the 3rd degree of the scale and so on.
Like we used above when we talked about the C Major scale:
Except now you can move that pattern up to the E at the 12 fret to play the E Major scale or to the G at the 3rd fret to play the G Major scale and similarly to play the Major scale in ANY of the 12 keys.
Note that there are 12 Major keys because there are 12 notes. So we can only play up to 12 Major scales. If you play the pattern above 12 times, each time starting on a different note on your guitar, when you get to the 13th note - you'll be one Octave higher from where you started. i.e. you'll be playing with the root note C one octave higher - which gives you a C Major scale.
Well done - I think you deserve a break! A big one, like, go watch a movie, throw a few hoops, eat some food, go to sleep, watch TV and then go over everything above again. I know it's dry material, boring and repetitive - but if you follow it all through to the end, somewhere along the line you'll work it out for yourself in your head in a way that will make music theory and guitar a piece of cake.
This stuff took me years to understand. I can't explain it in 5 minutes, it's a few hours of work and days or weeks of think time for you - but when I play it's all sitting there in my head in a very simplistic manner that lets me break music down so it becomes instantaneous, easy and gives me unlimited ways to explore new sounds. i.e. it's worth the effort. Plus this costs you about $50,000 less than learning it at college - so you'll be able to study something at college that's useful that will allow you to get a job that will earn enough money so you can afford to pay your bills, enjoy life, buy nice guitars and not have to go on the road as a musician. Cause we don't want that to happen do we!!!
All the Other Modes
Now that we know the Major scale, the other modes fall into place quite easily. Then what we're going to be able to do is see how each mode relates back to the Major scale (Ionian mode). Using the numbers from each mode we will compare which scales use similar tones and group the modes which will derive the Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale.
Recap: Ionian Mode - The Major Scale
Here is the C Major scale:
Modes are simply this: if we were to start the scale on the note D, playing the same notes above, then we'll be playing what is called a mode.
Let's do it!
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 2nd degree of the scale, then we are playing the Dorian mode. Since our Root note now becomes D, the scale is called D Dorian.
Here is the D Dorian scale:
What's changed here? What have we done? Although we are playing the exact same notes we played when we were playing the C Major scale, by shifting the Root note to the D, we'd TOTALLY changed the sound of the scale. What was the 2nd degree of our scale has now become the Root note of a new scale. What this has done is completely change the intervals between each degree of the scale. Let's take a look:
Keeping in mind that the 12 notes are as follows:
When we were playing in C Major the first 3 notes were C, D and E. From the table above we worked out that the intervals between C, D and E were a whole step from C to D and then another whole step from D to E.
Now we are playing the same notes but starting on the note D it's changed the interval sequence of the scale. From the table above (or on your guitar) you can see that the Root note D to the 2nd degree of the scale E, is a whole step. Just as it was when we were playing the C Major scale. But the interval from the 2nd to the 3rd degree of the scale, which was a whole step when playing in C Major has become a half step.
We are looking at the first 3 notes of two scales. The first is the Major scale which from the Root moves up a whole step and then another whole step. The second is the Dorian scale (or mode) which from the Root moves up a whole step but then only a half step.
Although small, this difference has COMPLETELY changed the sound of the music. We haven't thrown in any sharps or flats. We are still playing natural notes only. The same notes that are used in the C Major scale but by shifting the Root note to what was the 2nd degree of the scale, we've changed the sound of the scale. We are using a new scale. The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Dorian mode.
Here are the intervals for Dorian mode.
Let's compare the two modes side by side:
Ionian mode (the Major scale):
Although we are using the same notes in both scales (A, B, C, D, E, F and G) - we are playing a totally different sequence of intervals. This difference gives us new scales. These scales are called modes.
Life, the Universe and Everything Musical
We have a lot more to look at and work to do but now I get to introduce a concept that will enable us to tie EVERYTHING together going forward. If you've made it this far, keep forging ahead cause this stuff is the key to the highway.
ok so we have the first two modes (there are seven in total, one starting off each note of the C Major scale which we'll get to soon enough).
What we want to do now is look at and compare the Dorian mode to the Major scale. We are going to do this for each of the modes. By comparing each mode back to the Major scale we will see two patterns emerge that will allow us to derive the Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale. Sure you can play them, but if you understand how they are derived then you can play ANYTHING with the only limitation will be your imagination. Full creative control.
Comparing Dorian Mode to the Major Scale
This is where the numbers most come into play.
To compare the Dorian mode to the Major scale we need to use the same Root note for both scales and then match the two scales up side by site.
We know that our C Major scales are the notes in blue below:
We know that the Dorian scale (or mode) uses the following intervals:
So if we want to work out what the C Dorian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Dorian mode. This gives us C Dorian (the notes in blue):
Naming Notes - Is that a D# or an Eb?
Note from the above that we called the D#/Eb note Eb. The reason it's called Eb is because we already used the letter D. You simply move up the alphabet from the Root note using each letter as you go. This determines which notes you use the word sharp or flat for (using the letter below or above).
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Dorian one under the other:
The first set of numbers show us the Major scale, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and back to 8 the Root note.
The second set of numbers shows the Dorian scale RELATIVE to the Major scale.
The way to interpret this is to go through each number of the Dorian scale and compare its counterpart from the Major scale.
The 1 is the Root note which is (and has to be) the same note for both scales. (Otherwise we wouldn't be able to compare the scale tones, the numbers between the two scales).
The 2nd degree of the Dorian scale is the same interval as the 2nd degree of the Major scale.
The 3rd degree of the Dorian scale is DIFFERENT to the 3rd degree used in the Major scale. RELATIVE to the Major scale the 3rd degree of the Dorian scale is flat. So we say that the 3rd degree of the Dorian scale is a b3 (flat third).
The 4th degree of the Dorian scale is the SAME interval as the 4th degree of the Major scale.
The 5th degree of the Dorian scale is the SAME interval as the 5th degree of the Major scale.
The 6th degree of the Dorian scale is the SAME interval as the 6th degree of the Major scale.
The 7th degree of the Dorian scale is DIFFERENT to the 7th degree used in the Major scale. RELATIVE to the Major scale the 7th degree of the Dorian scale is flat. So we say that the 7th degree of the Dorian scale is a b7 (flat seven, or flat seventh).
It's quite simple, but it's a big deal.
Why is it simple? All we are saying is that to play the Dorian scale (or Dorian mode), all that you have to do is flatten the 3rd and 7th degrees of the Major scale.
So if you play ANY Major scale and then flatten both the 3rd and 7th degree of the scale (so that you play the b3 instead of the 3 and play the b7 instead of the 7) then you will be playing the Dorian scale. If you flatten the 3rd and 7th of the A Major scale then you'll be playing the A Dorian mode.
That's all there is to understanding the modes!
So now we are going to continue on in the same fashion for each of the other modes, line them up and come up with a simple rule that will allow you to work out and play each mode just by changing a few notes from the Major scale for any given key.
Then we're going to line EVERYTHING up, one under the other and BOOM SHANKA! This will basically unravel the key to all music theory, ever invented in the history of the world, from when man first hummed a tune, right through the ages and will lead us straight through to GUITAR HERO!
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 3rd degree of the scale, then we are playing the Phrygian mode. Since our Root note now becomes E, the scale is called E Phrygian.
Here is the E Phrygian scale:
The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Phrygian mode.
Here are the intervals for Phrygian mode:
So if we want to work out what the C Phrygian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Phrygian mode. This gives us C Phrygian (the notes in blue):
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Phrygian one under the other:
From the above we get the following rule:
To play the Phrygian scale (or Phrygian mode), you need to flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees of the Major scale.
That's quite a big difference compared with the Major scale. We are playing 4 out of the 7 notes differently. Take note of the ones we AREN'T changing. They are the Root note and the notes on the 4th and 5th degrees of each scale.
I - IV - V
Why are I, IV, V (One, Four, Five) chord progressions so popular? Because they sound good. Why do they sound good? Why do they work so well? It's got to do with the above. There is no be all and end all but as you look more at music theory you see patterns and consistencies within the numbers. The numbers that fit the best tend to give good sounds, simply because they 'fit' in so many instances. The numbers that don't fit .......... define jazz!
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 4th degree of the scale, then we are playing the Lydian mode. Since our Root note now becomes F, the scale is called F Lydian.
Here is the F Lydian scale:
The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Lydian mode.
Here are the intervals for Lydian mode:
So if we want to work out what the C Lydian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Lydian mode. This gives us C Lydian (the notes in blue):
Note above that we are called the F# the #4 (raised 4th, or sharp fourth). Usually this note will be a b5th. It's the same degree of the scale, i.e. a #4th = b5th, but we need to use both the number 4 and 5 once, so we call it a #4.
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Lydian one under the other:
From the above we get the following rule:
To play the Lydian scale (or Lydian mode), you need to sharpen the 4th degree of the Major scale.
This Is Interesting - Take Note
Notice how with the Lydian scale that there is only 1 note different to the Major scale. That's really important, we're going to see a similar thing happen with the mode coming off the 5th degree of the Major scale, i.e. Mixolydian mode. This is going to allow us to define the Major pentatonic scale. AND THAT'S HUGE!
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 5th degree of the scale, then we are playing the Mixolydian mode. Since our Root note now becomes G, the scale is called G Mixolydian.
Here is the G Mixolydian scale:
The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Mixolydian mode.
Here are the intervals for Mixolydian mode:
So if we want to work out what the C Mixolydian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Mixolydian mode. This gives us C Mixolydian (the notes in blue):
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Mixolydian one under the other:
From the above we get the following rule:
To play the Mixolydian scale (or Mixolydian mode), you need to flatten the 7th degree of the Major scale.
The b7, or flat seven is also referred to as the dominant 7th.
Similar to what we saw with Lydian mode above - we only need to change 1 note of the Major scale to get the Mixolydian mode. We're going to use these two scales to derive the Major pentatonic scale. Let's get the last two modes out of the way first, then we can get to the Major pentatonic and the blues scale.
Aeolian Mode - The Natural Minor Scale
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 6th degree of the scale, then we are playing the Aeolian mode. Since our Root note now becomes A, the scale is called A Aeolian.
This is a very important scale. We define it as the Natural minor scale. Just as we are going to use the Major scale above to derive the Major pentatonic scale, we're going to use the Natural minor scale below, to compare to the Dorian and Phrygian modes that we worked out earlier on. This will allow us to derive the minor pentatonic scale and also the blues scale (with the help of the next and final mode, the Locrian scale).
Here is the A Aeolian scale:
The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Aeolian mode.
Here are the intervals for Aeolian mode:
So if we want to work out what the C Aeolian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Aeolian mode. This gives us C Aeolian (the notes in blue):
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Aeolian one under the other:
From the above we get the following rule:
To play the Aeolian scale (or Aeolian mode), you need to flatten the 3rd, 6th and 7th degrees of the Major scale.
Last (and pretty much least!) - Locrian Mode
Using the exact same notes that we used in the C Major scale above, if we start on the 7th degree of the scale, then we are playing the Locrian mode. Since our Root note now becomes B, the scale is called B Locrian.
Here is the B Locrian scale:
The intervals that make up this new scale define/become what is called Locrian mode.
Here are the intervals for Locrian mode:
So if we want to work out what the C Locrian scale is then we just need to start on the Root note C and move up the notes/neck using the above intervals used that determine the Locrian mode. This gives us C Locrian (the notes in blue):
Using numbers let's compare the two scales, Major and Locrian one under the other:
From the above we get the following rule:
To play the Locrian scale (or Locrian mode), you need to flatten the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th degrees of the Major scale. Wow! The only notes that don't change here are the Root and 4th degree of the Major scale. For this reasons - the Locrian scale doesn't look good in theory. All those flats. Yuk! In reality it doesn't sound too good as a scale on it's on either. HOWEVER there is one good thing that comes from this scale. Well it's something I'm going to tell you comes from this scale - I've never seen it stated anywhere else so I might be going out on a whim here but to me it's pretty obvious what it gives us (hint, it's the most powerful note in music). HUGE!
That's All The Modes
There you have it. The 7 modes in their entirety. Complete with full explanations of each mode and how they relate back to the Major scale. If you are reading this then you've done one of two things. You've either skimmed through this page and just happen to be reading this little bit, in which case it's all going to look like any old piece of music theory to you and you'll get nothing from it. OR, you have followed through each of the modes and working each one out with me as I've gone along and now you are all set up to break the guitar and music theory down into the simplest way possible.
So here we go.
The Major Pentatonic Scale
Above we lined up each of the modes comparing the scale tones to the Major scale. If we split this into two groups we can derive both the Major pentatonic scale and similarly for the minor pentatonic scale and blues scale. I didn't talk about the minor pentatonic scale at the start of the page simply because it's just the blues scale with one note added. So I just think in terms of the blues scale as that covers both.
Line up the Major scale (Ionian mode) with Lydian and Mixolydian modes.
Remember that the Lydian mode comes from starting the scale from the fourth degree of the Major scale and the Mixolydian mode comes from starting the scale from the fifth degree of the Major scale. (Using the same notes from the relative Major scale but starting in a different position gives you a new scale, i.e. the modes).
Major, Lydian and Mixolydian Scales - Side by Side
Can you see what we are doing here?
Compare the three scales (or modes). These modes are referred to as Major modes. The reason they are Major is that they all have a Major 3rd in the scale. A Major third is two tones (whole tones) away from the Root note of the scale. A minor 3rd consists of one tone and one semi-tone. So we're just looking at the three modes with Major 3rds in them.
If we play ONLY the notes that are in ALL THREE of the above modes we get the following scale:
The Major pentatonic scale consists of the 1, 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th notes of the Major scale.
This is called the Major Pentatonic scale. It's Pentatonic simply because Penta means five. It's a five note scale.
Who cares? You should.
Why? Because what you've got with this five note scale is a scale that will FIT WELL over any Major chord, in any sequence of any progression. If you have a chord progression that uses the chords, C Major, A minor and G Major then despite the fact that you might not know what key the song is in (it could be in C Major or G Major), you know that the C Major Pentatonic Scale will fit over the C Major chord and the G Major Pentatonic scale will fit over the G chord. If you had of just gone with the C Major Scale not knowing if the tune was in C or G, then you might start playing 'out'. Playing out of scale is fine when you know what you are playing and what sound you are going for. But if you're not sure of what your doing, then playing out is just going to give you a whole bunch of bum notes. So know the Major pentatonic scale is a powerful tool.
If you are playing a song that uses the I, IV and V chords (i.e. the 3 Major chords) then you can use the Major pentatonic scale in one of two ways. Say the song is in the key of C. It starts with the C chord and also uses A Major and B Major chords in it. You can either play the C Major pentatonic scale over ALL three chords OR you can play the C Major pentatonic scale over the C Major chord, the A Major pentatonic scale over the A Major chord and the B Major pentatonic scale over the B Major chord.
Both options give you notes that stay within the key of C. The notes from within the scale you are playing are called diatonic. Because those notes all fall within the chord tones of the progression in the key you are in, then they will fit the music better than if you step outside the scale. Like with everything there are definitely exceptions to this. But it's a great starting point to jamming and learning how to play music.
The Minor Scale
Similar to above we are going to compare the note from the Natural minor scale (the Aeolian mode) to Dorian and Phrygian modes. This will give us the minor pentatonic scale.
Let's line up the three scales with the Natural Minor Scale (built from the 6th degree of the Major scale) at the top followed by the Dorian and Phrygian scales (built from the 2nd and 3rd degrees of the Major scale respectively).
Again if we play ONLY the notes that are in ALL THREE of the above modes we get the following scale:
The minor pentatonic scale consists of the 1, b3rd, 4th, 5th and b7th notes (of the Major scale that uses the same Root note).
This is the minor pentatonic scale and you can use it in the same way you would the Major pentatonic scale. If you are playing in a minor key then you can play the minor pentatonic scale using the Key progression as your Root note for the scale. So if the progression is in A minor then you can use the A minor pentatonic scale over the entire progression. On top of that, any time you see a chord that is minor then you can use the minor pentatonic scale with the same name over that chord. So in our progression above (C Major, A minor, G Major) from when we looked at the Major pentatonic scale, you can use the A minor pentatonic scale over the A minor chord.
This gives you many possibilities available. The above use of Major and minor pentatonic scales will allow you to play over ANY chord progression with scale tones that will fit the chords you are playing over.
We've only one more mode to compare - Locrian mode. It's got a b3rd in the scale so we going to compare it to the Aeolian scale along with the Dorian and Phrygian scales above. This is how I derive the blues scale. I've never seen it stated anywhere else that this is where the 'blue note' in the blues scale came from but it's pretty obvious to me that this is how we get it.
The Blues Scale
Adding the Locrian scale to the above minor modes we get:
Just as we did for the Major and minor pentatonic scales, we're taking notes that aren't included in all the scales with ONE exception. We're going to leave in the b5th from the Locrian scale. This gives us the blue note (the flat 5th) and adding it to the minor pentatonic scale gives us the blues scale.
So the blues scale consists of the 1, b3rd, 4th, b5th, 5th and b7th notes (of the Major scale that uses the same Root note).
When to use the Blues Scale
First of all you can use the blues scale over any blues progression. Blues progressions consists of I7, IV7 and V7 chords. I7 means it's a Major chord built from the Root of the scale/key you are playing in and has a dominant, or flat 7th note added to the chord. IV7 is similar except it's built off the fourth degree of the scale from the key you are playing in - and then it's a Major chord again with a b7th added to the chord. Similarly for the V7 chord.
The blues scale fits over blues progressions amazingly well. It's like magic really. Because you are playing Major chords (chords which contain intervals of a Major 3rd in them) using a scale that consists of a minor 3rd. So you've got a clash going on between the Major sounding chord against the minor sounding scale. This difference in tonality gives the magic of the blues. In theory anyway. The Real Deal with the blues is how you use those notes, especially using the b5 (flat five) that we introduced above. It's the magic and power of music. Unlike all the rubbish on this page - this is all music theory - it can help you understand why the Major pentatonic scale works so well over Major progressions and chords and why the minor pentatonic and blues scales work well over minor and blues progressions. But at the end of the day - it all means nothing without you playing music using your ears more than thinking about the above.
So why did we go through everything above - all the modes, all that time spent on it? Simply so that you can see how it's all bunch of technical theory that can REALLY be broken down into knowing just two scales. The Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale.
I'm going to write out more on chords and chord scale relationships along with the tab to playing the scales above, patterns you can use and build upon to add to your playing soon. Everything that I know builds on the above foundation.
Get used to the Major pentatonic and blues scales, get them under your fingers. ALL OVER your instrument, understand the above and I'll write up how you can expand upwards from those two simple scales in a way that will let you play EVERYTHING above (all the modes) AND MORE, but sticking to the simple idea that you really are just playing off two scales. The Major pentatonic scale and the blues scale. Consider every other note as note in between. Then you can really let it rip.
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