Blues Guitar Institute

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How to Play and Practice the A Blues Scale

Lesson ID: TB092

This lesson is a sample from the Premium Level course called Sandpiper Stomp.  The tune we learn in the course is in the Key of A and in this lesson, we go into the scale that works nicely over an A blues shuffle.  You guessed it:

The A Blues Scale.

Blues Scale Formula

Every scale can be expressed as a formula. A scale by definition is a set pattern of intervals that never change. You can start the pattern from a different note, but the type of scale itself will still be the same. Just a different key. Make sense?

To illustrate this, we’ll look at the blues scale. Where “W” is a whole-step and “H” is a half-step, the blues scale formula is:

Root + WH + W + H + H + WH + W

You can start this sequence from an E note and you’ll end up with these notes:

E – G – A – Bb – B – D – E

For purposes of Sandpiper Stomp, let’s plug our root note, A, into the formula and see what we get. For the Key of A, the blues scale formula gives us these notes:

A – C – D – Eb – E – G – A

How to Learn a Scale

I believe strongly that the best way to approach learning a new scale is to learn the scale on one string. The reason is simple. Physically moving your hand up the neck connects the scale formula and the underlying intervals visually. A half-step in musical terms is equal to 1 fret on the guitar, a whole step is two frets, etc. Given this, you can actually see the steps in between each note if you play the scale on one string.

One String Version of the A Blues Scale

I’m not saying only practice your scales on one string, but learn them this way. And make this a part of your scale practice routine. The power that this approach has for really getting inside the scale’s construction can’t be underestimated.

To become a well rounded player, you certainly need to be comfortable on more than just one string (unless that one string is attached to a Diddley Bo!).

After learning the scale formula and applying it to the fretboard using the one string approach, you should learn where the notes of a scale are located when working across the strings.

Playing Across the Strings (A Blues Scale)

In the following example, we will repeat the scale in a higher octave.

Playing Across the Strings Higher Octave (A Blues Scale)

How to Practice Scales

I generally avoid the box patterns when I practice scales. I want to connect my eyes, ears and hands to the scale formula and my goal is to play that formula anywhere on the fretboard without falling on box patterns as a crutch.

Make sure to download the TAB for this lesson to get started learning scales with the one string approach and across the fretboard in several different positions.

When you are ready, there are two ways I can help you:

Back Porch Blues Course:  A proven system to fingerpicking the blues.  This step-by-step course guides you through building fundamental fingerpicking skills.  Plus, you’ll learn three levels of a delta blues style performance study to put your new skills into action.

Become a myBGI Member: Membership comes with access to Back Porch Blues plus over 70 step-by-step courses.  Get proven results with one of myBGI’s structured Roadmaps.

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