Creating Custom Blues Scale Shapes

The very first scale a guitarist learns is often the minor pentatonic scale. The minor pentatonic scale is easy to familiarise oneself with and is incredibly versatile. After this may come the addition of the blues note – to make the blues minor scale. From there, a guitarist will probably branch out and learn other available scales, such as the full natural minor scale and the major scale and its modes. But wait. Let’s backtrack a bit here. There’s a lot more to “the blues” than you may think.

The first realisation that excited me was that I could play either a pentatonic minor scale over a typical blues progression OR a pentatonic major. They both sound ‘right’. The blues is a musical anomaly. Famous blues players make use of this concept all the time. Listen to some BB King songs and you’ll soon hear that some of his playing is a happy blues sound and some is a sadder blues sound. A good player will know how to mix the minor and major tonalities on the spot.

STEP 1: Superimpose the major pentatonic scale and the blues minor scale


The blue notes are “blues notes” or flat fifths and the red notes are major thirds. Try playing this mixed scale shape. You may find that it sounds too “full”. There are too many notes to really get any emotion out of it. I’d recommend that you use this scale shape to simply remind you of what notes are available to you. A better approach to mixing the scale shapes would be to pick and choose what notes you want to play from the mixed scale shape.

In other words – make a custom box position.

STEP 2: Using the mixed scale shape, create a CUSTOM BOX POSITION. Here’s a custom shape that I came up with and use frequently:


Be sure to make your own custom positions by choosing whatever intervals you wish to from the mixed scale. The more you make and learn, the better you’ll become at mixing the major and minor blues sounds! But, a word of warning: avoid playing major thirds over blatantly sad blues jams. It won’t work well at all. A good rule is to use mixed scales at your own discretion.

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