Category Archives: Theory

The Guitarist’s Best Buddy: The Blues Scale

Last week, I teased a scale with the 1-1 Block. I’ve decided not to keep you waiting, so here it is: The Blues Scale! Based on the minor pentatonic, it adds a note a tritone away from the root to make things interesting (This is also one of the “blue notes” in the context of the major scale. See? Jazz Theory really is a thing!). It’s easy to understand, simple to use, and acts as a good confidence builder by helping you make some “cool” sounds early on in your playing career. Worked for a 12-year-old me, that’s for sure…

The blues scale consists of four blocks. I have already taught three of them (Block 2, Block 3, and Block 1-1) and the fourth is an essential one I’ll get to next week. Every block starts on fret 5 here (That’s another nice thing about the blues scale – no position changes required), so you’ll easily figure where that fourth block is. Here you go!

Blues Scale Example

Usually, in guitar scale books, an extra note is added on the top string for the sake of uniformity. If you wish to add it, then move on from that last note in measure two to Fret 8 – completing Block 3.

So there you have it. It’s a scale that, despite its name, winds up in all sorts of contemporary music from… well… Blues to most Rock sub-genres. As an example of the latter, check out the middle of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” – specifically, the riff going into and out of the first guitar solo. Also, to go back a little further, most (if not all) of the King Crimson classic “21st Century Schizoid Man” is based on the blues scale. I could name more, but then I’d be typing all day. So… get searchin’ and you’ll find plenty of examples on your own. Have fun and I’ll see you next week!

Penta-what?!

Before we move on to the next block, I want to stop and talk about pentatonic scales for a second. I touched on them last time, telling you which blocks are used to play them. I’ll get to that, but first: What in the world does “pentatonic” mean?! Let’s break it down. “Penta-” means “five” – like, say, a pentagon. Or perhaps The Pentagon, if you prefer. SO: “Penta-” is “five”, “-tonic” is “tone” (sorry, not like “gin and tonic” this time. Go to the bar for that). Therefore, a pentatonic scale consists of five tones. The sixth note you play on one of these scales is the octave.

Today, I’ll give you both pentatonic scales and a melodic example based solely on Block 2. First, the minor pentatonic scale. Why the minor first? Because it’s ridiculously easy to play and practically a rock guitarist’s best buddy. It’s played entirely with blocks 2 and 3 and no position changes are required. Observe:

Minor Pentatonic

Now, the major pentatonic. Like the minor, this one uses just blocks 2 and 3, but two position changes are required. Note how strings 2-4 all start on fret 4 while the other three strings start on fret 5.

Major Pentatonic

As promised, the melodic example. Heavily inspired by the great Tony Iommi, this example is based off of the minor pentatonic and strictly uses Block 2. Click to big-ify:

Minor Pentatonic Example

Wait, what are those curve and line thingies? Glad you asked. The curve thingy is a slur, meaning the note on the other side of that mark is not picked. The line thingy denotes a slide – meaning you play and pick that note, then take your hand and slide it up two frets. IMPORTANT: leave your finger pressed down on the fretboard in order to get that second note.

And there you have it. Have fun with these and I’ll see you next time for Block 4.

Handy Dandy Little Reading Guide: String 1 = E, 2 = B, 3 = G, 4 = D, 5 = A, 6 = E. In tablature, string 6 is at the bottom of the staff while string 1 is at the top. The numbers on the lines tell you what fret to play and the lines themselves tell you what string to play.

A Note On Intervals

I know this post is a little long-winded, so here's a picture of a bunny.

I know this post is kinda long-winded, so here’s a picture of a bunny.

Before we get cracking in the guitar block system, let’s review a basic theory concept: INTERVALS. Why? Because they’re everywhere. When you move from note one to note two, that’s an interval. Guitars are tuned with two particular intervals. Even this guitar block system revolves around intervals. They’re everywhere!

So what is an interval? Well, the term Interval can be defined in five words: The distance between two notes. That’s easy enough, isn’t it? When you move from one note to another note, the distance you traveled to get to that second note is the interval. The guitar block system uses four specific intervals, so let’s talk about them now.

First up is the Minor Second, or, as it’s more commonly known, the Half Step. This is the distance from one note/fret to the very next note/fret. On guitar, that’s moving from, say, fret 3* to fret 4. On piano, this is moving from one key to the very next key.

Next is the Major Second, also known as the Whole Step. One whole step is equal to two half steps, skipping that weird note in the middle. On guitar, this is going from fret 3 to fret 5. On piano, this can be done by playing two white keys and skipping the black key in between.

Now for the thirds. The Minor Third is three half steps OR one and a half steps if you’re so inclined. Using the fret 3 example, this is now moving up to fret 6.

Lastly, the Major Third. This is either four half steps OR two whole steps, depending on how you’re feeling at the time. If you like the fret 3 example, then you’ll be traveling from fret 3 to fret 7. ALSO, the distance between String 2(B) and String 3(G) is a major third.

BONUS: The Perfect Fourth. One of three “perfect” intervals, so named because they give no indication if they’re major or minor. A perfect fourth is five half steps OR two and a half steps apart. With the exception noted above, guitars are tuned in fourths – therefore, the distance between two open strings (except for 2 and 3) is a perfect fourth. Using our favorite example, you would be traveling from fret 3 to fret 8. More commonly, though, you will wind up going from an open string to fret 5 on that same string.

Questions? Ask away in the comments. Otherwise, I’ll see you soon with the first block.

*If you wind up trying these fret 3 examples on string 1(High E) or string 6(Low E), your new buddy is called G. Elsewhere: Fret 3 is C on string 5(A), F on string 4(D), A-sharp or B-flat on string 3(G), and D on string 2(B).