What Is The Best Guitar Scale For Rock and Blues?

Zakk Wylde

So you want to know the best guitar scale for rock and blues? Well that’s simple.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale is the best guitar scale for rock and blues, especially one particular pattern. However, you can add various notes to that scale to form the Natural Minor Scale and the Blues Scale, which are also excellent for rock or blues! Let me show you how to do that.

I’m going to show you how to tweak this scale to fit many different musical situations in the rock/blues genres.

First things first. Let’s take a look at the basic pattern. We’ll be dealing in the key of A Minor for this article, but of course this pattern is movable and can be used in any key. The squares are the root notes of the scale, and there is tab below.

A Minor Pentatonic Scale

A Minor Pentatonic Scale 5th Position 6th String Root

E|---------------------5-8-
B|-----------------5-8-----
G|-------------5-7---------
D|---------5-7-------------
A|-----5-7-----------------
E|-5-8---------------------

This pattern runs through 2 octaves. I’ve already covered this scale pattern in previous articles here and here. I’ve already emphasized it’s one of the first ones you should learn. But now it’s time to dig deeper and learn why.

Why Is the Minor Pentatonic Scale the Best For Rock and Blues?

  1. Rock and blues are often played in minor keys and have a minor tonality (with many exceptions, of course). This scale contains a minor 3rd interval, which is what gives a chord or scale the minor tonality you feel when you hear it.
  2. It’s easy to play because it uses the same fret on all 6 strings (fret 5 in A Minor). This can be used as an anchor point for your index finger.
  3. Versatility. It’s easy to add extra notes to get the Blues Scale, and Natural Minor Scale. You can also shift the root up 3 notes (3 half-steps) higher and turn it into a Major Pentatonic Scale or Major Scale, without changing a single note.
  4. It is great for string bending. Like I mentioned, the index finger forms an anchor point, and leaves the ring finger to play many other notes. the ring finger is an excellent string to bend up to other notes that are also diatonic to this scale.

Here are the 5 intervals used in the Minor Pentatonic Scale.

  • Root/Tonic
  • Minor 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Minor 7th

Now, let’s add some notes to it and turn this into the Natural Minor Scale.

The Natural Minor Scale

The Natural Minor Scale is great for rock soloing and improvisation. With this scale, we add notes to our original Minor Pentatonic Scale pattern. We’ve added a Major 2nd on strings 6, 3 and 1, and also added a Minor 6th on strings 5 and 2.

The Natural Minor Scale is formed from when you make the 6th degree of the Major Scale the root of the scale. For instance, the scale diagram below uses the exact same notes as the C Major Scale, but moves the root down 3 half-steps. It’s the “G” pattern of the CAGED sequence of scales. Here it is with tab below, running through 2 octaves of the scale and beyond.

A Natural Minor Scale 5th Fret

E|-----------------------------5-7-8-
B|-----------------------5-6-8-------
G|-----------------4-5-7-------------
D|-------------5-7-------------------
A|-------5-7-8-----------------------
E|-5-7-8-----------------------------

Here are the intervals used in the Natural Minor Scale

  • Root/Tonic
  • Major 2nd
  • Minor 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Minor 6th
  • Minor 7th

The Blues Scale

Here is the blues scale, in A. It adds an extra note to the minor pentatonic scale. That extra note is the diminished 5th (or minor 3rd in a major key).

A Blues Scale

E|-------------------------5-8-
B|---------------------5-8-----
G|---------------5-7-8---------
D|-----------5-7---------------
A|-----5-6-7-------------------
E|-5-8-------------------------

You’ll notice here that there is an extra note added on strings 5 and 3. This is the “blue note.” It’s the one that gives the scale the “bluesy” or “sassy” sound. As mentioned, this is a diminished 5th, (or a minor 3rd if we move the root of the scale up 3 half-steps).

Play this scale, and you’ll be able to tell when you hit the “blue” note. It sounds distinct, as if it doesn’t belong there, but in a good way 🙂

Here are the notes in the Blues Scale (assuming a minor tonality).

  • Root/Tonic
  • Minor 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Diminished (flat) 5th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Minor 7th

How To Learn These Scales

Take your time learning these scales, each one individually. Take each scale, one at a time, and learn the notes first. After you’ve learned the notes, put on backing tracks and practice playing over them. Once you get comfortable enough playing the notes straight up and down the scale, start improvising with them.

There are countless backing tracks on YouTube that you can use to practice your improvisation. Just type in “a minor backing track” or “a blues backing track” and you’ll get all you need. Experiment with each scale over different rock and blues chord progressions to see which ones sound the best. Let your ear be your guide!

Also practice them in different keys. As I said, these scales are movable, so they can be used anywhere on the neck.

If you are interested in a great course to learn blues improvisation, check out this course on Truefire taught by the legendary Robben Ford.

Good luck!

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