I am currently learning the guitar, particularly solo-ing, and teaching myself by figuring out the Blues scale in various keys. At the moment I'm looking at the key of E.

The way I understand it (may be incorrect) the Blues scale is based on this formula:

1 b3 4 b5 5 b7

That should mean the Blues scale in key of E becomes:

E Gb A Bb B Db

However, in a lot of places, not the least being the very highly-rated Guitarist's Reference app on Android, the scale is said to be:

E G A Bb B D

Being a newbie I'm struggling to find the reasoning behind this, and how it applies to other keys. Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.


2 Answers 2


That notation (1 b3 4 b5 5 b7) is used to relate a scale to the major (ionian) scale. It shows which scale degrees should be flattened or sharpened (and by how much) relative to the major scale.

So, you should start with E major scale, not E minor or E phrygian (natural notes from E to E: E F G A B C D). E major scale is of course 1=E 2=F# 3=G# 4=A 5=B 6=C# 7=D#. Because these are the notes that the famous W W H W W W H (W=whole, H=half, two frets and one fret on guitar respectively) formula produces when you start with E.

If you apply the formula 1 b3 4 b5 5 b7, you end up with E G A Bb B D, which is what you found. Because the flats in b3 and b7 cancels the sharps of G# and D#.

  • AHA!!! Correct formula, wrong starting point! Thank you, that cleared it up perfectly.
    – codedog
    Commented May 21, 2014 at 0:41

Surprisingly, this question hasn't spawned an answer regarding the other blues scale - the major blues. Notes constituting this are E, F#, G, G#, B, C#. In E major. Not quite as much used as the minor blues, as it essentially works only over major chords, whereas the minor blues works over major, seventh and minor chords.

Your translation of notes for the minor blues scale is skewed - they are in fact E, G, A, Bb, B, D, and can be played for just about any blues in E, but it's good to also be able to throw in those other notes previously mentioned in this answer.

  • It works over major chords AND seventh chords. It doesn't need the 7th to work over 7th chords (as long as you don't add a major 7th). It is often used over the I7 chord, and over the IV7 chord one could switch to the (minor) blues scale.
    – Matt L.
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 8:03
  • @MattL. - good point, although care needs to be taken with the 6th note (C# here) as it'll clash with that b7 - unless a 13th is intended.
    – Tim
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 8:11

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