I sometimes read about the major and minor blues scales. Now, this makes me a bit confused. Are there really two kinds of blues scales? I was told that in a 12 bar blues you play the I chord for 4 bars. Now, a piano teacher told me that in some blues the IV chord could be played in the second bar. What kind of blues would that be?

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    There are many questions here and they are a bit unclear Jun 7, 2015 at 14:45

3 Answers 3


What you probably mean by minor and major blues scales are the two following scales (with root C):

C Eb F Gb G Bb (minor blues)

C D Eb E G A (major blues)

These are just the minor and major pentatonic scales with one note added. The minor pentatonic scale gets a b5 (Gb), and the major pentatonic scale gets a b3 (Eb), both to make those pentatonic scales sound bluesier. Note that both scales are modes of each other, i.e. the C minor blues scale and the Eb major blue scale have the same notes.

A standard blues uses dominant seventh chords on the I, IV, and V. For such a blues both scales can be used. The minor pentatonic scale with the added b5 (which I and many other people refer to as the blues scale) works well over all 3 chords. What some people call the major blues scale works well over the I chord, but not all of its notes work so well over the other two chords, so you have to be a bit more careful with that scale. [Note that I refer to the use of one scale with the root of the I chord over all three chords. If you change the root of the scale with every chord change (e.g., C major blues over C7, F major blues over F7, and G major blues over G7), then there are no notes that must be avoided.]

A totally different thing is a minor blues, which can be recognized by the fact that at least the I and the IV chord are minor seventh chords. In this case you obviously can't use the major pentatonic (or blues) scale, but only the (minor) blues scale.

The IV chord in the second bar, which your teacher referred to, is just a variation of the standard 12-bar blues (with dominant seventh chords), and it does not really influence the choice of scales, other than that you get a chance to sound horrible already in the second bar if you're not careful with the major blues scale.

As a final note, there are many scales that can be played over a standard 12-bar blues (if you're not afraid of sounding a bit unconventional). Guitar player Oz Noy gave a nice (albeit slightly artificial) example at a clinic: read about it and have a listen!

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    Interesting that the C major blues notes are the same as A minor blues notes. Rather like C maj pent. and A min pent. notes. And C full major and A natural minor notes.
    – Tim
    Jun 7, 2015 at 15:48
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    @Tim: Yes, they are modes of each other. Because major and minor pent. scales are modes of each other, and the added note is chosen such that this property remains unchanged.
    – Matt L.
    Jun 7, 2015 at 15:50
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    A couple of extra tips: The standard approach for using the major blues scale on a 12 bar (dominant) Blues progression is to use it whenever the I7 chord appears in the first 8 Bars of the progression, and use the Minor Blues scale for the rest. Both the blues scale and the major blues scale should be used on the root of the whole song, if you want to switch scales every chord use pentatonics or arpeggios. So unless there is a key change, you use only one blues scale and possibly one major blues scale along with it.
    – Jay Skyler
    Jul 4, 2015 at 12:14
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    @JaySkyler: You can't use the major blues scale with the root of the I chord over the IV chord, at least not all of its notes (e.g., in C, you can't use the note E of the major blues scale over the F7 chord, which contains an Eb). This is different from the standard (minor) blues scale, which can be used over all 3 chords.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 4, 2015 at 12:42
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    @JaySkyler: Yes, but you wrote "both the blues scale and the major blues scale should be used on the root of the whole song", which is not the case for the major blues scale. And by the way, you can use D blues and E blues over the respective chords, if you know how to. See this example.
    – Matt L.
    Jul 7, 2015 at 11:09

"Now, a piano teacher told me that in some blues the IV chord could be played in the second bar. What kind of blues would that be?"

I'm not sure whether it's local terminology but among the jam sessions I frequent, this is called a fast-change blues. You play the IV chord in the second bar then return to I, then go to Iv again after a total of 4 bars as you would in the usual blues progression.

Essentially you're just putting a IV chord in for the second bar, just for that bar, just for a bit of effect. An example would be "Drink that bottle down" by the Stray Cats

  • Let's say I find a nice blues melody "hook" in the A minor pentatonic scale.
    – user20754
    Jun 8, 2015 at 16:40
  • Let's say I find a nice blues melody "hook" in the A minor pentatonic scale. It would be easy to leave it like that. Now, if I'm writing a blues song for only piano it would be kind of boring if I just had: a melody and A-E and A-F# (that classical shuffle) in the left hand. Questions: 1. How can I make the right hand more interesting and still keep the "hook" that I came up with? 2. If I have a song with a minor pentatonic scale will that become a major or minor blues (is the terms major and minor really blues terms?)? 3. Can I use other scales as well, eg the blues scale, for this song?
    – user20754
    Jun 8, 2015 at 16:53
  • @Hank I was confused about major/minor blues scale too - but I play by ear so i'm not so famiiar with all the terminology. Jun 9, 2015 at 8:38
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    @Hank re making right hand more interesting and still keeping the hook : You could look at transitional chords - eg Hoagy Carmichael's "the old music master" is in C (it's not a blues progression) but has a part whcih goes C - F#7 - D7 - Dm - C while the melody is fundamentally in a C scale. those chords look like they ought not to work at all but they fit very well. Jun 9, 2015 at 8:45
  • @Hank Re other scales: You can use any scale you want. There aren't any rules in music or art, just established things that sound familiar/nice. But for example: you could take it from Am to Cmajor and keep the same melody (or scale) for an uplifting chirpy chorus. A few songs do this like Paul Simon's "The Boy In The Bubble" or Genesis' "That's all". If you want to find your way, I'd suggest experimentation at the keyboard rather than paying too much heed to theory as a defining way of achieving a mood. The mood is in the playing :-D (but then I would say that, as I play by ear haha) Jun 9, 2015 at 8:46

Blues scales don't exist, they are licks.

Ex chord I7 (ex in C) : can compose any blueslick with combinations of ...

Descending: Notes triad mixed with descending (doubled) appoggiaturas : C Bes A G // G Fis F E // E Es D C Sadness - Downwards ( rem. Bes here is not a chord note!)

Ascending: Notes triad mixed with +ascending appoggiaturas: C D Dis E // E F Fis G // G A C Hope - Pentatonic

Same principle for other degrees(Chordnote=>appoggiaturas=horizontal motion=>chordnote) Appoggiaturas create also the possibility tu use in the chord nested harmonic functionalities."

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    Albert - it's very difficult to understand what you are trying to say here. Matt describes the normal meaning of blues scales, so I think your first sentence doesn't work - and the rest is unreadable (to me)
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jul 12, 2015 at 17:26

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