In my experience, blues guitarists typically focus on two areas when it comes to lead guitar playing.
The first of these is the minor pentatonic scale. This is often the first scale that guitarists learn. And for many players it is where they focus their efforts for many years. This makes sense, as the minor pentatonic scale is of fundamental importance to the blues. Not only this, but it is a hugely versatile scale from which guitarists can build an impressive musical vocabulary.
When they want to branch away from the minor pentatonic scale, some players also learn the blues scale, and subsequently the major pentatonic scale. This broadens their musical vocabulary and provides them with the opportunity to create different textures and feels in their playing. If you are not comfortable and familiar with these ideas, then I would recommend working through the following courses in order before continuing here:
- An Introduction To The Minor Pentatonic Scale
- Creating Solos With The Minor Pentatonic Scale
- How To Connect The 5 Pentatonic Shapes
- An Introduction To The Blues Scale
- An Introduction To The Major Pentatonic Scale
- Creating Solos With The Major Pentatonic Scale
There is a lot of material there. And in fact you could play nothing beyond the minor and major blues scales and have a lifetime of varied and fulfilling practice.
However, once guitarists feel comfortable with this material, they often understandably look for ways to expand their musical vocabulary. And at this stage, many players dive straight into the modes.
There is a lot of material on this topic online. And as such the term ‘mode’ has become a bit of a buzz word. In fact, a lot of players have come to view learning the modes as a rite of passage; they feel that it signifies their transition to a more advanced level of playing.
In a way, this makes sense. Truly understanding and being able to target the modes is a big step forwards for most players. It opens up the fretboard. And it gives you access to a range of sounds that are not possible with the pentatonic and blues scales.
The problem however, is that most players work towards this point in quite a piecemeal way. They put together snippets of articles and YouTube videos. They then try to apply the modes in their playing, without understanding what they are and how they work. And this is problematic. It prevents players from being able to use the modes properly, and leaves them with large gaps in their understanding.
This is because there are some fundamental elements you need to understand before reaching this point. And this is where we encounter the major scale.
The major scale
As I explain in the video above and will explain in further detail throughout this course, the major scale in the form that we are discussing here does not have the same easy and obvious application as some of the scales that you might have encountered up to this point.
It does not have a distinctly bluesy sound or feel. And its shapes do not form comfortable patterns under the fingers, like those of the minor pentatonic scale. In fact, the major scale has a much more traditional and classical feel, and is rarely (if ever!) used in a blues or blues rock context.
It is for this reason that I say that the major scale occupies somewhat of a strange space for blues guitarists. It doesn’t have an obvious practical application. And it is not something that you are likely to use straight away in your playing.
Despite this, there are two very important reasons to learn the shapes of the major scale and understand how it is constructed. These are as follows:
You cannot effectively use the modes in your playing without understanding the major scale. The modes are built from the major scale. And so if you want to approach the modes in a logical and structured way, you first need to start with the major scale. This will help you to get up and running with the modes. And it will allow you to do this quickly and effectively.
Taking the opposite approach – and looking at the modes before the major scale – is like trying to build a house by starting with the roof. You might be able to utilise some of the modes in your playing. There will however, be significant gaps in your knowledge. And ultimately the whole process will take longer and be more laborious than if you were to work through it in logical order.
So whilst you might not immediately start using the major scale in your solos, it will set you up to start using the modes. And using these modes when the time is right will do a lot to push your blues lead guitar playing to the next level.
In my experience, understanding how music ‘works’ and applying that to the guitar is one of the biggest challenges for most players. It can be difficult to know where to start. And it is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the resources out there. Either that, or you might find yourself in a position where you understand pieces of theory, but there are significant gaps in your knowledge.
To understand music theory as it applies to the guitar does require work and time. Yet the journey can be made quicker and smoother by learning the major scale. This is because the major scale provides the foundations of western classical and popular music. And this includes blues and blues rock music.
The major scale helps us to understand the creation of chords and chord progressions. And in turn this helps to give us an appreciation of how songs are constructed.
So if you want to deepen your knowledge of theory and understand more about the music you are playing, learning the major scale is an important step. It will provide you with many pieces of the theoretical puzzle. And this will either give you a solid foundation on which you can build, or it will help to fill in some of the gaps that you might have in your knowledge.
This course is designed to provide you with everything you need to get up and running with the major scale. We will cover:
- The construction of the major scale and how it compares with the scales you might currently be using in your playing
- The shapes of the major scale, and the different ways you can play these shapes
- How you can use the major scale practically in your playing
- Understanding the role that the major scale plays in the construction of modes, as well as in chord creation and chord progressions
Before you head over to the next video and dive in, I think it is worth noting that this material is aimed at guitarists who are looking to move beyond the minor and major pentatonic scales. So if you don’t yet feel comfortable using those in your playing, I would recommend following the various courses listed above before continuing.
Otherwise, when you’re ready to do so, head over to the next lesson! There we will look at what the major scale is and how it is constructed. See you over there 😁