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Blues Scales for Bass Guitar: Music Theory & Examples Explained




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The blues scale is a staple of blues music and bass guitarists need to know it inside out. In this post, we will take a look at what the blues scale is, how to play it on bass guitar and what the music theory behind it is.

We’ll also look at some musical examples that use the bass blues scales and how to apply them in your own bass playing.

About The Blues Scale

The blues scale is a musical scale that is commonly used in blues, rock, and jazz. The scale consists of six notes, typically starting on the root note and ending on the fifth note.

The most common blues scale is the minor blues scale, but, as we’ll see in a moment, there is a major version as well.

The sound of the blues scale is easy to recognize because the blues scale creates it by inserting “blue” notes into the pentatonic scale.

Both the major and minor versions of the blues scale have different blue notes and understanding these will help you become a much more musical player.

The blues scale is often used to solo over minor chords or to create a “bluesy” sound. The scale can be played in any key and on any instrument.

How is the blues minor scale formed?

The blues minor scale is a minor pentatonic scale with an added flat fifth, making it a heptatonic scale. It is typically used in blues and jazz music.

The flattened fifth gives the scale a “blue” sound, while the other notes create a sense of tension and resolution.

The flattened fifth also creates some chromaticism in the scale, which gives the scale a very unique and slightly dissonant edge.

This can provide a sense of feeling or emotion to the music. The blues minor scale can be formed by starting on a given root note – A for example – and playing the following notes: flat third (C), fourth (D), flat fifth (Eb), fifth (E), flat seventh (G) and the octave (A).

How is the blues major scale formed?

The blues major scale is a modified version of the standard major pentatonic scale. It is formed by adding a flat third to the notes of the major pentatonic scale.

This gives the scale a more bluesy sound, hence its name. The flattened notes are known as blue notes, and they are an essential part of the blues sound.

Blue Scale Bass Patterns

The blues scale bass patterns are incredibly similar to those of the major and minor pentatonic scales.

This might seem like a coincidence at first but when you realise that the minor blues scale and the major blues scale are both modified versions of the major and minor pentatonic scales then the fact that blues scale bass patterns are so similar to pentatonic scale patterns starts to make much more sense.

To learn the blues scale bass patterns, it’s best to make sure you know the pentatonic scales first because you can simply add the relevant blue notes to the pentatonic scales to create either the major or minor blues scale.

The more you learn to play blues music you’ll see the blues scale bass patterns come up over and over again.

They really are that common!

Below you can download a PDF with a complete set of blues scale bass fretboard patterns.

The Twelve-Bar Blues

The twelve-bar blues is one of the most influential musical forms of the twentieth century. Though it originated in the United States, the twelve-bar blues has been adopted by musicians all over the world.

It is also the most common place that you will hear musicians use the blues scale in riffs, melodies, bass lines, hooks and fills.

The form is relatively simple: it consists of twelve bars, or measures, of music, with each bar containing three beats.

The structure of the twelve-bar blues lends itself to a wide range of emotions, from playful to mournful.

The style is highly adaptable, and has been used in genres as diverse as jazz, rock, and country.

The popularity of the twelve-bar blues shows no signs of waning; it remains an essential part of American music.

If you’re taking a solo over a twelve-bar blues then you can use the minor blues scale throughout the entire form.

However, if you want to be more advanced, try mixing in the major version of the blues scale.

Many great jazz players with blues roots like Oscar Peterson do this to great effect.

Blues Riffs

A blues riff is a phrase or phrase fragment that is usually repeated to create a hook or melodic focal point within a piece of music.

Famous Blues Riffs

Blues scale bass riffs like “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream are an excellent example of this.

Riffs in the blues typically use the 12-bar blues chord progression and are often based around the pentatonic scale, minor blues scale or major blues scale.

Riffs are also extremely common in blues bass playing.

While some riffs can be very complex, others are relatively simple and only require a few basic chords.

Many famous blues guitarists, such as B.B. King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, have built their careers on their ability to play catchy and memorable riffs.

Riffs can also be found in other genres of music, such as rock and jazz. However, the term “blues riff” is most commonly used to refer to the improvisational phrases played in the blues genre.


What is the blues scale on bass?

The blues scale is exactly the same on bass guitar as it is on any other instrument. The minor blues scale is a minor pentatonic with an added flat fifth and the major blues scale is a major pentatonic with an added flat third.

How do you play blues scales on bass?

It’s best to learn them using the scale diagrams provided in this post. Once you know them be heart, you’ll have no problem playing these scales.

Can you play the blues on a bass guitar?

Yes, you can! The minor blues scale (or any other scale) is playable on any instrument so that includes the bass.

What scales to use for blues?

Typically the minor blues scale, major blues scale, minor pentatonic and major pentatonic. However, more advanced forms of the blues such as a jazz blues will use more advanced scales that work with the more complex chords.

How do you play blues scales on bass guitar?

You can play blues scales on bass guitar by learning the pentatonic scales and then adding in the blue notes.

You can also use blues riffs, which are phrases or fragments of melodies that are commonly repeated.

Blues scale bass riffs are a great way to add some flavor to your bass lines. Finally, you can solo over a twelve-bar blues.

How do you memorize bass scales?

Bass scales can be memorized by practicing them regularly and associating them with chords. You can also use a mnemonic device to help you remember the intervals of the blues scale.

It’s also a good idea to work with scale diagrams and fretboard patterns to help you understand and remember the scales more easily.

What is the C blues scale?

The C blues scale is C, D, Eb, F, Gb, G, Bb and C. The major blues scale in C is C, Eb, E, G, A, C.

What does the bass do in blues?

The bass guitar in blues music often plays riffs and simple walking lines to provide the band with a solid sense of time and a foundation for the chords of the song.

How do you play blues riffs on bass?

Blues scale bass riffs are usually simple, repetitive and catchy. Try listening to great blues riffs like “Cold Shot” by Stevie Ray Vaugh or “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream to get a feel for how these riffs should sound. Then try making your own!

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2 responses to “Blues Scales for Bass Guitar: Music Theory & Examples Explained”

  1. juupeli Avatar

    The part “The major blues scale in C is C, Eb, E, G, A, C.” is missing ‘D’

    1. admin Avatar

      Ahhh typo! Thanks for pointing this out!

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