Let’s say I want to solo over a 12-bar blues using a variety of scales – this is my goal.
First, let’s choose some blues scales to use:
How NOT to do it:
What a lot of players would do is start running their five or seven patterns for each scale in random keys up and down the neck, put on a 12-bar blues backing track and start wailing away trying to cram the four scales into every bar.
You can imagine the results are going to be pretty hit and miss, and you won’t have acquired the skill of being able to solo over a 12-bar blues with a variety of scales; what I mean is that it’s going to be hit and miss every time you do it.
What to do
1. Reflect on the Goal. The goal is not asking you to learn every permutation of four scales all over the fretboard in every key. The goal is asking you to produce a solo over a 12-bar blues using a variety of scales, so the question you should be asking yourself is, ‘what’s the essential information I need to be able to do this?’
2. Less is Always More. Let’s work in one key – the key of A because it’s a very popular blues key. Let’s use one position for each scale in the same area of the fretboard – this is because a) you rarely need five positions of a scale to solo over a chord for a couple of bars; b) we don’t want to be jumping all over the fretboard to the bits of the scales you know best; and c) if we stay in one area of the fretboard, we can leverage information we already know such as the first position of the major and minor pentatonics, the blues scale, and perhaps the mixolydian scale. We can also see where the chord tones fall and best of all, how the scales overlap.
3. Gather Resources. The resources we need to get this done are as follows: 1) Scale patterns for each of the four scales in the same area of the fretboard, let’s say between the 5th and 8th frets. 2) Some kind of guide as to what scales to play over what chords in a 12-bar blues.
Here are the four scale patterns we need in A:
Here are the scale choices for each chord in the 12-bar blues progression:
From this table you can deduce that if all else fails, you can blow over the whole progression with the A Minor Pentatonic scale – this is our safety net, but not our goal. If you haven’t really practiced like this before, you’re about to see that blending scales in one position is daunting enough, let alone trying to juggle 5 shapes for each scale as the changes go by.
Wait, we need some more information. Here are the scales to use over the IV chord (D7):
Download the chart plus all the scale patterns in one handy PDF cheat sheet below: