Last updated on October 25, 2019
If you’ve gotten tired of the minor/major pentatonic and blues scales when soloing over a blues, you may be wondering if there are any other scale options. The good news is that there are a few other scales that you can bring in to mix things up a little without straying too far from familiar territory. By familiar territory I mean the ‘Clapton’ blues box, as when trying to use a new scale a lot of players get frustrated because they can’t use it as well as they can use the pentatonic scale; this is of course to be expected, but frustrating, nonetheless. So, here’s a way you can incorporate three new scales into your blues soloing without feeling like you’re starting over.
Let’s say you’re preparing to wail over a blues in A but want to play something different. We’ll take the good old Clapton Minor Pentatonic Box and use it as a template to superimpose some other useful scales. Here it is in all its glory:
Now, in a 12-bar blues in A you can of course blow over the whole thing with one scale. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you keep it interesting, and land on the right notes. You may also want to experiment with changing scales as the chord changes i.e. play D minor pentatonic over the D7 and E minor pentatonic over the E7. This takes time and practice to get the hang of but it’s well-worth exploring. You can also apply the same logic to the following alternative blues scales, either stick to the same scale or change scale as the chord changes; it’s up to you.
Alternative Blues Scale 1: The Dorian Scale
The Dorian scale adds some interesting notes to the minor pentatonic, namely the 2 and 6 and gives it a funkier Santana-ish flavor. Here’s the Clapton box variation:
Alternative Blues Scale 2: The Mixolydian Scale
Here’s a great little hack to get to the Mixolydian scale from the Dorian scale. Simply raise the b3 to a major 3rd and you’re away. This will give you a Van Halen-ish, much brighter blues sound. Remember to keep the minor pentatonic box in mind as a reference.
Alternative Blues Scale 3: The ‘Robben Ford’ Pentatonic
One of the scales Robben Ford uses a lot to give a jazzier feel to a blues progress involves swapping out the b7 of the minor pentatonic for a natural 6 as follows:
This one is a little harder to ‘get hold of’ but persevere with it and you’ll soon hear some interesting results. You can, and should, tastefully incorporate the b5 wherever possible, and look for ways to change scales seamlessly.