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Modes vs Pentatonic Scales used in Blues


Total Posts: 4

Joined 2014-01-29


Here's my question:
I am a returning guitarist after being dormant for nearly 20 years.
I was a very active heavy metal lead guitarist in the 80's often being the only guitarist in bands.

I primarily played modes and scales such as harmonic minor, but now that I've returned to guitar land I only wish to be a blues guitarist. And not a hard rock blues player either. Nope, I want to be a blues guitarist in the purest sense.

However, I am having to re-teach myself to use pentatonic scales. I'm loving it, especially the major scales, but I constantly want to revert to playing modes.

How do modes work interchangeably with pentatonics? Do they? For instance; using a Dorian in place of say, the first position of a minor pentatonic, or a Phygian when you'd typically use a first position Major Pentatonic?

Does this work? Or is it just a bad idea?      

Total Posts: 71

Joined 2013-12-26


Well, you could begin your second position pentatonic scale on the second note of the 1st position position scale and call it Dorian mode although it's technically not correct if you're playing the minor pentatonic. But I'd put the modal stuff on the back burner. The most important relationship to get is that of major pentatonic to minor pentatonic.

You can either move your 1st position minor pattern down 3 frets to get the corresponding major position or play the 2nd position minor as if it started on the 1st note of the 1st position in the key you are playing and you're good to go. As an example of the latter in the key of A you would simply overlay the second position minor pentatonic form beginning at the 5th fret as opposed to it's otherwise minor position beginning at the 8th fret (referring to the low E string here).

Check out Brian's Blues Course and you should have things pretty well covered although he omits the lower octaves of all but the 1st position for practical reasons. No modes needed. He's got a couple of videos on the major/minor pentatonic relationship, as well. Good stuff.


Total Posts: 228

Joined 2013-01-21


Hi Thomas

The topic of modes and there use is a huge one. You will find that players influenced by Jazz use modal thinking more than pure blues players. Robin Ford has some lessons on U Tube you might try those. Joe Pass as well

In metal you were playing mostly over "power chords" with just the root and fifth and most often implying a minor tonality. Blues are usually played over a chord that has the third defined and may well be a minor blues but make some of your modal ideas very dissonant.

If your interested in "Gypsy Jazz". Django Reinhardt etc your Phrygian licks will work well

Pentatonics are usable over a entire progression in some blues but modal and scale ideas may require more of a multi root thinking. If your comfortable with this it can open up some great ideas but many find it a little confusing.

In the key of C you could play C Mixolydian over the C, F Mixolydian over the F and G mixolydian over the G for eg.
Heres the sound of Mixolydian http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk0BoZBdvqI

More usefull than the scales and modes are the arpeggios that may be contained within them.

In blues we see the use of minor ideas like the minor pentatonic used against a major chord. (major against minor though is not a good idea)
Expanding this idea to using other minor based harmonies is a staple of blues based Jazz. Intros, turnarounds etc are great places for these. Try a Harmonic or Melodic minor two five one as an intro and see.
In minor modes and scales the Five chord is usually an altered chord (the 5th and/or 9th are raised or lowered).
The five chord in blues is a great place to employ some of these ideas. The dissonance only serves to aid the need for these chords to resolve to the 1 or tonic chord.
Try some of your Phrygian and Dorian ideas over the 5 chord when it goes to the 1 chord next.


Total Posts: 71

Joined 2013-12-26



Here's another good link for for you if you're looking to put some jazz notions and modal interpretation into your blues playing . Take a look at the sample chapter and have fun!



Total Posts: 59

Joined 2012-12-08


basically modes are all about using different intervals in any given scale (flats/sharps in the major or minor) for blues ,, try finding the(two blues notes)off the minor pentatonic scale. than after that , try learning other intervals in that scale using all seven of the mode intervals in the key of A minor and major pentatonic.. from there try in different keys (on all the frets)      

Total Posts: 34

Joined 2014-01-31


I had posted a comment here, but the more I read it the more inappropriate and less edifying it seemd, so I used the edit feature to remove it.




Les from Chicago