The Supernatural Blues Scale

The beautiful thing about the minor blues scale [Ex. 1] is that it transcends the genre for which it is named—from blues, rock, and jazz to country, metal, and pop, it works over just about style of music. Of course, there’s another blues scale that is eternally useful—the major blues scale [Ex. 2], which is achieved by shifting the same fingering down a minor third (or three frets) without changing the root. (Notice both scales have the note A as the tonic.)

But from Wes Montgomery on up through Larry Carlton, many great players don’t restrict themselves to just one of these scales. Instead, they freely cherry-pick the juiciest scale tones from either and throw ’em into their saucy lead lines. What if somehow we could create a hybrid of the two scales—a mutated version that featured all tones from both scales? We can. The formula for such a scale is 1, 2, b3, 3, 4, b5, 5, 6, b7 (or, in the key of A, the notes A, B, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F#, G). I call it the supernatural blues scale, and one fingering for it looks like this [Ex. 3].

By fusing the major and minor blues scales as we have, this new scale puts many more tonal and harmonic options at our fingertips. For instance, Ex. 4 is a good example of how to spice up the ol’ minor blues scale with some “supernatural” tones—the 2, major 3, and 6—without straying far from the comfy 5th-fret pentatonic box. Ex. 5 presents an A minor line that has been injected with a major 3. (Bouncing back and forth between the major and minor 3—C# and C, respectively, in the key of A—can give a line a deliciously bluesy sound.) Crank up the gain and play this one as fluidly as possible.

Slippery multi-position lines [Ex. 6] as well as unpredictable string-skippers [Ex. 7] are easily generated with the supernatural scale, because when it comes to peppering melodic lines with spicy blues notes or generating angular phrases that surprise the listener, these nine notes—just three shy of a complete chromatic scale—offer limitless possibilities. Of course, the sooner you truly memorize the supernatural fingerings up and down the fretboard, the sooner you’ll reap the reward all improvisers strive for—the ability to forget the patterns entirely and just play music.