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Beyond The Blues Scale: adding contrast to your harmonica solos

Updated: Oct 22, 2021

Today’s harmonica lesson is about adding contrast to your playing by mixing the blues scale with a lighter, more major sound.

Top 5 tips for adding contrast to your solos

  1. Lose your addiction to the blues scale

  2. Use the major third - you don't always have to bend the three draw!

  3. Vary the feel of solos by going between the blues scale and the major scale

  4. Consider context when deciding what notes will fit

  5. Don't be afraid to try something new - it's the only way you'll improve!

What's wrong with the blues scale?

Nothing! But you might be addicted to it. Other instrumentalists use a variety of scales to create contrast and keep listeners hooked. We can achieve this by practising not just the blues scale but also more 'major' sounding licks.

Context and contrast

This approach works in lots of different contexts, including blues. Some notes are often ignored by blues harmonica players (but - crucially - not by guitarists or other musicians). The worst culprit is the 3 draw. It's very tempting to bend this note to get the "blue third. This note is AWESOME but it's also great to use the major third (i.e. the 3 draw without a bend). Blues is all about the contrast between major and minor, and you can't show that contrast if you don't use any major notes in your playing. (Note: of course, if you’re playing a minor blues, stick to minor!)

Practice exercise

I've put together a simple practice exercise to help you get comfortable moving between the blues scale and a more major sound. It goes as follows:

-2 -3/ 4 -4/ -4 -5 6

6 5 -4 4 -3 -3// -2

-2 -3// -3 4 -4 5 6

6 -5 -4 -4/ 4 -3/ -2


The blues scale is great, but we can become overly attached to it which limits the range of our playing. Use the practice exercise above to expand your musical palette. Good luck!

Thanks for reading this! Let me know how you're getting on in the comments below.

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