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The Secret to Authentic Blues - How to Play the Blues Scale on Harmonica

Updated: Mar 7

The blues scale is one of the most important scales for playing authentic blues harmonica. It is the foundation of many blues solos and it can be used to make a variety of bluesy sounds. So how do you play the blues scale on harmonica?

❓ Prefer to watch a video - click here.

The Blues Scale in 2nd position

The most common way to play the blues scale on harmonica is using 2nd position (e.g. key of G on a C harmonica). Most blues songs are played in 2nd position so if you're learning the blues scale for the first time, this is the position to use.

Tabs tell you the hole number and the direction of airflow. Positive numbers are blow (exhale) notes, negative numbers are draw (inhale) notes. Some other symbols are used for more advanced techniques. (Check out my full tab guide.)

Here are the tabs for the blues scale in 2nd position:

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

You can also play the blues scale in 2nd position up an octave but it involves an overblow and an overdraw:

6 6* 7 -7* -8 -9 9

TOP TIP: Understanding positions

Check out the Positions Guide for more information.

The Blues Scale in 3rd position

The blues scale also works really well in 3rd position (e.g. key of D on a C harmonica). You can play the full scale in two octaves. Here's tha tab for the lowest octave, starting on hole 1:

-1 -2// -2 -3/// -3// 4 -4

To play it up an octave, start on hole 4. Here's the tab:

-4 -5 6 -6/ -6 7 -8

The Blues Scale in 1st position

It's also possible to play the blues scale in 1st position, but it's difficult because it involves overbends and blowbends. If you can do these techniques, the blues scale in available over the full three octave range of the harmonica.

Here's tab for the bottom octave, starting on hole 1:

1 1* -2// -2/ -2 -3/ 4

Here's the tab for the middle octave starting on hole 4:

4 4* -5 5* 6 6* 7

Here's the tab for the top octave, starting on hole 7:

7 8/ -9 9/ 9 10// 10

What is the Blues Scale?

The blues scale is a six-note scale that consists of the root, minor third, flat fifth, major fifth, minor seventh, and octave. It can be used to play a variety of different blues riffs and licks.

The blues scale is an essential tool for any harmonica player who wants to play authentic blues. With a little practice, you will be able to use the blues scale to create your own unique blues sound.

Tips for practising the blues scale on harmonica

Play the blues scale very slowly to begin with, up and down all the notes, trying to get them all sounding with the same tone and volume. Pay special attention to the bent notes.

Once you've got the notes, try playing a blues solo using only the notes of the blues scale. Use a jam track to reall get into the groove.

TOP TIP: Pro blues jam tracks

Check out my professional blues backing tracks!

Harmonica players often build entire solos out of familiar patterns. It's human nature, but it does mean you get stuck in a rut. To improve, you have to break these habits by putting those familar patterns aside. Once you notice yourself playing the notes in a certain order quite a lot, try to flip them or add/take away a note.

The lowest holes of the instrument are extremely expressive so it's important to get the most out of them. Try extending the blues scale in 2nd position down using these notes:

-2 -2// -1 -1/ 1

Practice going down and back up this set of notes, like you did with the main scale. This can be a great extension of your licks and phrases. Try using only these notes in a solo, like you did with the full scale earlier. It is sounds different, or feels difficult... great, that means you're expanding your playing!

Additional Tips:

Here are a few additional tips for playing the blues scale on harmonica:

  • Practice regularly. Muscle memory will make the scale much easier. A little goes a long way if you make it a daily routine.

  • Start slowly. Don't try to play too fast when you are first starting out. Focus on playing the notes correctly, especially the bends.

  • Listen to other harmonica players. Watch the video lesson above and see if your notes sound like mine.

I hope this lesson has helped you learn how to play the blues scale on harmonica. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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