Today is a little bit listening, but with a purpose, so maybe grab some coffee…

It’s not uncommon, if you’re kind of new to playing the blues, to think that the “same old” blues scale we all use a lot is not getting you what you want out of it.

In other words, people come to me and ask me to teach them other scales and sounds, and it took me a long time to realize that it wasn’t because they wanted to learn other scales, it was because they were not happy with the sounds they were hearing from their pentatonic and blues scales.

Believe it or not – those are two VERY different situations!

So, if you think that you need more notes, and that the pentatonic scale is not enough for you, I submit the following as proof to the contrary:

I’ve listened to, and watched that song a whole lot of times, and I have yet to find anything outside of the E minor pentatonic/blues scale.

Or how about something a little more on the traditional blues side like this:

Now, granted, Albert King played upside down so you have to use your ears on this one, but I can’t hear a single note outside of the minor blues scale, no matter how many times I listen.

So… the next time you feel like you need more notes to make your statement, spend some time listening and charging up your brain with ideas instead of running off to try to find more scales. The difference might surprise you.


    53 replies to "How Many Scales Do You Need?"

    • Mike T.

      I’ve signed up for SO many online guitar courses. They start you out with the minor pentatonic scale and before they have got us playing one little solo to make us feel good about ourselves they are introducing the major pentatonic and other scales. It’s so damn annoying and frustrating. Get us walking before we try to run! There must be hundreds of songs and solos that use nothing but the minor pentatonic scale. How be we get just FIVE under our belt before moving on? Is it too much to ask?

    • Mike H.

      Who’s that other guitarist with Albert King? He’snot playing upside down so I can see what he’s doing. Awesome players all. The more I work at it the more I realize how much I don’t know but the more appreciative I become of what they’re doing. That’s one reason for not giving up.

    • Bob K

      Added a wah pedal to my wish list after seeing another version of SRV playing Voodoo Child.

      I know box 1 of the scales you mentioned but all I can do is play them from low to high and from high to low. It sounds like I’m practicing my “do re mis” rather than making music.

      When I try to freestyle with box 1, it just doesn’t sound good. So what I need is not more scales — what I need to learn the notes rather than just the pattern, how to string them together, and then how to do same thing with more boxes.

      Minor blues and minor pentatonic are just fine for me…still a lot I can learn over time

      • Mike

        Maybe try this. Learn the same scale but limit yourself to one string, from fret-1 all the way up to fret-12. Start with the high e string and work your way down to the low E string doing the same thing with each string as you descend. Notice how the fret intervals between notes fall beneath your fingers and how the patterns are similar and/or different as you proceed. Try playing tunes and melodies along the way to break up the monotony.
        Griff has a lesson describing this method… somewhere. He explains it better than me.

    • juan

      fantastic video on what one can do with just one scale,,,you always preach that to us who have been following you for years,,,thank you

    • Michael Chappell

      Hey Griff , a good refresher watching SRV & Albert King, just an inspiration of what lies ahead. I never get bored practicing the pentatonic scales or blues scales, in fact just for a warm up I practice Box 1 and 2 of the Pentatonic scales..Sometimes just playing and exploring with the scales I try other notes and different ways to play them.. and come across some amazing sounds..

      So you are certainly the master here and all your courses have helped me progress and I am still yet to go through a few more..

      Many thanks

      Michael -Sydney-Australia July 15th 2020

    • Alexander

      Hey Griff, you’re so right. It seems to me if you play the right notes in that particular scale you’re playing in, you’ll have all of the notes you need to get your point across.
      Thank you

    • Tom

      I’m sorry, but when I see and hear SRV play, I just want to put my guitar away. There isn’t enough years left in my life to even come close to what he does so effortlessly. But I get over it and pull my guitar back out and just keep picking’ away at it.

    • Dale

      Stevie in particular was so much of a “guitar player’s guitar player”. I’m sure a lot of the audience seems so disconnected because they had no idea what a massive talent they were seeing displayed. For me, so much becomes obvious when he has his right hand totally away from the strings and is playing some riff that makes plain how many of the notes he is playing with his left hand alone. Also makes me aware that some day I have to stop just hating hammer ons and pull offs and start making mine audible instead of so weak that they’re nonexistent.

    • john strobel

      I’ve only gotten somewhat proficient with the pentatonic scale and so far not bored. There were several comments about the “right hand” and totally agree that too is critical. At the end of the day if I can master the pentatonic I’ll be ecstatic!! Griff thanks for the reminder.

    • Ed

      It is awesome what Albert King was playing with two fingers and SRV has rhythmic variations that would make a drummer jealous but they are both masters of timing and syncopation I believe the right hand and the ear is what most guitarists overlook and that is why they start looking for more notes that’s the way it was for me until I wised up

    • Dan

      I agree with Griff. For several years now, I turn on the blues channel and try to play along with whatever is playing (and usually do OK). And almost always, the pentatonic scale works. Sometimes they add in another note or two, but you can sound fine without them. If you’re going to get up on stage and jam, it’s great practice (and don’t forget Griff’s tripod of scales, blues licks, and full solos (if I recall that correctly). This will also help you memorize the pentatonic boxes (much more fun than playing the scale).

    • Eddie Lee

      Every single time I see live videos like the 1st one I cannot fathom how the audience are just sitting there like they’re being forced at gunpoint to attend the show! What in the actual heck!

    • Ricardo

      Combining the Major and minor blues scales, there’s only 3 other possible notes, anyway.

    • tony

      Did You say just box one I think I saw and heard a slight shift to box 2 . Sometimes it can be hard to tell the fingers seem to move a bit guess I will have to watch the back up guitarist for Freddy King a few more times . I just can only imagine what SRV would be doing today.

    • JR (London UK)

      As always Griff, you get to the nub of things. Complicated widdling does not maketh the hair stand up on the neck!! Wise reminders as always. Cheers!

    • Richard Croce

      Point well taken.
      Thanks Griff…..

    • Steve

      Stevei was never lost when he played. his euphonious phrasing was a testimate to his love for his incredible gift. We probably wouldn’t be talking about the pentatonic scale today he reserected the blues and brought great artists back to life. If the blues is from the soul then Stevie Ray’s sound was truly from the heart.

      Mr. Hamlin your dedication to your craft keeps our journeys alive…

      Best Regards


    • Alexander

      Thanks again Griff, I took away from this is that you have to use that creative side of your brain 🧠 to use the pentatonic scale to get the sound and musical expressions you want. Your lessons always give me something to work on! Thanks again!🎸

    • Jan

      Hello Griff

      First of all thanks for your help for the last three years.
      I cannot read your last two videos because there is a padlock in my browser. !
      « Simple ways to play tons of songs »
      I can hear the track
      Can I do somerhing ?

      Jan from France

    • Kevin

      In playing I suppose my greatest gift was the way I felt on the willingness to express myself.-Eric Clapton

      By itself a letter is meaningless it doesn’t matter how many there are but when we use them to create word to express what we want to express at any given moment that’s when we touch the one listening to us

    • Bob S.

      Looks like Stevie Ray was playing Voodoo Child on Austin City Limits. I couldn’t help but notice that the audience wasn’t nodding along with the music or shaking their bodies or appreciating what they were watching very much until the applause sign lit up after his number. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do with a Jimi classic. Pearls before swine, evidently. Albert’s rhythm player’s solo was awesome, as was Albert’s undeniable great style…..finger splint & all! At least Albert’s audience appreciated the virtuosity they were lucky enough to be seeing! Thanks Griff. As usual, you’re so dead bang on, having made your point with great examples. Cheers!

      • Eddie Lee

        I am witchu, Bob!

      • Dan

        I suspect the Austin City Limits folks requested the audience remain seated and quiet during the performance. People can attend tapings of the ACL shows for free, if they can win an entry, so it’s not like they’re paying customers.

    • Phil Ricossa

      Point well taken—-unbelievable!

    • John D.

      Is that a splint on Albert’s third finger? Maybe I should break two of mine. Maybe one on the right, too. I would sound like Stevie and Albert combined.

    • michael hechler

      Thanks Teach, point taken 🙂

    • greggo

      I’m not the biggest SRV fan but I must say that is the best version of VooDoo child I have heard since Hendix.

    • Dave D

      It seems speed, Lots of notes and excessive overdrive dominate the guitar world today rather than soul, emotion and what the blues is meant to reflect in our lives! Griff is right, don’t worry about the speed or number of notes or different scales, instead let the music and the guitarist emotions convey the beauty of the song so it moves us! Play less with more feel and watch and hear your improvement! I have nothing against playing fast or a string of notes, but since working to play less with more emotion and let the song speak makes my playing so much more rewarding and pleasing! Just my thoughts through years of listening to other guitarist, and evolving as a guitarist.

    • Tom

      I like to work around the fretboard using various patterns of pentatonic and blues scales even going between the octaves. I just don’t do well when I try other scales. Or that proficient. I generally stay in the key and play wt the 5 boxes not necessarily playing to specific cords wt specific scale. If that makes sense. It works. Follow the feel of the music.

    • Jeff

      Let’s see if I have the blues rules down.

      1 Bad Luck and Trouble’s my only friend

      2 If it wasn’t for Bad Luck, I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

      That just about covers it, I think.

      • David

        You’re right that does about cover it, very clever, at least he’s got, one friend.

    • DaveyJoe

      Sorry…can’t read Jezz.

    • John Sobuto

      Thanks for the chance to hear what we all attempt to play.

    • Tony Edd

      5 note leads…..thats where the soul takes over…..if we let it

    • Gary Hylton

      Hi Griff,

      Pattern 1 of the pentatonic minor scale has worked for me going on 62 years. It is the feeling, timing, and nuances that keep it alive and well.

      Thanks Griff for helping those of us who play guitar – play a little better!

      Old School a.k.a. Woodstock

    • Terry b

      Thanks again griff, your timing on this was perfect for me. Was just having one of those practice weeks where one session went well and the next was like I just couldn’t find the groove. So thought I needed to explore other ways to get some better or more notes into my blues playing. This showed me I needed to “stop trying so hard,to try so hard”( from the disorderly orderly movie) and just relax and play without over thinking it.

    • Mark d

      Great article Griff I’ve said it before in the Forum that I had read once that the bars hold the Tiger The Space Between the Bars bars hold the music! Tasty pauses single notes vent to the right pitch are awesome. It’s nice to be able to shred but it is absolutely not necessary thanks Griff you shined a big ol light on My Guitar World 🙂 keep them coming!

    • Denis BOUCHARD

      The proof, again and again, that a big lot of notes do not give realy the music feeling.
      Thank you for all.

    • Greg B.

      Excellent! I agree with all the comments and admire both artists! Griff, your blogs and lessons have been very helpful, I’m a living room guitar player, but have added a lot to my musical tool box thanks to you. I find that I think to much when I play, but when I’m in the zone the magic happens.

      Again, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us it makes a difference!

    • Ken m

      Great examples , saw something the other day , some fella was rating the top ten guitarist in all time and SRV didn’t make his list . Go figure . To me every song that jimmi did and was performed by SRV he managed to do better . But when u can start with something Jimi did and embellish it that’s not bad . But at least we have that totally different style and genious he left for us . Just my opinion

    • Tom

      A great reminder it’s about how you attack the notes just as importantly as which notes you choose. Thanks Griff!

      • Tony Edd

        attack and massage and pause

    • Mike

      WOW! I really miss those two. Thank goodness for video and Griff.

    • cowboy

      a little timing and a little “sugar” (as Griff says) can do wonders for just a few notes…this is where the skill really lies…getting the most out of a few notes…later.


    • Joe Lamere

      Man, That was a good cup of coffee!!!!!

    • Ed Tucker

      And, Albert had a broken finger too! 🙂

    • Roy

      “So… the next time you feel like you need more notes to make your statement, spend some time listening and charging up your brain with ideas instead of running off to try to find more scales. The difference might surprise you.”

      Indeed so! Thanks for the reminder.

    • pete

      I guess we all have our heroes and Stevie Ray is certainly one of mine. This is one of his finest performances in my opinion, demonstrating his incredible technique and as Griff says sticking largely to the blues scale. It comes out in Eb because he tuned heavier strings down a half-step, and he used to use the shoulder side of a Fender Heavy pick, I believe. If you listen to Jimi’s original and then this it’s amazing how much he has captured what Jimi was saying. Interestingly a lot of the melodies within his impro seem to follow the original. He must have worked on it a long time to get it like that, but to do it that well in a live performance shows talent I could only vaguely dream about.

    • William Roth

      Point made . But the personality of both of these players screams out
      wit h every note. It is not so much what you play, but how you play it . Keep up the great work!

    • Jezz

      We all get stale and just bang out the same old patterns, the real art is to keep your imagination alive. Still working on that one but it is good to be reminded of it every now and again
      Thanks griff

      • DaveyJoe

        Gotta agree with ya Jazz!


        • DaveyJoe

          I meant JezZ.

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