3N/S Patterns: Blues Scale

Recalling the Scales and Intervals series from a few weeks back (and we will be looking at the various intervals in the coming week), learning and memorizing scale patterns is probably the best way to build an arsenal of melodic licks.

As we’ve alluded to before, one of the most efficient ways to learn scales and cover some real estate on the neck is to use 3-note-per-string patterns. (“3N/S” seems like a convenient shorthand to use, hence the post title.) These patterns lend themselves very well to a variety of rhythmic and melodic sequences, many of which we’ll cover soon.

But first, let’s take a look at some scale patterns, starting with the blues scale. Unlike the diatonic major and minor scales, which have seven notes, or the five-note pentatonic scale, the blues scale has six notes (hexatonic). It is the pentatonic minor scale with an added flat fifth; intervallically, it’s spelled 1(R)-b3-4-b5-5-7.

Here’s the usual positional layout for the A minor blues scale, covering the first two of the five box positions:

Am Blues Scale

This is great if you want to remain in position, but if you want a convenient way to navigate, and come up with melodic sequences that are more efficient and easier to play at higher tempos, then the 3N/S style is really useful. Here’s how the blues scale looks in 3N/S:

Am Blues

It’s really just the same two-string shape, repeated three times across the neck, with position shifts. Just play the first two strings a few times at first to get the shape down; the first three notes are likely to be awkward to play at first, since about the only way to play that part is by using the third (ring) finger, a 1-3-4 fingering. Consider it a good way to get that tricky 3-4 fingering combination into shape. Play the shape ascending, and then back down, per the tab below:


If it’s too much of a stretch to start down at the 5th position, move the whole shape a few frets up.

Practice the entire sequence in a few different keys, in various positions along the neck. The first note is the root note, so if you start the sequence at the 7th fret of the low E string, it’s in B minor, 9th fret would be C#m, and so on.

Try this melodic sequence using the 3N/S pattern in sextuplets:


Use strict down-up alternate picking, take it slow at first and build up speed. Use a metronome to track your progress.

Stay tuned, we’ll have some other 3N/S scale and modal patterns over the coming week, as well as some sequences to try out on them!

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