** As featured in issue 31 **
We've discussed in previous guitar lessons how the same note can be found in a variety of places on the guitar fretboard, and hopefully you are starting to find them with a bit more ease. We have also looked at the “well known” pentatonic scale shape often referred to as shape 1 and how to get the most out of it. The minor pentatonic scale is constructed using the Root – b3rd - 4th - 5th - b7th intervals (more about intervals in later lessons), in the key of A minor this gives us the following notes; A – C – D – E – G. These 5 notes can be found all over the guitar fretboard and it’s a good idea before you even look at the written out shapes provided to just try to find them yourself, you will find a vast number of ways to play the same 5 notes.
Over the years five “common” shapes have been taught as being the Five shapes, and that's what you will find on the attached Tab, and demonstrated on the video. You will also find the accompanying chord shape for each scale shape. The chord associated with minor pentatonic scale is the minor 7 chord; Root – b3 – 5 – b7, in A minor, A – C – E – G. I can’t stress enough the importance of learning the chord shape alongside the scale shape. Over my years of teaching I always drum home this point and it quite often falls on deaf ears, as people just want to get to the lead stuff! However, they will eventually have to play chords or play over changes and those that can visualise the chord shape and then the scale shape around it, always come out on top. I go into more detail in the video about how best to practice these shapes, plus recommended fingerings, so be sure to check it out. The five shapes are built from each degree of the scale; shape 1 starts from A, shape 2 from C, shape 3 from D and so on. All the five notes exists in each shape they just start from a different note, they don’t all have to start from an A note to be an A minor pentatonic scale. Now at this point you may be thinking, “If they all contain the same notes as good old shape 1, why do I need to learn five different versions of it across the fretboard?”
In short you don’t! Many a great player has been successful knowing very little in terms of scale shapes. As we have looked at in the past it’s what YOU do with it that makes the difference. However, I assume you are reading this article and magazine because you want to be the best guitarist you can be, and even the greatest will run out of ideas and end up sounding a bit repetitive using just that one position. Learning more shapes means you can spread yourself along the length of the fretboard moving between positions rather than just running up and down one box shape. This means a change in tone and often wider intervallic sounds, check out what guys like Eric Johnson do with just a good old pentatonic scale! It will give you more freedom to be expressive and hopefully get out the sounds you have in your head, it should also help you break away from that clichéd sound that this scale has a reputation for, it will make you play it in a different way.
These five shapes are also the five shapes for the Major pentatonic scale (which will also be covered in future lessons) so you don’t actually have to learn any new shapes. The pentatonic scale is five 7ths of a full on Major/minor scale, therefore the better you know these the easier it will be to learn their bigger brothers. Learning shapes in set areas of the neck will also help when it comes to playing over changes, as will visualising the chord shapes as mentioned above. Finally, knowledge is power! I don’t believe in the notion that “Knowing theory and loads of different techniques, will make me a colder player” that's something that lazy people say who can’t be bothered to learn new things! As with anything it's a matter of learning the new thing/concept in a set way and then applying it in a musical way which is the most important thing. As mentioned in the video the best way to learn these is to play the chord first then the scale built around it, using a metronome once you have the shape to memory is also a good idea.
If this is new to you then take it slowly and remember that people learn at different speeds, so don’t panic if your mate has all five shapes down in five minutes and you’re still struggling with shape 2 it doesn’t matter, music is not a competition!