** As featured in issue 33 **
In the last few guitar lessons we've been getting to grips with the minor pentatonic scale dotted around the fretboard. Hopefully by now you should have the five scale shapes under your fingers, plus the related chord, and be able to move between them using the various guitar exercises and methods I have discussed.
This is all great, but one of the most frequent questions I get asked is “How do I use this knowledge musically/in context?” It's great if you are thinking along these lines as it means you are not just content with aimlessly blazing up and down each pattern as fast as you can. Let's face it, anyone that has a genuine interest or passion in music does not want to hear you blazing up and down FIVE shapes of the minor pentatonic scale at 700 bpm (apart from maybe the odd guitar geek), it doesn’t make any musical sense. Therefore, we must learn/practice how to use this tool as with anything else we learn on the guitar in a musical way.
The simple answer is to just spend hours and hours playing around and improvising with the shapes, you need to be able to improvise with all the shapes equally as well as good old shape one. Some of the ways to do this we have discussed in the past, such as isolating one shape and improvising in just that position, introduce a neighbouring shape, rinse and repeat. The only way to get better and more musical at this is to put the time in, a lot of time, there is no shortcut.
However, there are some things we can do and learn to help us on our musical quest. Listening to other players and transcribing lines that you like, in this case players that use and are known for using the pentatonic scale a lot, learn a couple of their phrases, but most importantly learn from them. Which shape/s did it come from? What was the underlying harmony? How far did they bend that note? Did they transition across various shapes or keep it all in one area? Then spend some time with that lick getting it into your own playing, change it rhythmically, play it in different keys and styles, don’t just steal it and make it your own. Confession time. I didn’t/don’t spend as much time as I should transcribing other players, I used to when I was younger but then other things got in the way. However, when I have I always find it hugely beneficial and think I should do more of it. There is one short Coltrane line that I learnt many years ago and I use it A LOT - to the point of annoying myself!
In this lesson I have written some licks and ideas that link the various shapes together in hopefully a musical way. In the video I go through and explain each lick, break it down and demo it so be sure to check that out. These licks are also written out in the TAB attached. They vary from crossing between 2 – all 5 shapes, and will work in a variety of styles. Some of these are actually pretty tricky because of the construction of the scale some of the interval leaps become quite large, but I think they will sound totally different and give you a different approach and way of thinking about the classic minor pentatonic sound. As mentioned above learn the lick then make it your own. Try improvising normally then throw in one of the licks, the idea is for it to become part of your playing not to sound like a lick shoved awkwardly into your solo. Improvise into the lick then back out of it, try them in different keys (very important) and styles. Learn them slowly to a metronome and gradually build them up to the speed you require. It’s also good practice to sit down and try to write your own licks as this gives you the thinking time to try and come up with a different approach rather than just relying on muscle memory in an improvising situation.