** As featured in issue 40 **
Hi everyone. This Pro Concepts I thought we could explore what is possible if we mix together the major and minor pentatonic shapes creating a pentatonic hybrid scale. There will be many occasions where you shouldn't be mixing the major and minor sound, but you would be surprised how often you actually can, and how often it sounds very musical. It's a concept that seems simple when you talk about it, but is much harder to pull off convincingly and impressively.
The big clue will be that major 3rd and your ear. I have heard many times a guitarist playing a minor pentatonic over a major or dominant sounding Blues sequence, which is rarely a good sound and simply shows the player as inexperienced, or lacking in musicality.
I am also often very surprised how the minor pentatonic scale gets years of practice and use, but the major pentatonic can often be an afterthought. Both major and minor shapes and their relative positions on the neck should become second nature, to the point where you don't have to think about it, almost like it is simply autopilot for your hands. This is easily achievable, because we are dealing with just five shapes that slot together like a jigsaw. It just takes a little applied time management and practice. Once you feel you are on top of the minor shapes and how they are placed on the guitar neck, all you have to do is play those shapes three frets lower to get your major pentatonics. They all slot together the same way, it's just three frets lower than it was. If you are more of a theory person than a 'shapes on the neck' person, then knowing your relative major and minor keys will also speed the process up.
For instance, if you have learnt a position one A minor pentatonic at the 5th fret, and you know that A minor and C major are brother and sister, then that same position one pentatonic shape at the 5th gives you your C major pentatonic, but your root note or key centre has moved from the top E 5th fret for A minor, to the top E 8th fret C major, but the actual shape you are playing is exactly the same. If you are reading this and it still sounds like an alien language, then you need to sit down with someone that can explain and show this to you face to face, because you need to nail this concept very early on in your playing development. The sooner pentatonics major and minor in every key becomes as easy as breathing, the sooner you can develop as an improvising player ready to move on to three notes per string shapes and modal thinking. But the humble pentatonic is first on the list.
As I have said, there are many musical scenarios where you can interweave both major and minor shapes, and there are some great Blues players out there that have this as standard tool to improvise in the Blues and Rock genres. Eric, SRV, BB, Jimi, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck all spring to mind and all have been doing it all their long careers (those that are still with us anyway). It also is very common in Country and Funk. It's a big colour to have in your playing and worth putting in the effort to work out how at any point on the neck, major and minor shape super impose over each other creating a hybrid pentatonic, although obviously penta means five, so we can't still strictly call it a pentatonic any more. Whatever you want to call it, it sounds cool.
I could have spent the filmed tutorial running through every position of each hybrid shape, but those sort of lessons are soulless and dull, so I thought it might be more fun to show you some runs that I put together combining major and minor shapes in the key of A. You are all intelligent people and it won't take much effort to work out your options at each position. You really do have to know the major and minor shapes inside out though, otherwise you'll end up guessing at it and sounding strange rather than cool!
So just to clarify, in this tutorial, we are going to combine both A major and A minor pentatonic shapes, to see what we can come up with in terms of some runs and licks. Even if you don't get the theory behind this, I hope you enjoy some of the ideas I put together.