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NYC Collective: Rediscovering The Minor Pentatonic Scale

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 56 **

Like most guitarists, probably the first scale that I learned was the pentatonic scale, the minor pentatonic scale for that matter. I didn't even bother learning another scale for the next few years. It was easy to remember and easy to use. As the years went on I slowly but surely picked up the "other" scales. The major scale and its modes, the harmonic minor scale, the melodic minor scale and its modes and the symmetrical scales (the diminished and whole tone scales) all became part of my vocabulary and the minor pentatonic scale kind of got tossed aside so I could concentrate on using my new and exciting friends. Once I started playing Jazz and Fusion I would only pull out the minor pentatonic scale for a fleeting moment during a Jazz or minor blues and left it at that. I still used it in Rock and traditional Blues but that was about it. Fortunately, several years ago I realised that my old friend, the minor pentatonic scale can be used in the most interesting ways. It can be superimposed over almost any major, minor or dominant chord to create complex modal harmony. These new uses of the pentatonic scale I'm about to describe has changed the way I approach improvisation and has become one of the most valuable tools that I know.

The Minor Pentatonic Scale

The applications I'm about to introduce to you are all based on the minor pentatonic scale. The reason that I base all of the following improvisational techniques on the minor pentatonic scale rather than the major pentatonic scale is simple and selfish, being the first scale that I learned, I'm way more comfortable with it. If you are more familiar with its counterpart the major pentatonic scale, simply change the formulas to correspond to the proper major pentatonic scale.

*Sequences - The same blues licks that you always play may or may not work in these new applications that I'm about to teach you so you may want to break away from your usual pentatonic phrases. The pentatonic scale is full of 4ths and 5ths intervals, try to take advantage of them as much as you can. Not that sequences should be relied on too much but these are some sequences that I tend to use, starting with an intervallic 4th sequence.

1. Intervallic 4ths sequence:

2. Intervallic 4ths sequence (variation 1) - A variation on the last sequence:

3. Intervallic 5ths sequence:

Play the previous sequences descending as well as ascending. There are also dozens of other sequences you should try to discover on your own. Sequences are great tools when used tastefully but if you over do it, you'll sound like a computer.

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