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Rick Graham - Guitar Roadmaps Part 4: Creative Pentatonics

Lesson Notes

Guitar Roadmaps Part Four – Creative Pentatonics

** As featured in issue 4 **

In this guitar lesson I'd like to give you some ideas with which you can spice up your modern guitar phrasing & improvisation by using something that you are more than likely already well familiar with, our old friend the minor pentatonic scale.

The minor pentatonic scale has built up a rather negative reputation particularly among Rock players as it is often viewed as a scale which can imprison you into a 'box' shape mentality. As far as I'm concerned though, I don't think that has anything to with with the scale itself, rather that the player who is complaining about the limitations of it. I personally find that it is a remarkably versatile scale if you use it in a creative way.

One particularly useful way that we can apply the minor pentatonic is by taking the formula for building the scale which means taking the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th degrees of a major scale and building it upon the 2nd, 3rd and 6th degrees of the same major scale. In the key of G that gives us the minor pentatonics of A minor, B minor and E minor. By using a pre-prepared backing track using a static A minor 7 chord, I can use these three scales in conjunction with one another to great effect. If we analyze the notes contained within them we can see how they relate to the A minor 7 static chord vamp.

A minor gives us the notes A, C, D, E and G, which in terms of scale degrees against A are: 1 b3 4 5 b7.

B Minor gives us the notes  B, D, E, F sharp and A, which in terms of scale degrees against A are:  9, 11, 5, 13, 1

E minor gives us the notes E, G, A, B and D, which in terms of scale degrees against A are: 5, b7, 1, 9, 11

We can see from the above that by playing the scales in conjunction with one another, we are able to achieve all of the extended tones of the 9th 11th and 13th degrees.

Because of the intervallic nature of the pentatonic scale, we are able to achieve some very fresh, modern sounding phrases by using a shape which we already know without having to think too hard about doing so. This is part of the beauty of the simple pentatonic scale. Because we are limiting ourselves to just five notes we are afforded a sound that is much harder to achieve by using a full seven note scale. We can further heighten the intervallic nature of the scale by applying techniques such as string skipping, which sounds great and isn't too difficult to achieve for the left hand. Incorporate this idea with some tapping techniques and you have a great formula to create some cool sounding lines!

I personally like to use the pentatonics built upon the 2nd and 6th degrees of any major scale together, particularly when using a minor 7 chord. To my ears they work remarkably well in conjunction with one another. To start with, try ascending on the A minor pentatonic and descend on the E minor pentatonic. Once you feel comfortable mixing the two scales together try doing it in different areas of the fingerboard. Sequences work really well with these scales too so be sure to experiment with them as much as you can. Hopefully this idea will change you view of the minor pentatonic scale from being a 'boring' scale to one which is full of wonderful possibilities. Have fun and see you next issue!


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