** As featured in issue 39 **
Hello fellow Rock guitarists! Welcome to the 5th part in my Rock Improvisation series. So far we have been looking into the wonders of the Minor Pentatonic Scale, basic phrasing devices, ways of moving around the guitar neck in a key and we also took a look at some basic tapping using the minor pentatonic scale last issue. In this issue I want break down the vast subject of jamming in different keys and figuring out licks. I don’t wish to over complicate it, it's really quite easy when you know how, so hopefully by the end of this issues video lesson column you will be able to jam along to all your favorite '80s hits and much more!
Changing Keys with Minor Pentatonic:
Shock horror, not all songs are in the key of E minor, although life would be a lot easier if they were, but then we wouldn’t have the huge variety of amazing music around today if it was all in one key. When jamming along to recordings or playing in a band, it's important to know how to ‘transpose’ or ‘move’ your Pentatonic scale into different keys. There are a few ‘keys’ to doing this. First of all, let’s take our 1st pattern of the E minor pentatonic scale. The lowest note in this pattern if we are playing it up at the 12th fret is the 12th fret low E string, this note should be the note E (if we are correctly in tune!) now changing key is as simple as moving the pattern up and down.
When jamming to recordings we can use our ear to move the pentatonic scale shape up and down until we find the right sounding place, this is a valid way of getting into a jam, however it's also useful to know exactly what key you have changed to. So with this in mind, it can be healthy to learn the notes on the low E string at least. If we play an open low E string, we have the note E, this is why the low E string is called the low E string. If we place our finger at the first fret of the low E string we get an F, 2nd fret gives us an F# etc., take a look at the diagram below to see how the notes on the low E string lay out.
Theoretically now we can take our pentatonic box and move it down so the root note is on the 5th fret low E string, this would mean we are now playing Am Pentatonic. We can then re-map the neck with our other pentatonic box patterns in the key of Am by adding them on top of this box initially. There is slightly more to this basic method, but this should get you started with changing keys and being able to play around the neck in any selected key. It's best to start simple and really get used to the basic information before moving on, but here is a clue to help you on your next step of the journey.
Imagine there is a root note available in each of the minor pentatonic shapes and you learnt the notes on the other strings, you would be able to visualize your minor pentatonic scale starting in different areas. As you can imagine this is a bit more of a task than what we have set out to do in this column, but it should be enough information to get you curious to find out, but if you can’t be bothered then the above methods of finding a key/changing key should be enough for any pub band gig/jam or just messing around at home jamming along to records.
Vocabulary and Licks:
The 2nd most important thing you can do to help your jamming and improvisation is learn a vocabulary of licks. When improvising, it's good to have licks and phrases that are familiar for you to improvise around and create solos. They shape how you sound, the more you learn the more versatile you can sound, however licks aren’t the be all and end all you still need to be able to manipulate the licks and information by using your ears and experience of how the guitar works. There are several ways of doing this, the most common way people seem to do it these days is learn licks from tab books, lesson videos and DVDs, which is fantastic! However, I would highly encourage you to figure out some licks using your ears and knowledge of the fretboard. The steps to learning a lick should go something like this if you are trying it for the first time:
1- Find a lick that you like the sound of and think you could technically play if you knew how to physically play it.
2- Print some tab paper, you can find this on the Internet in loads of places. This is helpful for keeping a record of what you have figured out.
3- Before even figuring out the lick, try and find the key of the song and relevant pentatonic pattern that fits to your ear. Trial and error is the key here.
4- Listen to the chosen lick a lot! Get used to the timing, what note it starts and ends on, you need to be able to almost sing it in your head before you can expect to find it on the guitar.
5- Once it’s really in your head, you should be able to sit with your guitar and figure it out note by note, keep going until you get it!
6- Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get it 100%, the process of learning a lick is good for you, you will still learn something, unless you are learning a solo for a cover version of a song, getting a gist for the lick is good enough for you to turn it into your own idea that is definitely yours!
7- If you do get it or don’t quite get it, take what you have learnt and apply it to your own improvisations, change key with the idea, try it in a different place within the pentatonic scale.
Taking this method you should be able to figure out basic versions of licks that you like the sound of, try and do it with ideas in your head as well. Try humming a melody and seeing if you can just find it on the guitar using some of these steps. I love lick books/dvds/lessons, however using your ear is KEY in really learning the guitar. You need to be able to hear things and figure out where they are on the guitar. The guitar is like a typewriter, you put the information into it you want to hear, the art of learning guitar is finding out how to do that and get better at it!
So hopefully in this column we have some food for thought, some new keys to new areas to our playing and improvisation! Hopefully there is enough info in this column for you to start exploring out of the key of E minor, and hopefully some inspiration for you to find licks that you like and create your own licks that sound like you! Happy shredding and I shall see you next time!