As lead players, we sometimes tend to forget that the guitar is a polyphonic instrument. That’s a really fancy way of saying we can play more than one note at a time. It also reminds me of Polly Waffle, which was a chocolate bar, and now I’m hungry! But I digress...
Today, we’re looking at our good old friend, the minor pentatonic scale, with a fresh approach; we’re going to play streams of two note ideas within this scale. The limitations of the pentatonic actually make it tricky, theoretically, as there isn’t much consistency in terms of the intervals from one note to the next. So check out these exercises, and remember, you can apply them however you like and find your own way with them. All exercises were recorded at 100bpm.
EXERCISES #1 AND #2
I’m going to launch into both exercises here because the first exercise is simply a minor pentatonic scale in the key of A. I have shown you how to play through the shape using a sightly different approach, which will allow us to play the root note and the next note in the scale at the same time. This will be apparent in Exercise #3, so just bare with me. For Exercise #2, you will now be introduced to the glorious sound of a harmonised pentatonic. Straight away, you will need to start thinking about flattening your fingers in the ham-fisted manner your teacher has probably told you not to. Right now, though, you must! You need to roll the first finger over two strings and flatten out the third finger in order to pinch two notes at a time. At times, you will also be able to use two fingers – try to do what makes logical sense or feels right. Theoretically speaking, this will be an easy article because it’s quite simple, and we are ultimately just harmonising simple pentatonic melodies.
Do you see that first interval? Well, that wouldn’t be possible if we used the standard pentatonic box shape where our first finger is on the fifth fret. You’ll find it useful to slide up into the next shape with the third finger remaining on the sixth string and sliding up to the eighth fret. You will then drop the second finger on the seventh fret of the fifth string. This should give you an insight into the required logic, but again, it’s up to you. In this exercise, I’ve tried to apply a fairly consistent interval – or gap, if you will – between the steps in the scale and the additional note on top. However, it falls apart when we play the D note, because we don’t have an F in an A minor pentatonic. As a result, the quality of those two notes will have a different sound to the quality of the notes before – quality being the resulted mood created by the combination of two or more notes.
So, there are a couple of different qualities, but it all sounds fantastic in a stream of notes. Try it and you’ll see. This is why pentatonic scales are so widely used. You’ll need to use the third finger and the pinky when playing the seventh and eighth frets together on the second and third strings.
All of the same concepts are at play here, only this time I’m overlapping notes. From one pair of harmonised notes to the next, you’ll see I’ve kept one note and changed another, creating a building effect. This stuff is really underutilised. In truth, I’ve barely explored it, but the need to offer something fresh to readers has certainly inspired me to develop these ideas more. Why shouldn’t you?
This exercise demonstrates what happens if you spread the notes further than one string apart, and is just the beginning of an abundance of possibilities! This is a great sound. You may need to use a pick and a finger to catch both notes, or play it fingerstyle. Your left hand will need to bar at time, and you’ll need to practice these ideas slowly to develop smooth fingerings. Again, they sound great, and I highly encourage you to employ this over greater distances.
It really does amaze me how little things seem to have been explored, and I hope these ideas open your mind a little. If you think of something but you’re not sure if it’s worth putting into action, I implore you: see if it sounds good, and if it does, go forth and make it your own! If it sounds bad, go forth and make it... Er, someone else’s!