HARMONISING PENTATONICS

Australian Guitar - - Technique -

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.

EX­ER­CISE #3

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.

EX­ER­CISE #4

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?

EX­ER­CISE #5

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.

SUM­MARY

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!

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