Gettin’ The Blues
Everybody’s heard of the pentatonic scale, but I bet you haven’t heard of the hexatonic scale! To be fair, I am not even sure if it’s really a thing, but when I was 15, I read a song analysis for the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s “Californication” where the author described the solo as being drawn from the hexatonic scale. Hex is latin for six, so I guess this makes sense. Before getting into the exercises, let’s look at what I have considered to be a plausible and highly useable six-note scale.
In a major scale, one of the most important notes is the third one. In the key of C, this would be E. Being such an important note, it’s been widely recognised that the fourth note – in this case, F – can be a little bit tough to get along with. For this reason, many players have intuitively adopted their ideas to omit the infamous ‘fourth’, leaving us with a six-note major scale.
If we look at an A minor scale, which shares its notes with the C major scale, we can find that by leaving that F out once more, we get a very cool sounding scale. It looks like an A minor pentatonic, but we get the B note without that pesky, not-so-nice sounding F.
Disregard the tempo marks here – I’ve recorded these scales at a slower tempo than 120 beats per minute (BPM) but needed to write these in semiquavers to fit! Take note of the sound of the scale – it is much easier to listen to than your typical major scale, and melodic ideas will flow a lot easier from this pattern. Make sure you use your fingers efficiently; I start with my second finger and use my pinky on the sixth string, then follow the logical ‘four frets, four fingers’ approach, going to my first finger on the fifth string, and so on.
As mentioned, this will feel very similar to a minor pentatonic scale, only with the addition of the seventh fret on the sixth string, fourth fret on the third string and seventh fret on the first string. I like to shift back a fret and use my first, second and fourth fingers to navigate the notes before dropping back into pentatonic position on the second string.
The first lick utilising the major hexatonic is reminiscent of more contemporary jazz and blues players. Expression is everything – if you think these scales sound ordinary, try adding some feel with expressive techniques like sliding and picking dynamics. If you can incorporate some sliding and bending into this shape, you’ll hear some great country ideas as well.
This lick is has a somewhat horn-like quality to it, moving up the scale with some back-stepping and a rapid triplet flourish before resolving to the fifth note of the A major scale. It’s a little bit like a simplified Charlie Parker lick, if you will.
This lick is reminiscent of Angus Young and Joe Bonamassa. It’s very much a pentatonic rock lick, but the B natural added in on the third beat gives it a great new flavour, just like our new rapid triplet flourish. This is a tricky lick – take your time putting it together. I would recommend using your third finger on the seventh fret of the third string, and your pinky to play the seventh fret on the first string as we roll into beat number three.
This lick could work over anything; it’s similar to the last in tonality, but by phrasing it this way, it could be a jazz lick, a soul lick, a funk lick... You name it! By now, you should be hearing the really cool colour that comes from the slight variation on your basic minor and major scales.
These exercises are not here to be learnt note-for-note, necessarily. Remember that every new idea you learn is what culminates into who you are as a player, so take the examples and make them your own!