Beef up your blues-rock muscles and get your fingers fit with our ultimate Pentatonic workout!
Many hardened guitarists don’t really know their Pentatonic scales. They may say they do, but I wonder how many can play all five shapes of the minor Pentatonic really fluently? If you stand guilty as charged, stick around because we’re here to change all that!
The Pentatonic scale is the five-note staple of blues and rock guitar. Literally thousands of classic riffs and solos are derived from it. In this two-part study we’re going to start by looking at the five shapes of the A minor Pentatonic (A-C-D-E-G). This is often mixed up with the ‘Blues’ scale, which is almost identical but contains an extra note (Eb in this key). Firstly, check out the five fretboxes on page 14. It’s essential to familiarise yourself with these; it may seem like a big task but, remember, we are only dealing with the same five notes, just in different locations. The principle is the same as learning where to put your fingers to grab a chord without having to look – conditioned reflex, or ‘muscle memory’, applied in this case to sequences of notes in a pattern visualised on the fretboard. The best way to acquire this facility is by playing through the five shapes regularly – perhaps a couple of times a day over a sustained period, rather than trying to take too much on board at once. As you will see, there are many ways to use these patterns, and it would be a shame to fall into a limited ‘comfort zone’. Playing through the shapes, you’ll hear how each is derived from the same five-note sequence and, as this happens, your ears will help guide your fingers to the right notes, which is exactly the facility we’re looking to build and expand upon here.
Most aspiring guitarists get comfortable with Shape 1 first – and it’s not hard to see why many get stuck there. It’s arguably the most well used, featuring in pretty much any classic solo you could name, though usually not exclusively. Jimmy Page’s solo in Stairway To Heaven is an excellent example, starting out with A minor Pentatonic Shape 1, but moving through most of the others as the solo progresses. It’s a great exercise to listen or indeed play through it and see how many shapes you can spot, however briefly used. Though we’ve chosen the key of A for this study, the same shapes can be transposed into any key, by simply moving them up or down to different locations on the fretboard, as you would a barre chord. For example, take all five shapes and shift them down two frets to find G minor – take it up four frets from there and you’re in B minor. We’ll look more at playing in different keys in part 2. For now, stand by your beds, Pentatonics ready for inspection! Isn’t that what they say in boot camp?
The PraCTiCe of sCales solves The greaTesT numBer of TeChniCal ProBlems in The shorTesT amounT of Time
i don’T Play PyroTeChniC sCales. i Play aBouT frusTraTion, PaTienCe, anger. musiC is an exTension of my soul Dick Dale