PENTATONIC VARI­A­TIONS New notes for a fa­mil­iar scale

Richard Bar­rett in­ves­ti­gates new ways to play our favourite scale with 10 fully tran­scribed be­spoke ex­am­ples and fan­tas­tic back­ing tracks.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

Who doesn’t love Pen­ta­ton­ics? They’re the back­bone of so much that we play, but can also be bor­ing and pre­dictable. Let Richard Bar­rett show you the sim­ple but mu­si­cal so­lu­tion!

We’ve all been there – your turn comes to show what you’re made of and you come away feel­ing there is a level of im­pro­vi­sa­tion that still eludes you; that you’re trapped in­side the ‘box’ Pentatonic shapes. Be­fore we go any fur­ther, I should point out that this isn’t in it­self a ter­ri­ble thing. Many clas­sic – even iconic – gui­tar so­los have been cre­ated within this rel­a­tively lim­ited frame­work. How­ever, this is no rea­son to rest on one’s lau­rels – af­ter all, is there a gui­tarist out there who doesn’t want to up their game in one way or an­other?

The con­cept of this fea­ture is to point out some of the al­tered pat­terns that are avail­able to the player who wants to ex­pand their Pentatonic ‘com­fort zone’, rather than en­ter a twi­light world of un­fa­mil­iar scales and start again from scratch.

As any com­mit­ted Pentatonic user will tell you, there are in­ter­change­able Ma­jor and Mi­nor pat­terns to fit over their cor­re­spond­ing Ma­jor and Rel­a­tive mi­nor chords, and vice versa. I’m sure most GT read­ers fall into this cat­e­gory and hap­pily use th­ese de­vices all the time. And you wouldn’t be in bad com­pany just lis­ten to any of the blues greats, as well as later blues-rock­ers like Clap­ton, Hen­drix, SRV, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and so on; they all do it, and bril­liantly so. But there is more!

It’s a great skill to be able to add se­lected ‘ex­tra’ notes in to ei­ther re­flect what’s hap­pen­ing in the chord changes, or even su­per­im­pose an in­ter­est­ing har­monic an­gle over a sim­ple bass and drum or power chord back­ing, where so much of the way the mu­sic’s tonal­ity is per­ceived is down to the soloist’s choice of notes.

Jimmy Page’s re­peated use of F in what is oth­er­wise a straight up ‘A Mi­nor Pentatonic’ in the Stair­way To Heaven solo is a glar­ingly ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple. Al­ter­na­tively, take any Pentatonic and add in the or ’blue’ note (to cre­ate the ‘Blues scale’) and you’ll see how much this changes the char­ac­ter and pos­si­bil­i­ties of what is es­sen­tially the same group­ing of notes on the fret­board. Even hard­ened ‘jazz’ play­ers like Kenny Bur­rell and Johnny Smith, or so­phis­ti­cated blue­sers such as Larry Carl­ton and Robben Ford, use mod­i­fied Pentatonic scales as the ba­sis for much of their solo­ing, so please don’t think of this ex­er­cise as some sort of ‘cheat’.

In the 10 fol­low­ing ex­am­ples, I’ve tried to keep the amended scales as ‘pure’ as pos­si­ble, mean­ing I have avoided fall­ing into too many ‘stan­dard’ Pentatonic licks. Ide­ally, I sug­gest you go for this ap­proach at first to re­ally break out of any pos­si­ble ruts that may have de­vel­oped over time. Even­tu­ally, the idea is that you vi­su­alise the pos­si­bil­i­ties as part of those fa­mil­iar shapes we all love. Most of the ex­am­ples are based around a 12-bar chord se­quence, to keep things rel­a­tively pre­dictable while you build your con­fi­dence.

Al­ways re­mem­ber that im­prove­ment is gen­er­ally in­cre­men­tal, though the ‘magic’ does hap­pen in­creas­ingly as your com­fort level ex­pands – I guess that’s what keeps us all hooked. Hope you en­joy th­ese ‘new and im­proved’ licks, and I’ll see you soon!


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