It goes without saying that the Minor Pentatonic is one of the first "go to" scales when it comes to Minor Key improvisation. Whether we're examining the guitar playing of Angus Young or Larry Carlton, David Gilmour, Slash or Steve Stevens the Minor Pentatonic scale gets maximum mileage in some of the worlds most famous guitar songs and solos.
So why is it that so many guitar students struggle through the same Minor Pentatonic neck-pattern time after time, playing the same shape in nearly the exact same manner?
A majority of students overuse one train of thought (and thus a similar application) with this popular scale. It likely comes from their training and therefore the unconscious. Training is important. But, training with a constant increase in the exposure to new scenarios is crucial for expanding our ability.
All too often I find students improvising with this scale in the exact same ways, over and over again. This includes; playing the same scale neck-patterns, playing the same phrasing ideas, using the same kinds of embellishments, and playing with the same sense of feeling.
An experienced professional player may chalk this up to playing in, "their style." However, students simply don't have the multi-decade playing experience, the gigs and the studio dates. Students lack the broad application of phrasing, direction and organization. So, what does this mean, what is the student going through?
Many of the reasons for "how and why" a student performs improvisations with the popular Minor Pentatonic comes from a need for them to stretch their attitude. A famous motivational speaker once said something like, "It's your attitude, not your aptitude, that determines your altitude."
FEELING AND EMOTION:
When I begin to compose a melody or improvise a line, I start to pay close attention to how the music is making me feel.
Am I feeling; light, clever, sad, dark or bluesy? Will I combine scales with arpeggios, will I play modes? Do I feel like adding in a Whole-Tone sound or not?
Pacing out my lines will factor into this area as well. Perhaps a melody's theme requires a variation. Maybe the entire song with be variation after variation upon a single theme? Perhaps I hear the melody line slowly washing over the harmonies. Maybe not. A feeling of high intensity might be more appropriate.
Certain styles can obviously play a role in all of this, as well as, the song's overall mood. But, one thing is for sure. I always need to pay attention to what I'm experiencing. Because if I don't, I will certainly be missing out on tapping into one of the most important elements of playing a musical instrument.
INCORPORATING DIFFERENT SCALE PATTERNS:
If there's one idea that will make a big difference to a student's improvising it's forcing them to change their favorite "go to" guitar neck scale pattern. I will often tell a student to try using a completely different scale pattern for starting their leads and to do so for at least 4 weeks.
Below, in example one, I have a less common 5th string scale pattern for the Minor Pentatonic. If this scale is not familiar to you, try using it as your "go to" Minor Pentatonic for 4 weeks. If you know this one, grab your number one scales book and select another. The idea is to employ a new neck pattern as your "go to." Doing this will make a drastic difference to your overall guitar playing /soloing right away.
If I had to pick one thing that students neglect the most in their improvising it would probably be the lack of using embellishments, (phrasing devices). Along with playing far too much in one fretboard area, not using embellishments ranks at the top of the 'lack of attitude' list.
In the following examples I demonstrate ideas such as; Bending, Hammer-ons, Pull-offs, Slides and Double-stops.
This shortlist is an excellent selection to begin with. However, pay particular attention to the solos of your favorite players and notice how they apply Vibrato and Trills, as well as, other more subtle techniques.
These tools not only add a "human touch" to your solos, they really help bring out a sense of attitude through how we treat each technique in our own personal manner.
EXAMPLE #2). Bending
EXAMPLE #3). Hammer-ons, Pull-offs and Slides
EXAMPLE #4). Double-Stops (2-note chords)
In conclusion I would like to stress that stretching your attitude comes down to making a serious commitment to analyzing your guitar playing. And, it's not just for a few weeks, or months, it's permanent.
Depending upon the harmonic structure of what you're playing over, your playing approach will be grouping different variations of playing ideas into different thought patterns. If you pay attention, you can train your unconscious to react to every new thought pattern.
Like many improvisors, I tend to think in particular scale and arpeggio patterns. However, because I have spent time training my mind to always explore variations of my personal preferences, in real time, I can alter my tendencies and I will react better to each particular sound characteristic.
With training, awareness, and through constantly stretching yourself - you can too!
Thanks for reading the weekly blogger lesson. Have a great week.
- Andrew Wasson