Why is the pentatonic scale so popular with guitarists? To answer this question properly, we have to take a look at the overall note layout on the guitar...
The guitar is an instrument that offers a degree of symmetry. (due to its tuning being set predominantly in perfect fourths). If you play a pattern in one key such as lets say an "E Minor Pentatonic," you can simply play the exact same pattern in another key and the pattern will not change. If you move the "E Minor Pentatonic" down a whole step you'll have "D Minor Pentatonic." In other words, the shape stays the same, but the key center of the scale will change.
The Minor Pentatonic scale, especially “Pattern #4” of this scale, (see the layouts in the Creative Guitar Studio Curriculum, as well as, in my, "Blues Guitar Styles" eBook), is hugely popular among guitarists.
The "Pattern #4" scale shape makes for a great layout because with it, you have a very easy geometrical shape that provides an excellent beginners platform for improvisation.
With only two notes per string, and a very box-like structure, the Minor Pentatonic Pattern #4 creates a framework that is great for making up different melodic patterns and sequences that can be played over and over again.
Most rock guitar solos take place exclusively in the "Pattern #4 and Pattern #2" scale shapes of the minor pentatonic scale. (Think – Metallica’s ‘Nothing Else Matters’ or Guns ‘n Roses ‘Sweet Child of Mine,’ or Gary Moore’s ‘Parisien Walkways.’
The other Pentatonic scale fingerboard patterns also offer a tremendous amount of opportunity, but most guitarists tend to stick (almost exclusively) to those two scale patterns.
From a fingering perspective, the “minor pentatonic scale Pattern #4” sits perfectly under the fingers. You do not need to stretch very far and it is easy enough to reach all the notes. For these reasons it functions as one of the most accessible scale patterns to start improvising with. Therefore, it is vital that you have an excellent grasp of the shape.
You also need to build a library containing a vast repertoire of licks in this shape to be ready for any improvisation opportunity that comes your way. You can do this easily if you have a free membership to my website.
In the free members area access the "QwikLicks" series under the "Member Lesson List," and start learning guitar lick after guitar lick through detailed high def. video lessons (with accompanying handouts). All 100% FREE.
GETTING STARTED WITH THE PENTATONIC:
Begin by learning the most popular fretting shape of Minor Pentatonic. The Pattern #4 Minor Pentatonic: Listed below off of the Tonic Note of "G."
Mastering the pentatonic across the neck will require a lot of time, effort and dedication. It is up to you how long you want to take to do it. But the most important thing is just to get started. I would recommend beginning at memorizing the pattern above. Start with just this one position and get to know the shape inside and out.
You can then move on to the next positions, and once you know around three pentatonic scale scale shapes, do some self-testing and make sure you really know them well. Then add more shapes and start practicing improvisation.
As I mentioned earlier, make sure you also learn some popular pentatonic guitar licks in each fingerboard position. After that, you'll be surprised at just how well you'll know the neck with these very useful scales. At that point, you'll be prepared to improvise and make your guitar come alive.
LEARN TO MANIPULATE THE SOUND:
Knowing which notes you can bend into, slide into, tap onto, pull-off of, and gliss over can be invaluable. A lot of guitarists simply bend a note and hope it works out. It is far more intelligent to study the layout of the scale on the neck and physically “map” out the bendable notes.
(See diagram below)...
You can of course bend a half step or a whole step, or anything in between. To get started, I recommend bending a full step, (a whole step – 2 frets away from the starting note).
Practice your bends, they will take time to become second nature and to sound proper.
DEVELOP YOUR OWN PENTATONIC SOUND:
As you become more mature with the pentatonic scale, you'll eventually develop your own style. I always recommend learning a set of scale licks that will work well to build your own “guitar lick” repertoire.
Learn as many licks as you can, the more licks you know, the more ideas you will have to be able to change them and adapt them on the spot. As you become a master of your repertoire and a master of the guitar neck, you will eventually develop your own playing style.
It is vital that you put in the work required to get to that stage. By having your own set of ideas and executing them flawlessly across the guitar neck, you will be pleasantly surprised at just how great the pentatonic scale sounds. That is exactly what happens when you listen to guitarists that have total control of this scale, like Slash from "Guns ‘n Roses."
Slash is a tremendous guitarist and although technically he may not be Steve Vai, he has an unique guitar tone and a wonderful understanding of the pentatonic scale. I would recommend listening to and training yourself on his licks. Doing this will go a long way to helping you develop the use of the Pentatonic scales application.
Gary Moore along with Carlos Santana have also developed a very nice style of playing with the pentatonic scale across the guitar neck. Gary Moore has amazing longer lines and phenomenal feel for this scales sound. And, Santana has mastered adding extra notes of the 6th and 9th. Creating a Dorian sound.
The Pentatonic with Added 6th and 9th:
START YOUR PENTATONIC JOURNEY TODAY:
So, put in the time required and go for it – there's a world of Pentatonic beauty out there waiting for you to discover with this popular scale. Think of how great you will feel if you can take the guitar and just fly across the neck using this scale.
As long as you keep searching for new ways of using it, and keep studying the sound of this scale you will get what you want from this scale's melodic impression and from the easy to perform pentatonic shape.
These playing aspects are exactly what makes the pentatonic so popular among guitar players. And, even though it will take several hours, days and weeks for you to develop the application of this scale, it will be well worth it in the long run.
Also, keep in mind that you will need to develop your sound with this shape and this interval layout. If you build your repertoire of licks and study the way that various players apply this scale, you'll start having a lot of luck with applying its sound.
I always recommend excellent study materials and excellent self-testing and review. That's why I've spent the last 25 years developing the Creative Guitar Studio curriculum. Let me know if you have any questions.
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