I memorized all 5 Pentatonic Scale Shapes but how do I “play music” with them? My solos sound lifeless, like I am just playing through the scale patterns. I feel stuck in the Pentatonic boxes!!!!
Okay, so you have memorized all 5 shapes of the Pentatonic Scale (in at least one key). First off, great job!!! You would be surprised how many players skip this step or somehow convince themselves that they don’t need it. As far as I am concerned, you have already taken a huge step in the lifelong journey of mastering the guitar. So pat yourself on the back!
So now what? How does one apply the knowledge of seemingly random plotted dots on the fretboard?
(Links in red –>) Open up a backing track. Having the internet is freaking awesome, can you imagine what people used to have to go through in order to practice? Now you can simply click on a site like youtube and have access to thousand of awesome tracks recorded for the sole purpose of making you a better solo guitar player.
I would suggest a I-IV-V Blues backing track. The chord changes are going to be very easy and repetitive. And your Pentatonic Scale is going to work out just fine over the whole thing. Important point though: “The Blues in A” refers to A minor pentatonic. And this is an important distinction because every other time you hear “in A”, the major will be implied. But the Blues is different for reasons that we will not go into right now.
So for example:
- Blues in A = play your A minor Pentatonic Scale shapes (same patterns as C major Pentatonic, but with a focus on the notes A, C, + E)
- Blues in E = play your E minor Pentatonic Scale shapes (same patterns as G major Pentatonic, but with a focus on the notes E, G, + B)
- Blues in Bb = play your Bb minor Pentatonic Scale shapes (same patterns as Db major Pentatonic, but with a focus on the notes Bb, Db, + F)
THE COLD HARD TRUTH…………………………………………………………..
Okay, but maybe you have already done this step and you are thinking “my solos sound shit, how come they don’t sound… I dunno… awesome?”
Well unfortunately, we all have to suck at something before we get better at it. The first time Carlos Santana picked up a guitar, he was NOT a bad-ass. He sounded exactly like you do right now. And he was like “Que pasa guitarra, why you no sound bueno?” Because you need to PRACTICE to get more bueno Carlos!!!
Look at all those little dots on your guitar as lego building blocks. Every player had the same blocks in the beginning and then they begin to work through the pieces. When you hear someone making the Pentatonic into something so beautiful that you cannot even believe it is the same scale that you learned, it is because that player has worked through that box of legos for years and decades. And guess what, you are allowed to beg/borrow/and steal from that amazing player! Music is for everyone. That same player begged/borrowed/and stole from the musicians before him. Use their accumulated knowledge as a springboard for your own.
Okay, but you want to make YOUR OWN LICKS, I get it. So how do you make ones that are interesting?
Well for one, you can start playing this guitar game that I call “Guitar Simon”. It is a memorization game but has the amazing side-effect of spitting out original licks that you would never have been able to come up with if you were only focused solely on creating them. While focused on “the game”, you will be amazed at what ends up coming out the other end.
Another thing that you can do is to start changing the way you play through the 5 Pentatonic shapes you learned, for example:
- stop playing one note at a time, this is a classic beginners first mistake, you can play that note 3 or 4 times, you can play the same two notes back and forth and then move to the 3rd note. It doesn’t always need to be a new and completely different note every time.
- Start jumping from shape to shape like this. It will improve your mastery.
- check out the “Basics” section of the Guitar Bucket List for different techniques to make your playing more interesting. Trills, Pull-offs, Bends, etc…
- Play two notes on two strings at the same time, these are called double-stops (video coming soon).
- Start utilizing your octaves.
- Start learning about how to play by interval:
- work out little “bridges” that connect adjacent shapes, the shapes you learned were broken up a certain way just for teaching’s sake.
- play only one string, play only two strings, play a solo that NEVER uses the G string, many times creative breakthroughs comes from limitation, etc…
- focus on playing horizontally instead of vertically, start at the top E-bass string and do your best to work to left or right and end up on the bottom E string.
- the Pentatonic Scale only consist of two real options: either the next note of the scale is two frets away, or the next note is three frets away. When you isolate these, you end up with different patterns. Here is one that utilizes the notes that are two frets away from each other. And here is one that utilizes the notes that are three frets away from each other. And here are even more.
- Start to see the major triads that exist within the Pentatonic shapes. Also, the minor triad chords that exist within these shapes. This is essential learning and a great way to utilize chord tones and arpeggios into your solo. You don’t even have to play the full chords. Just learn them so that you have the tools necessary to start breaking them into pieces. These can really punch up a solo!!!
MORE ADVANCED PENTATONIC STUFF…………………………………………………….
These next two concepts go hand in hand and should introduce you to a very important factor in your soloing: how you think. There is a strong mental aspect to guitar, here are two ways to dive into it.
1) Start thinking about chord tones while you solo:
2) Learn about “swapping” pentatonics:
Okay, but you may be asking whats the “diatonic” scale?
THE DIATONIC SCALE…………………………………………………….
Pentatonic are 5 note scales, I only suggest learning these first because that is how I was taught. Many people learn “the major scale” first and then the Pentatonic second. There really is no “right” or “wrong” order. Diatonic scales represent the standard major and the natural minor scale.
Learn about them here! And remember that you can apply most of these learning suggestions to that scale as well.
Okay, I think that is a good start for now. Feel free to send me an email for questions or clarification. And remember that playing guitar takes time. Playing guitar is a physical activity that uses your fingers and the longer you play, the harder the tips of your finger will become and the MORE you will be able to do.
Also, muscle memory. It will take some time for you to build up that finger memory. It is better to play 30 minutes every day, 5 days a week, then to play 4 hours only one day a week. Its like your fingers have little brains in them and it is essential to keep reminding those little fuckers. Soon enough you will notice them doing things that you don’t even remember teaching them. Have faith in the words “you get what you put in”.
And of course, the best and final tip of all is the easiest: LISTEN TO THE MUSIC YOU LOVE!!!
The more you listen, the more you will absorb.
Now go do it!!!!!!