Get Connected. Pentatonic Scale Positions

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The idea of this feature is to take a well-known, all-purpose scale shape used by pretty much every guitarist and look at various ways of linking it with a whole network of complementary shapes all over the fretboard. Before reading on, try this little experiment: locate the backing track in the folder and improvise along with it, using any licks that you know in the key of A minor…

The five shapes

Now, take a look at the five scale diagrams in Exercise 1 labelled Five Positions of a Minor Pentatonic. I reckon that a great number of rock players are far more familiar with position 1 than they are with positions 2-5 and, if you found yourself improvising along to the backing track in the folder with your hand rooted squarely in the Vth or XVIIth positions, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

In all fairness, position 1 has a lot going for it: your index finger need never stray from the fifth fret; you can bend the G string (7th fret) or B string (8th fret) up a tone in those more bluesy moments; and, of course, you can visualise an A minor barre chord inside the scale shape with an easily locatable root note on the lowest string, so perhaps it’s inevitable that guitarists will feel most comfortable in this part of the neck. However, the other four shapes are not without their charms. Let’s demystify them a little by looking at how they’re constructed.

Pentatonic Scale Positions. The theory part

You can construct a minor pentatonic scale in any key by taking the root note and moving it up first a tone-and-a-half, then a tone, then another tone, then a tone-and-a-half and, finally, one last tone. You should now be back to the root note. For instance, playing the 2nd, 5th, 7th, 9th, 12th and 14th frets on the E string will give you an F#m pentatonic scale (NB a tone-and-a-half equates to a jump of three frets, a tone is a jump of two frets, and a semitone is simply the next fret on).

In A minor, the notes we’re allowed to use are A, C, D, E and G. If we start with A and C on the low E string and then find all of the appropriate notes of the scale in the same part of the fretboard (allowing two notes per string) we end up with position 1. Similarly, starting with C and D on the low E string gives you position 2, starting with D and E gives you position 3, and so it goes on.

Each of these five positions, therefore, is a network of As, Cs, Ds, Es and Gs – all within easy grabbing distance.

Making them work for you

There are many players who practise all five of these shapes regularly but still feel more at ease with the first one. The key to making the other shapes feel just as musical lies in knowing where the root notes are in each case (you’ll note that I’ve coloured the relevant notes black in the diagrams). These are the notes which sound the most resolved over the chord of A minor; ending your phrases on the root note gives the impression that you’re “at one” with the chord you’re playing over – rather than simply running up and down a scale shape! You’ll also find that learning the shapes is easier when you start with the root note – this way you have a stronger sense of what key the notes are designed for, even in the absence of a backing track.

The other way of getting these positions to sound fluid and natural is to learn where the good bent notes are. In general, the string bends that sound good are the ones which start on one scale note and land on the next, so in A minor you could bend C up to D, D up to E, or G up to A. (If you don’t mind a little extra pain, you can also bend A up to C#, or E up to G.) Once you’ve developed a feel for the five positions and built up a small repertoire of licks and phrases for each, the final step is to work on linking the shapes so that the fretboard starts to look like one huge position and you can navigate freely between the different hand-size segments of the neck we’ve looked at so far.

Pentatonic Scale Positions. Linking the shapes

The most effective way of doing this is to look at pairs of adjacent positions, so I would recommend taking positions 1 and 2 and looking for ways to slide between them on each string in turn. Then you can take the same approach with positions 2 and 3, positions 3 and 4 and so on. The nice thing about this method is that you’re always dealing with a manageable amount of information at any given moment, and many of the shifts and slides you discover will start to work their way into your playing.

In the backing track lesson I started in position 1 and shifted gradually up the neck so that by bar 40 or so I was back in position 1, only an octave higher. Rather than learning huge chunks of the transcription, I would advise using it more as a source of sample licks which are all there to be modified and personalised to suit the requirements of your playing style. Enjoy! There are two tracks in the folder which involve this pentatonic shifting business: a full mix of the demo and a backing track. Proceed to study with the next lesson Taking The Lead. Pentatonic Soloing

Sound Advice

Exercise 1. Five positions of a Minor Pentatonic

Get Connected Pentatonic Scale Positions Lesson

It’s a part of Pentatonic Scale Positions guitar theory lesson.

Below you can download a full transcription with tabs and notes of

Pentatonic Scale Positions with backing track


14 November 2012 0 comments
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