Think You Know Pentatonics? 

 Almost everyone student I have ever taught said the same thing to me whenever I talked about playing Pentatonic Scales… “That’s a beginners scale or I already know that one…it’s the first thing I learned to play…let’s learn something more exciting”.

Pentatonic may not be as sexy as some exotic sounding scale but it sure is a whole lot more useful. In fact it’s the most useful scale of all. It’sthe common denominator of music…here’s what I mean. The Pentatonic scale can be used to solo over every chord type except one…don’t worry you won’t be playing that one chord unless you become a Jazz fusion artist and by then you will know what your talking about…so don’t sweat it for now.

So now that you know how useful the Pentatonic scale is let me tell you somethings about it that you most likely don’t know and probably never even heard of before…yet will give you a huge advantage over everyone else.

Let’s start with the fact that there are 5 shapes we call Pentatonic. Each shape contains the exact same 5 notes. The shapes are formed by starting a new shape on each of the 5 notes, one at a time. We then give number names to each pattern in order to identify it quickly. Most guitarists, refer to the 6th Shape as Pattern 1 because it begins on the first note of the 7 note natural minor scale (plain old minor scale). However this isn’t really very efficient and winds up causing you to have to learn the 5 shapes twice…once as the major Pentatonic and once as the minor Pentatonic. I help you avoid this simply by renaming the shapes. I call this The Pentatonic Master Scale System. I use the 5 Pentatonic shapes as a guide for playing all other scales. I’m not talking about using 5 shapes for each type of scale,instead I’m saying that I use the exact same 5 shapes to play all scales. This concept let’s me improvise freely without having to think of the scales at all.

Here’s how it works… The 5 shapes are based on the Pentatonic Scale. Now before you say “I already know the Pentatonic scale” let me explain further how I use the Pentatonic to play all other scales. I name the 5 Pentatonic shapes Root, 2, 3 , 5, 6. The name is based on the starting note of each shape. For example the Root shape begins on the Root Note of the 7 note Diatonic Major Scale. Why base the names on the major scale notes? Because the Major Scale is the King of Scales. Every theory concept is measured by the intervals of the Major Scale. So it makes sense to base my 5 Master Scale Shapes on the degrees of the major scale. This naming convention gives deeper meaning to the 5 shapes.

For example when you play the 6th Shape you know by it’s name that it begins on the 6th note of the major scale. This is also the first note of the minor scale. Now, you DO NOT have to know the music theory behind the names in order to use the 5 shapes system but it is interesting to see how the names relate to the theory they are based on. You may be thinking “I already learned my major and minor Pentatonic scales and the diatonic major scale Modes” so I already know this stuff you are teaching”. My answer to that is NO YOU DON’T. You just think you do because you see the word PENTATONIC or MAJOR SCALE. My 5 Shapes Master Scale System is much more than just 5 scale shapes. It’s an entire system that let’s you instantly see all scales on the fingerboard at a glance.

You’ll never get lost again when trying to traverse those treacherous areas of the fingerboard while improvising. The 5 Shapes do much more than just help you navigate the fretboard. They make your solos sound more musical and your improvising more interesting for the listener. The big reason why this works is because unlike the major scale, which is constructed entirely of half steps and whole steps, the Pentatonic Scale is constructed of several different Intervals including 3rd and 6ths.

Try playing the pentatonic scale all by itself, it sounds almost like a solo on it’s own. That’s why it’s so easy to build ideas off this 5 note scale, you’ll hear it in almost every famous guitar solo. The next thing that makes the 5 Shapes Master Scale System so powerful is that it is an ADDITIVE APPROACH to playing scales instead of the usual SUBTRACTIVE APPROACH.

Here’s what I mean… Most guitar instructors including those fancy guitar schools teach what I call the “subtractive approach” to scale playing. The subtractive concept is that you use the 7 note major scale as your master scale. Then when you want to play a different scale, like the blues scale for example. You would simply leave out (subtract) all of the notes from the 7 note major scale that don’t belong to the blues scale, then add any extra notes needed to complete the blues scale. Another variation of this method is used when playing Modes.

For example let’s say you are playing a C major scale but need to switch to G Mixolydian. You keep the notes that are the same in both scales and change just the notes that are different. You do this by changing the fret location of those notes that are different. The amount of information that your brain has to process using this method is enormous. I can tell you from experience that when you are playing live with a band you don’t have time to process that much info. You need a much faster and easier system to finding the right notes to play your solo. That’s why I only use the additive approach.

Here’s how it works. I use the 5 Pentatonic Scale shapes as my Master Scale. When I want to play any other scale I simply add the extra notes needed to create that scale. Let’s use the same example as before. I want to base my solo on the blues scale.

I start with the Pentatonic shape, then I quickly add one extra note to create the blues scale. The advantage of thinking of your scales like this is that regardless of what scale you want to play all you need to see on the fingerboard is one of the 5 Pentatonic Shapes.

Then you can add the interesting notes that make up any other scale you want. This works because the notes of the Pentatonic scale are already a part of all of the other scales you will need to play. In other words the 5 Pentatonic notes are already inside of all the other scales. This let’s you visualize just the 5 Master Scale Shapes when improvising. Then all you have to do it add the interesting notes from the other scales as you hear them.

A common mistake I see less experienced guitar players make when soloing is they seem to think that they must include every note of a scale when using that scale. For example. They start off their solo using the Pentatonic scale then they decide to switch to the 7 note scale for some fast scale runs. So they play all 7 notes of the major scale. The result is their solo’s just sound like scales. Does that sound familiar? How come Eric Clapton’s solos don’t sound like scales? Simple, he’s not afraid to leave a note out of the scale or to add a note that doesn’t belong to the scale. As long as you play notes that sound interesting there are no rules but there are cliche ideas that sound good every time and are worth memorizing..aka licks.

That’s just the beginning. There is so much more my “Master Scale System” can do for your soloing and it’s only available in Guitarin60Seconds 2.0. Check it out today here.