In a previous blog post, Play Guitar Solo In Any key Without Learning Notes – The 5 Major Scale Patterns, we showed you how it’s possible to learn the patterns or shapes of any major scale without necessarily memorising the name of the notes being played. It’s an old tricked used by solo guitar players—and bass players for that matter.
Using the same approach, here is an even better trick. It’s the Pentatonic Scale!
If you’re jamming lead with your friends and someone tells you throw a quick guitar solo in after the bridge, if you stay within a Pentatonic scale pattern your chances of playing the “right” notes are much higher.
You’ll see and hear a lot about the Pentatonic Scale, especially from lead blues guitar players and blues enthusiasts. The main reason is because Pentatonic scales are easy. The pattern is simple to remember. Every kind of scale is created by a defined set of rules that “make” that scale. Some of them can get pretty complicated and the theory a little overwhelming, because it involves understanding those rules on faith—a musical scale “is what it is” and has to be accepted on face value.
After you are done practicing your various blues chord exercises and progressions on Uberchord (Click for free download), try soloing with the A minor Pentaonic scale as I have explained below.
THE 5 NOTES PENTATONIC SCALE
The Pentatonic scale is about as straightforward a scale as you can get. It only includes five notes rather than the usual seven, so the construction or “pattern” of a Pentatonic scale on your fret board is a lot simpler.
But with the Pentatonic scale it’s not so much about the notes you’re playing—well, of course, you still have to play the right notes—more importantly the benefits lay in the notes you don’t have to play. By sticking with the Pentatonic scale you’re avoiding many notes that won’t fit with certain keys.
For example, if you’re jamming lead with your friends and someone tells you throw a quick guitar solo in after the bridge, if you stay within a Pentatonic scale pattern your chances of hitting a “bad” note are much less. It’s just a numbers game really. Because the Pentatonic scale only has those five notes, not only are they always going to sound okay, but they work over every chord being used in that key. This is especially true for the Minor Pentatonic scales being played over a minor key. Watch this video to understand more:
By transposing the same pattern up and down the neck gives you different keys. Shifting the A Minor Pentatonic shape (which starts on the fifth fret) up a tone will give you B Minor, D Major and B Blues, along with B major and C Blues.
And here’s something else. Again, because you’ve only got five notes in a Pentatonic scale, by “accident” those same five notes can be the Pentatonic scale for a different key—only they turn out to be arranged in a different order.
For instance the Pentatonic scale for A Minor, which we’re using as the main examples here, also fits with the C Major and A Blues scales, and you’ll get away with A Major and C Blues, too.
Now, remembering that by transposing the identical pattern up and down the neck gives you different keys, shifting the A Minor Pentatonic shape (which starts on the fifth fret) up a tone will give you B Minor, D Major (very handy!) and B Blues, along with B major and C Blues…
In other words, the A Minor Pentatonic scale is considered the “get out of jail” guitar solo pattern by just about everyone. Particularly in the first position, starting at the fifth fret, because it has those nice high-mid tones that can lift a solo above the band, while not getting too far up the fret board and risking things sounding a bit thin.
Comparing the major and minor Pentatonic scales, the minor scale just gets first prize as the most versatile, which is why we’ve featured it here and suggest you learn the A Minor Pentatonic scale to begin with. It works really well with most traditional blues tunes, since blues songs do tend to be comparatively simple in construction.
Learn the first and third positions thoroughly, because that gives you a good mid-range and high tone options for lead blues playing.
By the way, if you’re watching someone else play lead guitar and expect them to be playing Pentatonic scales—but they’re apparently not—don’t forget to allow for string bending. It might appear they’re only fingering a tone up (and therefore not playing the scale), but the bend is actually pitching it much higher. In time, you’ll discover that a lot of the notes not included in the Pentatonic scale will actually work as “grace” notes in your lead playing, but be wary of certain chords that won’t fit the bill.
Here we’re showing you all five positions of the A Minor Pentatonic scale on the fret board. To start with I suggest you learn the first and third positions thoroughly, because that gives you a good mid-range and high tone options for lead blues playing which can transpose up okay a few keys without getting too far up the neck.
Another tip—don’t go for blistering, shredding solos straight away. Play slow, cool solos so you can hear how well the notes fit. As always, technique first and let speed develop naturally.
Happy Pentatonic lead playing!