Developing Coherant Solos With The Minor Pentatonic Scale
The purpose of this lesson is to give you practical playing and listening experience with the highly adaptive, flexible, useful and powerful Minor Pentatonic Scale -the favorite of Rock, Blues, Pop and Metal players. We’ve also discussed common pitfalls that cause this powewrful and wonderous
scale to become a senseless amateurish noise:

  • Basing your entire style and approach to improvising on one scale pattern.
  • The tasteless, almost mindless ‘running’ of scales from high notes to low notes and back again.

Obviously, the cure for the first common pitfall is to learn different scale sounds and positons and other musical devices such as arpeggios advanced chord shapes. The second common pitfall can be avoided by learning & and then adapting licks and solos like those found in the main body of this lesson and in the playing of your favorite guitarists.


The most important thing to learn and develop with any scale is a sense of phrasing. Phrases are logical, coherant bits of melodic material that make musical sense to you and your listener. Phrases, are generally caused by two things:

  • One and one half beats of silence
  • Long notes such as a dotted quarter, half or whole note


Below is a solo which examplifies someone speaking the language of music. The individual phrases have been highlighted and will scroll as the music plays. In contrast to the first solo, the guitar player is creating individual phrases by:

  • Using notes of differing time values, mixing up short ones and long ones.
  • Using musical space (rests) , inserting silence as a way of making the music interesting and listenable.

The most common bad habit of those learning to play lead guitar is forgetting to create phrases through the use of rests and long notes. When we’re learning most of us just play scale patterns and play them on and on, unaware that the essence and beauty of the art of lead guitar (and improvising in general) playing lies in the phrases. Listen to the two solos again, which one would you rather sign your name to?

Sweet Spots…..

If you want to play with a nice sense of phrasing, then you must practice creating and playing phrases. In the solo just above you may have noticed that the guitar player found in necessary to use only 4 notes. By adding interesting rhythms and not playing the notes of the scale in order (adding leaps across the strings) interesting and listenable music was created. In the exercises to follow you’ll be be learning to use groups of 3& 4 notes to improve your phrasing abilities. In the case of the Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns, interesting and powerful 3& 4 note clusters often appear on two adjacent strings and include the Root Note. In this lesson, we’ll call these interesting and powerful 3& 4 note clusters Sweet Spots. As the strongest, most powerful and harmonious note in any key is the the Root Note learn to be very comfortable with using the Root Note as your strongest and a great place, but certainly not the only place, to begin and end your phrases on.


Phrase Training…..

An excellent way to practice your phrasing, and improvising skills in general is to limit yourself to groups of 3 or 4 notes and see how much music you can create with a small, limited pallette. This type of highly concentrated disciplined practice is designrd for you to learn speak the language of muasic in your own way, freely creating musically logical and coherant phrases. In the exercises to follow, you’ll be listening to a series of short phrases using one of three Sweet Spots or Phrase Boxes we’ve created. Your job will be to play those short phrases by ear, echoing them right back on your guitar. It may be possible for you to immediatel and accurately play those phrases immediately, the important is that you don’t let a wrong note or two interrupt your process, keep playing and keep searching for the right notes. You’ll probably need to spend quite a bit of time with each exercise before mastering it. If any individual phrase continues to stump you, hit the stop button and iron it out slowly, but do so only as a last resort. Alternatively, you can turn these exercises into musical question and answer session. That is to say, engage in a musical conversation with exercise by listening to each short phrase and then creating a musical answer on your guitar.

These exercises are designed to strengthen your ear and improve your ability to play what you hear. Most students would find these exercises quite challenging at first. Don’t let them defeat you, remember there are only 4 possible in each phrase (notes that are in the Sweet Spot) -every one of these exercises are easily playable and doable with a little hard work and determination.

Again, these exercises point to the power inherant in the flexible and forgiving Minor Pentatonic Scale and in 4 note cluster found on two adjacent strings. An incredible amount of music can be extraxted from what we’ve named the Sweet Spots or Phrase Boxes.

Root 5 Exercises…..

To conclude this study we’ll work with the Root 5 Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern in the same fashion. This will help you avoid becoming trapped and stuck in the rut of only knowing and using one scale shape which as stated earlier is another common stumbling block. Below you se the Root 5 Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern divided into the 4 note clusters we’ve named the Sweet Spots.


Just below you’ll find play along versions of the one chord vamps we’ve been using as soloing vehicles for this study. To review, the Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns are extremely unusual because they can be (and quite often are ) applied to any chord sound: Major, Minor or Dominant 7.

kissIn the exercises to follow, you won’t be echoing, rather you’ll be strictly improvising (jamming) music on your guitar, concentrating on the 4 note clusters or Sweet Spots we’ve identified for you. Disciplining yourself to see how much music you can creatively and inventively squeeze out of the 4 note clusters found in the Box Patterns.

If you get stuck, follow the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Super Simple! You’ll find that through simplifying and playing just a few notes, in time and with a sense of conviction, your lead guitar playing ability will grow in an even and steady fashion.


Return To Lesson


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