Super Lesson: Minor Pentatonic & Minor Blues Scales

superlesson2Super Lesson…

This GUITARU.com Super Lesson is a micro course in the mechanics and application of the minor pentatonic and minor blues scales. There are sound files, graphics, instruction and animations equivalent to many complete books you may own or days upon days of guitar school. It doesn’t matter if you learn the material in the space of a day, week or month.

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Pentatonic Scales...-are scales which contain 5 notes. In the realm of lead guitar playing, pentatonic scales are the most user friendly and easiest scales to sound good with. Therefore, these highly versatile, powerful and forgiving scales are among the most commonly used and played scales in the areas of jamming and improvising music.

As you study and make sense out of the animation above, keep in mind that all of the names and ways of music theory are in relation to the Major scale. If the scale formulas for the Minor scale and Minor Pentatonic scale are a little confusing refer to the table below:

scale degrees
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1
A Major Scale
A
B
C#
D
E
F#
G#
A
scale degrees
1
2
b3
4
5
b6
b7
1
A Minor Scale A B C D E F G A
A Minor Pentatonic Scale A C D E G A

Root 6 Minor Pentatonic:The Lead Guitarists Favorite…

scx1902There can be no argument concerning the use age and necessity for the Minor Pentatonic scale in the world of the lead guitarist. The Minor Pentatonic scale is simply the most used and easiest to use scale in the Rock, Metal, Blues and Pop genres. The Minor Pentatonic scale is the most important scale to learn and learn to use for anyone wanting to develop the ability to play the hot lead guitar sound heard on countless Rock, Metal, Blues and Pop recordings. Listen to and practice the A Minor Pentatonic scale as it appears below, notice the unusual melodic quality readily present in the scale.

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The 5 note Minor Pentatonic scale is essentially a Minor Scale with the 2nd & 6th degree omited. This leaves you with a scale which contains 2 colorful and beautiful Blue Notes; the flat 3rd and flat 7th. The flat 3rd and flat 7th are sort of like the stars of Minor Pentatonic scale, each with its’ own distinct voice, character and musical personality:

  • The flat 3rd is often called THE Blues note because its’ vocal and expressive quality give it that down home, gut bucket flavor.
  • The flat 7th is the funky one of the bunch, to a beginning improvisor it sounds like an outside, almost dissonant note. the more experience a person has the more comfortable he is highlighting and bringing out the flat 7th in his playing.

Lead Lines……

The Minor Pentatonic scale as it appears above is also called a ‘box pattern’ by guitarists because of its symmetrical, two notes per string shape. The purpose of the Minor Pentatonic scale is generally to create lead guitar lines, licks, fills, background parts. The Minor Pentatonic scale is generally not thought of as a compositional or melodic tool and very little melodic writing is done thinking of the Minor Pentatonic scale as a tonal center in the same the that the Major or Pure Minor scales are thought of. That having been said, lets reinforce one critical point concerning the use and application of any Pentatonic scale: it is simply impossible to become a competent, employable lead guitarist without a firm grasp over the use of Pentatonic scales.

A Scale For All Purposes……

In our studies of guitar playing and music theory we’re taught to think of a Key as a tonal center which sets the boundaries and rule for playing in that key. In this course, applications and uses of scales has been made fairly clear as well:

  • If a song, vamp or chord progression is in a Minor Key, then the Minor Scale of that key is usually the first choice for writing melodies or soloing.
  • If a song, vamp or chord progression is in a Major Key, then the Major Scale of that key is usually the first choice for writing melodies or soloing.

In the case concerning the use and application of the highly unusual and adaptive Minor Pentatonic scales all bets are off:

  • If a song, vamp or chord progression is based on a Minor Chord, then the Minor Pentatonic Scale of that key can be interesting and acceptable choice for creating riffs, licks and also for soloing.
  • If a song, vamp or chord progression is based on a Major Chord, then the Minor Pentatonic Scale of that key can be an interesting and acceptable choice for creating riffs, licks and also for soloing.
  • If a song, vamp or chord progression is based on a Dominant Chord, then the Minor Pentatonic Scale of that key can be interesting and acceptable choice for creating riffs, licks and also for soloing.

When you think of Minor Pentatonic scales think of them as being forgiving, user friendly and highly adaptive. The Minor Pentatonic scales (box patterns) can also be thought of as a set exceptions to the rules concerning basic music theory. All things can be explained and justified by a music professor at your local college but the Minor Pentatonic scale is the scale of Rock and Blues music, music that was invented with the hearts and souls of largely untrained musicians long after conventional music theory had been outlined as a way of understanding explaining the music of the Renaissances, Baroque and Classical music of western Europe. An understanding of the rules of traditional harmony and theory is an absolute necessity if you hope to become a competent musician However, to creative and artistic souls, rules are always broken and bent in the pursuit of creating music. For now, it would be most helpful to look at the Minor Pentatonic scales with their Rock and Blues pedigree, as cool, effective exceptions to rules of traditional harmony and theory.

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Note the similarities between these two Minor Pentatonic solos, basically the same licks and phrasing but sent against a different backdrop. This points to the nature and character of the Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns: powerful, versatile and forgiving. Because of their power and ease of use, many players unfortunately base their soloing style and approach to improvising on this one scale and sound. Knowing and using only Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns causes a very sleepy, predictable, generic and hackish sound. Again, mastering the use of Box Patterns is essential to the improvising lead guitar player but using and knowing only Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns will quickly identify you as an amateur.

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Finally, lets take the same basic Minor Pentatonic licks and phrasing and set them a Bluesy or Dominant 7th chord background. All three of these sample solos have the same cool, ‘gut bucket’ and funky quality but the highly adaptive and forgiving Minor Pentatonic scale assumes a slightly different sound and flavor depending on the chord sound. Again, its the interesting sound, ease of use and forgiving nature of the Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns that cause many player to make the big misytake of basing their entire style, sound and approach to improvising on one simple yet highly effective concept. An excellent guitarist will have several tricks up his sleeve and save the Minor Pentatonic Box Patterns for the appropriate time, tune and place.

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Root 5 Minor Pentatonic: A Little Known Gem……

scx1907In this course, you’ve been taught to develop a ‘first line of defense’ to guide your thinking and functioning is situations requiring a knowledge of scales. That ‘first line of defense’ is of course, knowing first and foremost (or at the very least) a Root 6 and a Root 5 version of each scale. That being said, lets explore a Root 5 version of the A Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern. Interestingly enough, the Root 5 Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern is largely unplayed and untested by many lead players, even those with a reasonably good command of their craft tend to go right by it when attempting to break out of the rut and limited range caused by staying only in the Root 6 version .

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Lead Lines & Melodic Devices……

Below, we’ll examine the Root 5 Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern as a soloing vehicle. A soloist will often employ certain melodic devices when improvising. As these solos are nomeant to be great music but only a method of illustrating certain tried and true moves and concepts (melodic devices) that can produce highly musical results. In the three previous solos, the melodic device was an easy one: jumping up one octave from the Root Note and descending back to the note while adhering to the scale and rhythm. So now you may want to think of one octave leaps as a melodic device.

scx1911In the the three solos to follow the melodic devices are: Using “one note per string”

  • Leaps between the Root and b3rd Blues Note, (“C”) and or the Root and the especially bright and harmonious 5th,(“E”).
  • Short repetitive figure composed certain of minor pentatonic notes in this case its the funky b7th (“G”) the harmonious 5th,(“E”) and b3rd Blues Note, (“C”).

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The second solo using the Root 5 Minor Pentatonic Box Pattern again points to the special magic inherant in the scale; by using the same melodic devices and a slight variation of the ideas found in the previous solo, a solo we’ve already mastered, we’re able to quickly adapt to a new and different soloing situation.

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Listening To The Details…

The Details in the case of copying and playing solos are the dynamics and articulations, the special treatments applied to individual notes or groups of notes. Developing a strong vibrato will give your playing an exciting and life like quality.

In the example below dynamics and articulations, give the same plain old the “A” Root Note four different musical personalities.

Guided Practice……
file1Open this link for an additional melodic and phrase training exercises studies involving the Minor Pentatonic Scale.

 

Guided Practice……
file1Open this link for an additional scale studies introducing the Minor Blues Scale.

 

Conclusion……
In this lesson you’ve been strengthening your command over the 5 shapes associated with a Natural Minor Scale by transposing the scale patterns to the key of G minor. Additionally, you’ll also be developing the ability to use these various scale shapes in jamming, composing and improvising situations by studying short melodic passages and and tuneful guitar solos.

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