The pentatonic scale is often the first scale we learn when stepping into lead guitar territory. It is easy to visualise on guitar since it is played with 2 notes on each string, and can be played in 5 different boxes. The great thing about the pentatonic scale is that both major and minor pentatonic scales can be played over the exact same shapes. It can be recognised everywhere in almost every guitar solo. Because of its practicality, it is easy for us to get stuck in each pentatonic shape and risk sounding repetitive. The last thing we want is to not enjoy our own playing!
In this article, we will be exploring some new ideas that will allow you to branch out of typical 2 note per string pentatonic ideas. To gain the most out of this article, you will need a basic understanding of how the 5 pentatonic boxes are connected to each other.
The figure below shows all the 5 pentatonic boxes.
2 + 3 Note Pentatonic Shapes in Octaves
The first idea we will look at is playing the first 4 notes of the scale the way we typically would across 2 strings, but instead of playing the 5th note on the next string, you will play the same 5th note on the current string you’re on. To visualise this symmetrically, we will use position 5 of the pentatonic scale.
Playing the scale in this 2 note and 3 note shape will set you in position to be able to play the exact same shape on the following 2 strings, and that will set you up for the same across the last 2 strings. Playing the scale this way will allow you to play 3 extra notes linearly, and it is a great way to generate new phrases and move up and down the fretboard within the scale, instead of vertically in one box.
Once you get comfortable playing these extended shapes across all 5 positions, you can try sequencing them. This 2 and 3 note pattern allows for different kinds of sequences compared to strict 2 note or 3 note per string shapes.
String Skipping 3Note Per String Shapes
The next idea we will be looking at is the 3 note per string pentatonic shape. For this, you will be playing all the notes across 2 adjacent boxes, giving you 3 notes per string. This requires some wide stretches on the fretting hand, so it is recommended to do this over the higher frets. The figure below shows this in positions 1(red) and 2(blue).
Because there are repeated notes when playing the full scale this way, you will play the 3 notes across every alternate string. Meaning, if you start on the 6th string, you will skip the 5th string and move right to the 4th string, then to the 2nd string.
You can also use this same pattern starting on the 5th string, then moving to the 3rd and 1st string.
This is a challenging idea to grasp and it will require some time for it to integrate into your playing, but it is a powerful tool to visualise the pentatonic scale over a wider range across the fretboard and will allow you to generate new and interesting ideas. Like any scale, you can try sequencing this to create longer phrases. Just like the first idea, this also works for all adjacent boxes. You can use this with boxes 2 and 3, 3 and 4, 4 and 5 and 5 and 1. The example here shows the full shape, but you can also use them as single string ideas to navigate up and down the fretboard.
Conquering these two ideas will bring your playing to a whole new level and open you up a new world of pentatonic ideas which you can add to your lick arsenal! They definitely sound cool so make full use of them!
About The Author
Learning to play guitar on your own can be frustrating and challenging, especially if you don’t know what to do. Having a great teacher makes the whole process more fun, enjoyable and gets you real results fast.