So you’ve read my article on the minor pentatonic shapes for guitar. Great, you know them. Now what? In that article I spent about three sentences on tips for practicing the minor pentatonic scale. This article aims to go into a little bit more depth to get you jamming away on minor pentatonics.
Now, this article isn’t going to give you the minor pentatonic scale shapes. That’s all in the article linked above. This article is going to put your minor pentatonic scale knowledge to the test and give you some tips on practicing it. I’ll conclude with four licks that you can use to start yourself on your improvisation and soloing journey and, I’m sorry to say, some homework. The four licks I’m giving you are great, but I’m only giving them to you in one of the five minor pentatonic scale shapes. Do you want to improve on guitar? It’s up to you to convert the licks I’m giving you into other pentatonic scale shapes.
Consider this as two lessons in one. One is how to practice the minor pentatonic scale. The other is getting a deeper understanding of the minor pentatonic scale by translating licks between patterns.
Getting Started With Practicing The Minor Pentatonic Scale On Guitar
Here I’m assuming you’ve read the article on the minor pentatonic scale patterns. If you haven’t, read that article, memorise the shapes and come back here.
I mention in that article that part of the practice is simply going up and down the scale. I’m also assuming you’ve done that. If you have, do it again.
Now, do it again while saying/singing the number of the scale as you go up and down. Remember that the minor pentatonic scale is 1, b3, 4, 5, b7, then back to 1 (the root) again.
Now do it again.
This is less about finding notes on the fret board though. When you’re playing scales, you’re more thinking about the number you’re on rather than the exact note you’re playing. So when you’re on a scale, think about where you are, especially in relation to the root note. If you’re unsure, end phrases on the root note.
A Few Licks To Get You Started
While you’re more than welcome to play around with pentatonic scales and find note patterns that sound cool, ultimately you’ll learn faster by taking patterns from others. That’s pretty much what a lick is. A lick is just a series of notes that sounds good when soloing. A lot of improvising is less about making things up on the spot and more about playing a series of licks. Learn some licks and you can combine them into a killer guitar solo.
The following licks are all in the E minor pentatonic scale pattern. I’ve put two of them in 10th position (key of D minor) and two of them 5th position (key of A minor) just to keep you moving around the fret board. Practice these in the position given then, once you have them down, play them in other positions as well. These licks work in any position. Just remember that these are in the E minor pentatonic scale pattern. If you know this pattern, the root is on your first finger on the 6th string. This way you’ll know what position to play these licks in.
A Bend Of Kings
Let’s start super simple. It’s a quick bend on the flat 3rd, bending it up to the major third then ending on root. This is very, very bluesy. If you’re looking to play some blues, you need to know this move.
Albert Kind (probably) didn’t invent this simple lick, but it’s a very Albert King kind of feel. But B.B. King did it as well, as did Freddie. It’s really just standard blues.
If you’re not sure how to read guitar tabs yet, read the article. But seriously, this lick is only three notes.
This lick is super bluesy, mostly because of the 1/4 tone bend on the second note. If you remember pentatonic shapes, that second notes is the flat 3rd of the scale. the 1/4 tone bend sits between the minor 3rd and the major 3rd. This is the “blue note.” It’s what lies between the major and minor.
Play this lick slow and with soul and it will sound real good. Then speed it up as you get more confident with it. Either way this quick little bend will serve you well in any situation.
Adding A Triplet
The next lick gets a little more complex. Here we add a triplet to keep things interesting.
Remember that in the Em shape, the 8th fret on the 2nd string (in this position) is the 7th degree of the scale. So the full bend brings you up to the root. So basically you’re doing a bend up to the root, then playing the root on the 5th fret, 1st string. That final bend gets you back to finishing on the root.
The whole lick is b7 (bend up to root), root, b7, 5, b7 (bend up to root). It’s great and very bluesy.
Here’s another bluesy guitar lick with a couple triplets and some interesting bends.
On that first note, you bend up a full tone, then, while you’re bending, you pluck the string again and bring it back down to an unbent position. This is a very common technique in blues and rock guitar that you should get familiar with early on.
This lick may be a bit challenging at first, but getting that reverse bend is well worth it early on and a lot of fun to play.
Notice that once again on the second to last note you’re bending the flat 3rd of the the scale up a quarter tone to hit that blue note. Not only is it awesome, but it also lends itself to coming back to the root note and giving it some nice vibrato.
Putting It Together
Putting it together, we have a full tone bend, then a reverse bend, followed by a nice little blue note, then a triplet ending on the root.
This is a fun little lick with a little bit of everything. If you’re very new, it may be a little bit tough, but once you hit it, you sound like you’re really playing guitar.
You may have trouble shifting from the eighth notes to the triplets, but take it slow. Remember, count the eighth notes as “one and” and the triplets as “trip-a-let.” This lick is counted as “one and, trip-a-let, trip-a-let, four.”
To practice the change from eighths to triplets, tap your foot and play two eighths. Then tap your foot at the same tempo an do triplets. Then change between eighths and triplets. This is a key skill to have and worth working to.
Combining Everything (Now For Some Homework)
Sorry, there’s some homework for this guitar lesson. Nobody likes homework, but there are two simple tasks for you to do that will really help you with understanding minor pentatonic scales and have you practicing them a lot more effectively.
Homework 1: Play These Four Licks In The Same Position
You’ll notice that two of the licks I’ve listed are in 10th position and two of them are in 5th position. Both of them are in the Em shape.
By now you should know that you can move the shapes up and down the neck. It’s just about maintaining the difference between frets.
So, once you know these licks in the positions listed, try them in a different position. From there, do all four licks in the same position. Do a little four bar solo in the same position with these four licks.
That’s the easy part of the homework.
Homework 2: Figure Out These Licks In Different Shapes
These licks will (mostly) work in another shape. So why not move them to the Am, Dm, Gm, or Cm pentatonic shapes? There are a few limitations, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself. Where you find a limitation, why not move the lick a little bit, play the same scale degree, and get the same effect?
Could I provide you with the tabs for these licks in different shapes? Sure I could. but that won’t help you study the different minor pentatonic shapes and understand where each scale degree sits.
Because I’ve Tricked You Into Learning Minor Pentatonic Scales
If you care enough, you’re going to learn these licks in different shapes, and that’s the point. Yes, practice the patterns, learn the licks. But ultimately, translate those licks to other shapes. This helps you understand the minor pentatonic shapes a whole lot more. And ultimately, that’s how you understand and practice the minor pentatonic scale a whole lot better.