Here is a question from one of my private students:
I know the pentatonic scale in lots of positions over the neck. How do I learn to phrase better with it? I mean, I just kind of randomly run up and down the scale patternsI know the notes, how do I make them sound better?
This is common as a student moves into learning scales and patterns in multiple positions on the fretboard. While it is important to know scales in multiple keys and on multiple parts of the fretboard, it can sometimes create too many options for note selection for someone who has been working with the patterns for only a short while. An effective way to develop and work on phrasing is to go back and make the fretboard smaller, by concentrating improvisation and phrasing on one part of the neck at a time. Reducing the number of notes used for improvising and phrasing and concentrating on the nuances of the phrasing, like rhythm, vibrato, bends, hammer on's and pull off's and other techniques that give style and life to the notes.
Here's how we approached it using the A minor pentatonic scale. Here are the notes on the fretboard over a large portion of the neck:
There are lots of position options and notes available when the whole neck is used. In the next diagram, we narrow it down to the original basic minor pentatonic box that most of us learn early on:
Now, we drill it down even furtherto only the top two strings within that box:
Once narrowed down to this two-string, four-note position, we work on getting as much variety as possible out of these four notes. This forces the guitarist to get creative, as opposed to just running the fingers up and down memorized scale patterns.
Put on a simple backing track in A minor and try the following approaches using this one four note area:
Listen to how each one of these notes sounds over each chord of the progression. Which ones sound better to your ear over each chord?
Create varied repeating note type phrases using just four notes.
Vary the rhythms used with these notes. Hold some longer than others, give it a swing feel, etc.
Work on vibrato and bends. Which notes sound the best using these techniques?
The idea is to purposely restrict the area of the neck used for improvisation to force the player to get as musical as possible with just a few notes.
Try it again using a different part of the neck like this area (also in A pentatonic minor):
You can use this type of idea with any scale, on any area of the neck in any key. The value and benefit of this type of improvisation and phrasing practice lies in taking the fingers off of autopilot and making the guitarist think musically within a restricted neck area. You can still use the entire neck and all scale positions of whichever scale you are using, just restrict yourself to one area at a time when practicingthen connect the positions together. The possibilities are greatwork on this with different scales in different keys in whatever style you prefer. It works for everything from metal to blues to country.
To receive a FREE e-book with 5 additional lessons like this one, go to www.paulkleffmusic.com/ebook.html.
2008 Paul Kleff