In-Depth With The Pentatonic

author: clow539 date: 04/02/2009 category: scales
rating: 9.5 / votes: 40 
This lesson will cover three things. First we are going to take a look at the pentatonics, that famous scale you've all heard about. Second we are going to cross the pentatonics with modes and giving some tips and tricks about how to use them in different keys and modes. Third I am going to show you a weird thing I noticed when drawing some pentatonics on my notebook that might help achieving different tones and playing styles. Okay, first things first. Note: some basic knowledge on intervals and major scale building is good for this lesson.

The Pentatonic

1. Theory Pentatonic is a word made up by two words. Penta and tonic, which means it has five tones, five notes. So what exactly is a pentatonic scale? It's nothing more than taking specific 5 notes out of any major scale. Let's see the C Major scale:
C major: C D E F G A B C   *1    
C PENTA: C D E   G A   C   *2 
*1: You take off the IV(F) and the VII(B) notes of the scale, and you've got the pentatonic. *2: That means the pentatonic is the (I, II, III, V, VI) Well, then.. If the pentatonic is nothing more than the major scale with less notes, why do we even use it? It's great for beginners and it has a different sounding. They're the stronger notes of the scale.. And plus, you can get the blues scale out of it! Okay, Clow, I can make major pentatonic scales.. What about minor scales? Let's take a look at the A Minor scale:
A minor: A B C D E F G A   *1 
A PENTA: A   C D E   G A   *2 
*1:Y ou take off the II(B) and the VI(F) notes of the scale, and you've got the pentatonic. *2: That means the pentatonic is the (I, III, IV, V, VII) But honestly, memorizing two different ways of getting the notes out for a pentatonic scale can be confusing. That's why I always calculate everything for the major scale, because it will be the same thing for it's equivalent minor. See the C major pentatonic I just shown? It's just the same as the A minor pentatonic. Try doing that, do the major scale and try to find it's minor mode (or Eolic, which I'll explain later). That will also help to find the pentatonic scale for every mode, following the next part. 2. Shapes Okay, the little bit of theory gone, here's pentatonic shapes for you to practice. Don't worry about fitting them together yet, just practice and get fluent with each one, because that will make it easier to fit them together in the next part of this lesson.
 _________________________________________
| Pentatonic Box 1:  | Pentatonic Box 2:  |
| |-|x|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|-|        |
| |-|x|-|x|          | |-|x|-|-|x|        |
| |x|-|x|-|          | |x|-|-|x|-|        |
| |x|-|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|-|        |
| |x|-|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|-|        |
| |-|x|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|-|        |
*--------------------*--------------------*
| Pentatonic Box 3:  | Pentatonic Box 4:  |
| |x|-|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|          |
| |-|x|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|          |
| |x|-|x|-|          | |x|-|-|x|          |
| |x|-|x|-|          | |x|-|-|x|          |
| |x|-|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|          |
| |x|-|-|x|          | |-|x|-|x|          |
*--------------------*--------------------*
| Pentatonic Box 5:  |
| |x|-|-|x|          |
| |x|-|-|x|          |
| |x|-|x|-|          |
| |x|-|x|-|          |
| |x|-|x|-|          |
| |x|-|-|x|          |
*--------------------*

Pentatonics And Modes

1. Modes I'll give a brief explanation on modes, so you know what you are crossing over with the pentatonics. What exactly are modes? They are different scales that derive from the Major Scale. They are, in order:
I  : Ionian (the major scale)
II : Dorian                  
III: Phrygian                
IV : Lydian                  
V  : Mixolydian              
VI : Eolic  (the minor scale)
VII: Locrian
Let's take a look at it in a scale, the C Major:
   C major:    |C|D | E |F |G|A | B |C|
---------------|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|VII|I|
That means the C is the Ionian root, the D is the Dorian root, the E is Phrygian and so on. The G Mixolydian, for example, is nothing more than the C major scale starting on the G.
 G mixolydian: |G|A | B |C|D | E |F |G|
---------------|V|VI|VII|I|II|III|IV|V|
So how are you supposed to improvise if someone plays a progression in the key of G mixolydian? Or F lydian? You play the C major scale starting on the key you want. And that is true for every other scale. 2. Pentatonics Crossing Over With Modes How the hell do I know what's the pentatonic, for example, for the D Mixolydian?! All you gotta do is find which one is the Ionian(or Eolic if you prefer) for the D Lydian, which is the A major(or F# minor). Why do you learn a bunch of pentatonic boxes? If it's just one scale, why does it have five boxes? That's because those five boxes cover the whole fretboard. Yeah, that's right, you practiced the pentatonic scale across the whole fretboard a bit before in this lesson. But how are they connected? That's simple. Where one box ends, the other one starts. Because pentatonics also have modes. So if you start off the Ionian shape on a pentatonic scale, the next shape that will follow it right up is the Dorian. You can't call them "pentatonic box 1" or "2" anymore, since you know they are actually modes. Here's how they are called:
Locrian-Ionian   -> Pentatonic Box 1
Dorian           -> Pentatonic Box 2
Phrygian-Lydian  -> Pentatonic Box 3
Mixolydian       -> Pentatonic Box 4
Eolic            -> Pentatonic Box 5
But Clow.. You just told us that we are supposed to take the IV and the VII notes off the major scale to obtain the major pentatonic scale, right? 3. Shapes Right. It happens that those notes are the Lydian and the Locrian root notes of the major scale. How can we call a box Locrian-Ionian or Phrygian-Lydian, then? That means you'll have to practice those boxes again, now with the Lydian and the Locrian notes! Here's a chart with every note degree. And with the numbers it gets even easier to see where they fit together:
Locrian-Ionian Box:
|---|(1)|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|-2-|---|-3-|*4*|
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|

Dorian Box:
|---|-2-|---|-3-|---|
|---|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|---|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|---|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|---|

Phrygian-Lydian Box:
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|
|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|---|-3-|*4*|
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|

Mixolydian Box:
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|

Eolic Box:
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|
|(1)|---|-2-|---|
|-5-|---|-6-|---|
|-2-|---|-3-|*4*|
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
* 1- Ionian root; 2- Dorian root; 3- Phrygian root; 4- Lydian root; 5- Mixolydian root; 6- Eolic root; 7- Locrian root 4. Tip If you're using a 6-string guitar with 24 frets, you can only have 2 notes in the same string (I'm not counting open strings). Like two F's on the high-E string, 1st fret and 13th fret, or on the G string, 10th fret and 22th fret:
Fretboard:
E|-F-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|-F-|---|
B|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
G|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|-F-|---|---|---|---|
D|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
A|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
E|-F-|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|-F-|---|
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10  11  12  13  14 

E|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
B|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
G|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|-F-|---|---|
D|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
A|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
E|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|---|
   15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24
That means you could start on, for example, a phrygian note in a string and build the box from there since you can find it in only one box per string. For example, the Lydian in the C major scale, which is the F, in the D string:
Mixolydian Box:
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|---|-2-|---|-3-|
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|  Pay attention to the !4!
|-3-|!4!|---|-5-|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
That means that everytime you hit a Lydian note on the D string, you are on the Mixolydian box. What about, I don't know, the Phrygian note, if I hit it on the G string?
Locrian-Ionian Box:
|---|(1)|---|-2-|
|---|-5-|---|-6-|
|-2-|---|!3!|*4*|  Pay attention to the !3!
|-6-|---|*7*|(1)|
|-3-|*4*|---|-5-|
|*7*|(1)|---|-2-|
Now you're on the Locrian-Ionian box. You can figure out the rest yourself. Those little tricks help you see the whole fretboard covered with the scale you want faster. Great, now that you've practiced those patterns, you can move them to play in any key. You're still thinking pentatonics, but what you've got there is the whole major scale to play with in a different style! Practice, practice, practice!

In-Depth Pentatonics

1. Theory I was just checking some stuff on pentatonics once on my notebook while bored, and I ended up finding out something kind of interesting. For example, let's take the C major scale again:
   C major:    |C|D | E |F |G|A | B |C|
---------------|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|VII|I|
Ok, the A is the Eolic note, so it's the Minor Scale. It's pentatonic would be A-C-D-E-G-A. That is, how I said before, the same as the major scale without the Lydian and the Locrian root notes. Now let's take a look at a different scale.. Let's say I got the minor scale of the Dorian note:
   D minor:    |D | E |F|G | A |Bb|C|D |
---------------|VI|VII|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|
and then it's pentatonic: D-F-G-A-C Now I'll get the minor scale of the Phrygian note:
   E minor:    |E | F#|G|A | B |C |D|E |
---------------|VI|VII|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|
and then it's pentatonic: E-G-A-B-D Note: Pay attention, I'm not getting the Dorian scale, or the Phrygian scale.. I'm getting the minor scale of the Dorian root on the C major scale, and the same with the Phrygian root. Did you notice? The minor pentatonic of the Dorian has the F, which is the Lydian of C.. The minor pentatonic of the Phrygian has the B, which is the Locrian of C. What happens if you add up all those pentatonics? You get the whole C major scale! The same also happens with the major pentatonic of the Lydian and the major pentatonic of the Mixolydian, adding up respectively, the Lydian(logically) and the Locrian.
   F major:    |F|G | A |Bb|C|D | E |F|
---------------|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|VII|I|
and then it's pentatonic: F-G-A-C-D
   G major:    |G|A | B |C |D|E |F# |G|
---------------|I|II|III|IV|V|VI|VII|I|
and then it's pentatonic: G-A-B-D-E 2. On The Fretboard - Let's take a look at the fretboard with the A minor pentatonic:
Fretboard:
E|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|
B|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|
G|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|
D|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|
A|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|
E|---|---|-G-|---|-A-|---|(B)|-C-|---|-D-|---|-E-|(F)|---|
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10  11  12  13  14 

E|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|
B|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|
G|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|
D|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|
A|-x-|---|-x-|---|-x-|---|---|-x-|---|-x-|
E|-G-|---|-A-|---|(B)|-C-|---|-D-|---|-E-|
  15  16  17  18  19  20  21  22  23  24
You can start a whole new minor pentatonic box (that means Eolic) at the D and at the E, Dorian and Phrygian respectively. You can start a whole new major pentatonic box (that means Ionian) at the F and at the G, Lydian and Mixolydian respectively. Test them and see how it sounds, adjust them to your style, use the boxes you like the most or just mix them all for the whole C major scale!

The End

Well, if you've read to this point, you've got some pretty good ideas for the pentatonic now... But it's no use if you can't apply them somewhere. Practice boxes in every key! Build a few progressions in different modes and try them with the pentatonic, with the extended boxes or even compose a few licks with the mixed pentatonics! No one can give you everything you need to become a guitar god in a lesson, you gotta try it for yourself and never stop practicing! Cheers. - Clow
More clow539 lessons:
+ Organizing The Fretboard The Basics 09/18/2008
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