Soloing With The Minor Pentatonic Scale

author: bluesguyjon date: 10/13/2008 category: soloing
rating: 8.5 / votes: 53 
So this "pentatonic" scale thing, everyone's saying how awesome it is to solo in it, and how you should be able to improvise 15 minutes off of the top of your head with it. Well, after we're done with you here, you will be. First off, here's the minor pentatonic scale with the root on the 5th fret (which just happens to be the key of A).
e|---------------------5-8-|
B|-----------------5-8-----|   And then
G|-------------5-7---------|   repeat back
D|---------5-7-------------|   the other way.
A|-----5-7-----------------|
E|-5-8---------------------|
So now that you know what the scale is, go get good at it. I mean REALLY good. Before you go on stage and get ready to jam, you should be able to go from the high E string to the low E string and back in about 5 seconds, WITHOUT LOOKING, just for starters. So your band mates come to you and say, "hey we wanna do (insert song here)". So you look at the chords your rhythm guitarist is doing, and you deduce (or you can just ask him, I'm sure he'll be happy to tell you) what key the song is in. For the sake of this lesson, we'll say it's in G. Look at the tab of the pentatonic scale again. You'll notice the 5th fret comes up a lot in there. What you need to pay attention to is the very first note in that scale (the one on the low E string). That happens to be the A note. This is called the root note. The root note tells you what key the whole scale is in. So, back to that song you and your band mates were talking about. It's in the key of G. You look for the G note on your low E string. It's on the 3rd fret. Therefore, your scale that you'll be working with is:
e|---------------------3-6-|
B|-----------------3-6-----|
G|-------------3-5---------|
D|---------3-5-------------|
A|-----3-5-----------------|
E|-3-6---------------------|
Now that you have the basic scale down, there's a little something else you can throw in there. It's kind of hard to explain in writing, so bear with me. Still looking at the key of G, there's a little something that you can attach onto any minor pentatonic scale.
e|-------6-8-|
B|---6-8-----|
G|-7---------|
D|-----------|
A|-----------|
E|-----------|
You can find where to attach this little thing by looking at the second of the 2 notes on the highest 2 strings in any pentatonic scale. In the key of G, they're both on the same fret (which they always will be)l the 6th fret. That tells you that you can play that little thing starting on the 6th fret with that shape. So for the key of A that I first showed you the pentatonic scale in, it would be:
e|--------8-10-|
B|---8-10------|
G|-9-----------|
D|-------------|
A|-------------|
E|-------------|
Last thing to come is octaves. With almost any key you play this scale in, you can play it in 2 places on the neck. If you have a 24 fret guitar, you can play ANY minor pentatonic scale in 2 places. However, I just have a good 'ol Strat, so it's only 22 frets. The guitar is naturally an E instrument. I dunno if this is the proper wording for it, but you'll see what I mean in a moment. The "open" minor pentatonic scale is this:
e|---------------------0-3--|
B|-----------------0-3------|
G|-------------0-2----------|
D|---------0-2--------------|
A|-----0-2------------------|
E|-0-3----------------------|
This is in the key of E. You can imagine that the "zero fret" is the root note, thus E. This can be played 1 octave up, like this:
e|-------------------------------12-15-|
B|-------------------------12-15-------|
G|-------------------12-14-------------|
D|-------------12-14-------------------|
A|-------12-14-------------------------|
E|-12-15-------------------------------|
That first note on the low E string is still E, just one octave up, see? Last example, that scale in G from before, just one octave up:
e|-------------------------------15-18-|
B|-------------------------15-18-------|
G|-------------------15-17-------------|
D|-------------15-17-------------------|
A|-------15-17-------------------------|
E|-15-18-------------------------------|
You can think of the whole fretboard from the 0-11th fret repeating from the 12th to whatever fret your last fret is. Those dots can help you to find out where to go (for example, the 1st dot corresponds to the first dot after the double dots, which are the 12th fret, and where the 2nd octave begins). So there you go! Once you get good at these, you're ready to improvise, and impress any tab memorizing weirdo that comes along (not a good thing to say on this site. To help you out, here's a blues lick I just thought of, it's probably been used about 1, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 times. Let's see if you can tell what key it's in.
e|------7---------------------------|
B|----7---10bZYABLA~HUYABLA---------------------|
G|-9b-----------9br-7---7-----------|
D|--------------------9---9ZYABLA~HUYABLA-9p7h9-|
A|----------------------------------|
E|----------------------------------|
Email me with comments or if you need help/don't understand any part of this.
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