Finger Strength and Pentatonic Scale Lesson

When you start out learning to play lead, chances are your fingers get fatigued quite quick, especially the neglected little finger. I have devised my own way of building strength and speed and now I wish to share this.

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Hi! Only a week ago I started learning lead, having been a rhythm guitarist for a few years now.

I am going to post a few lessons to all others who are only starting out as I feel there is a lack of a proper guide to how you should go about learning to play lead.

From what I've learnt so far, there are 4 parts to learning to play lead:

1. Musical theory
( a ) Scales
( b ) Keys
( c ) Key changes
The list goes on but you get the picture
2. Technique
3. Physical training
4. Commonly used licks and phrases (cliches)

Everyday, you should work on all these parts. I'm doing this a bit backwards because I should have first done an introduction but I'll start off with a little practice routine I have devised (however I'm sure it's been used before) to help with strength and speed training and at the same time it helps you learn the pentatonic box shapes. So let's begin.

Remember the best way to practice is by using a metronome, otherwise it's difficult to track your progress.

Here are your pentatonic "boxes" on the guitar neck:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12                        
E|---|-F#|---|---|-A-|---|-B-|---|-C#|---|---|-E-|
B|---|-C#|---|---|-E-|---|-F#|---|---|-A-|---|-B-|
G|---|-A-|---|-B-|---|-C#|---|---|-E-|---|-F#|---|
D|---|-E-|---|-F#|---|---|-A-|---|-B-|---|-C#|---|
A|---|-B-|---|-C#|---|---|-E-|---|-F#|---|---|-A-|
E|---|-F#|---|---|-A-|---|-B-|---|-C#|---|---|-E-|
Box 1 starts at the 2nd fret and if you play up the pattern ends on A on the lower E-string, as demonstrated in the tab below
E|---------------------2-5-2-------------------------------
B|-----------------2-5-------5-2---------------------------
G|-------------2-4---------------4-2-----------------------
D|---------2-4-----------------------4-2-------------------
A|-----2-4-------------------------------4-2---------------
E|-2-5---------------------------------------5-2-----------
Box 2 starts at the 5th fret on A and playing up it ends on B on the lower E-string as follows:
E|---------------------5-7-5-------------------------------
B|-----------------5-7-------7-5---------------------------
G|-------------4-6---------------6-4-----------------------
D|---------4-7-----------------------7-4-------------------
A|-----4-7-------------------------------7-4---------------
E|-5-7---------------------------------------7-4-----------
Box 3 starts on B on the 7th fret and works its way down to C# on the lower E-string:
E|----------------------7-9-7------------------------------
B|-----------------7-10-------10-7-------------------------
G|-------------6-9-----------------9-6---------------------
D|---------7-9-------------------------9-7-----------------
A|-----7-9---------------------------------9-7-------------
E|-7-9-----------------------------------------9-7---------
And finally box 4 starts at the 9th fret on C# and ends at the 12th fret on the lower E-string on E as seen here:
E|---------------------------9-12-9---------------------------
B|---------------------10-12--------12-10---------------------
G|----------------9-11--------------------11-9----------------
D|-----------9-11------------------------------11-9-----------
A|------9-12----------------------------------------12-9------
E|-9-12--------------------------------------------------12-9-
In the beginning you spend endless hours playing these up and down trying to memorize them. Remember these can be moved up and down the neck as well and they will still be "correct."

Another thing anyone who wants to play lead needs to work on is both speed and strength. In most cases your little finger poses the biggest problem as it is not coordinated and strong when you start learning to play.

I devised the following exercise to learn my boxes and also build strength and speed in all my fingers. To play it, assign a finger to each fret and always use the specified finger at all times. So let me show you my exercises.

Exercise 1:

E|------------------------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------------------------
G|------------------------------------------------------------
D|------------------------------------------------------------
A|-----2-4-2---------4-7-4---------7-9-7----------9-12-9------
E|-2-5-------5-2-5-7-------7-5-7-9-------9-7-9-12--------12-9-

The exercise above follows the 4 boxes on only the E and A strings all the way up to the 12th fret. I play this up and down and then up and down again for a few times. It works best when played with a metronome. All the exercises follow this same principal. We will come back and change them when we get to string skipping.

Exercise 2:

E|------------------------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------------------------
G|------------------------------------------------------------
D|-----2-4-2---------4-7-4---------7-9-7----------9-11-9------
A|-2-4-------4-2-4-7-------7-4-7-9-------9-7-9-12--------12-9-
E|------------------------------------------------------------

Exercise 3:

E|------------------------------------------------------------
B|------------------------------------------------------------
G|-----2-4-2---------4-6-4---------6-9-6----------9-11-9------
D|-2-4-------4-2-4-7-------7-4-7-9-------9-7-9-11--------11-9-
A|------------------------------------------------------------
E|------------------------------------------------------------

Exercise 4:

E|---------------------------------------------------------------
B|-----2-5-2---------5-7-5---------7-10 7----------10-12-10------
G|-2-4-------4-2-4-6-------6-4-6-9--------9-6-9-11----------11-9-
D|---------------------------------------------------------------
A|---------------------------------------------------------------
E|---------------------------------------------------------------

Exercise 5:

E|-----2-5-2---------5-7-5----------7-9-7------------9-12-9---------
B|-2-5-------5-2-5-7-------7-5-7-10-------10-7-10-12--------12-10---
G|------------------------------------------------------------------
D|------------------------------------------------------------------
A|------------------------------------------------------------------
E|------------------------------------------------------------------
These exercises can stay with you forever as they also provide a good warm up if you are an advanced player as well. I will share all the things I learn while also learning lead with you guys over the next few months.

Thank you for reading. This is my first lesson so please comment and suggest improvements.

27 comments sorted by best / new / date

comments policy
    Fenil
    Cool beginner lesson. A piece of advice: Start very slow .
    steven seagull
    You've missed the most important part of all - usinng your ears.
    aelkeris
    Well, i know of only one person who could make music without hearing it, so i think that using your ears goes without saying. Great lesson, expecting more, it is really useful to be aware of all main key aspects of soloing. (and of course practice it)
    Jacques Nel
    Thanks for the feedback, well yeah Steven I know, in my defense I only started practicing lead recently and also I've never done lessons before, but thanks for the criticism. I've just always seen using your ear as an obvious part of learning any instrument.
    Jacques Nel
    In light of the fact that this lesson, my first, will probably be retired to the archives soon, I want to thank everyone for enjoying the lesson, for supporting it, and for all the feedback. See you soon.
    Frank M
    Good exercises, thanks! The key is lots Practice and Hearing what you're playing. I have a question, hope it isn't too basic. I hear the phrase A minor pentatonic, A Major, or E minor or major...What determines the Pentatonic Key signature...in the first exercise above you begin in F# on the sixth string but the pinky finger lands on A on the sixth string...would this be an F# major pentatonic scale or perhaps an A minor pentatonic scale because it is on the upper part of the fret board (toward the nut)? Thanks,FM
    Rowley61
    Good starter lesson,But remember to know where the root note is for every shape & its sound - start every shapr & finish also on the ROOT note,this will help you to be able to use these shapes musicaly more easily in futur. Also I like the first examplr of the scale tones in a linear fashion (all the tones on 1 string)..learn this as it will help you move up & down the fret board linking one shape to another like a guitar god & sound again MUSICAL
    izzylee
    I was wondering if u can explain if a song is in G u would use the 3 rd fret what are the shapes?
    Jacques Nel
    In that case, you would move all the shapes up one fret. Where the first shape above starts on F#, in G the first shape would start on G, the second would start on A# and so on.
    rprdo
    The 20 minutes it took for me to nail exercise 4 once were hell Really nice lesson, only suggestion, put exercise 4 at the end of the lesson, it was really hard compared to the others, or maybe I just suck, lol
    Jacques Nel
    Also, when you get to the part where you play 4-6 on G and 5-7 on B, I like doing the 4-6 with fingers 1 and 3, and the 5-7 with fingers 2 and 4. This also helps get those fingers 'unstuck' and working independently. If you haven't tried it that way try it now. Rather play difficult things slower than play easy things faster, it helps you grow as a guitarist.
    Jacques Nel
    You know what, I've also always found the jump from the G string to the B string a bit tricky seeing as B is the 'funny' string, but hey you can play them in any order. It's fun especially if you struggle with it for a while because when you get it down, it makes other exercises seem easier. Glad you enjoyed it.
    zeeshan2587
    Jacques Nel bravo lesson... and iam also expecting more lessons like that on modes as well from you Regards zee