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"Not another page about pentatonics!?"

Yep, another page about pentatonics. And beware it's scope and depth for it is a ponderous page - but ... if you can stand more than a few words, read on and you may find there's something a little different about my approach in teaching this all-too-familiar subject.

Prologue. I'm consumed with the concept of practicality. In other words, if I'm not going to make good use of a particular musical idea, I'm not interested. I distinctly remember my own teacher shooting me a bunch of pentatonic patterns on paper and telling me to go home and memorize them. So being the good student, I did so diligently. Now what? How do I use them? The fact is in practice, I wound up using only a few of the patterns I had spent so much time committing to memory. I found that while learning other artists' solos and such, they were using the same few basic forms on a regular basis. Therefor I inevitably felt I had wasted time and energy learning things that had no consequential use. That's not to say they had no value at all but the experience left a lasting impression on my general approach to both learning and teaching. Practicality.

Let me dangle the proverbial carrot; how would you like to learn to play freely across the entire neck in any key quickly and efficiently? Sound too good to be true? Well, it is a bit of a stretch but it's not impossible if it's approached using a logical and progressive method. And an easy to digest scale family called PENTATONICS.

It's essential we start by labeling and defining exactly what it is we're working with. Namely "A MINOR PENTATONIC". Let me explain that phrase. We're dealing with one note, 'A', as our key or root note to uniformly construct patterns across the neck. "Minor" is the context in which it applies; dark sounding as apposed to" Major" which is bright sounding by comparison. And of course "Pentatonic", a two part word. "Penta" meaning "five" as in pentagram or pentagon and "tonic" meaning sound or note. Hence we have a scale form built of only five notes. Common fully diatonic scales, such as the major scale, use all seven letters in the musical alphabet, A B C D E F and G.

Introducing - THE BOX. The primordial starting point for this whole mess. You shouldn't have too much of a problem reproducing this pattern. It's structure is pretty straight forward as you can see by the diagram - it does look rather "boxey". The darker dots represent our root note 'A'. The most important of which is the one on the sixth string at the 5th fret. That's our anchor - be sure to take special notice of it for future reference.

"The Pentatonic Box"

Have a go at it like this;

'A' Minor Pentatonic Notation

After one of my students gets it under their fingers for the first time I usually ask a question, "Can you tell me every note you just played?". (Brows furrow and teeth are gritted).

Luckily for you, you're spared the aggravation since we have a diagram to illustrate them.

'The Box' with Notes.

Notice a pattern? That's right, there are 5 notes being used over and over. Hence the term "penta - tonic" mentioned previously.

Another question, "Are these notes only in this part of the neck?". Definetly not! They're everywhere throughout the neck and our goal is to gain access to them as quickly and efficiently as possible.

One of the most overlooked and valuable methods of covering ground is trying to reproduce a given pattern above the 12th fret. Considering all the notes on every string repeat from that point, nothing changes except the physical distance between the frets. Mentally it's a no-brainer, just follow the repeating dots. Since the dots also repeat from the 12th fret, we can plant the very same box pattern we started with up to the 'A' at the 17th fret - way up there in sonic nosebleed territory. That's octaves at work for you.

17th Fret Position

Being somewhat cramped it takes some getting used to compared to the lower end of the neck. Lots of fun eh? The lesson here is that we haven't had to learn a new pattern, just a new position. How convenient!

So ends part one in a four part process of discovery and accessibility.

On to part two.

I'll start with an absolutely critcal statement I touched on previously; all these patterns must be coordinated and referenced properly to help eliminate confusion. That is to say the patterns we started with begin or have their anchor on the sixth string. And our next step will be to develop a form that starts on the fifth string, at the 12th fret to be precise and that once again is an 'A'.

At this point I usually ask a student to play off the top five strings from the high pattern at the 17th fret. Then drop down the the 12th fret on the 5th string and try to reproduce, by ear, the same sounds in that position. With few exceptions students find it a bit of a problem in doing so. Once they hit that second string, something's out of whack and they give me a look of curiosity and confusion. The fact is as you play through the new position you have to make an adjustment at the second string to account for the lost fret dropped in standard tuning. Hmm ... that might be subject material for another article - how to tune accurately in less than 30 seconds without a tuner! Back to the task at hand, I won't postpone the inevetiable. Here's the pattern:

'A' Minor Pentatonic at the 12th Fret

Notice there's two extra notes on the sixth string in the diagram. Be careful here. Those notes are perfectly legitimate in tone but not the center of attention. Remember, 'A' is the tie that binds and all others simply flesh it out.

Now we get to a tricky bit, depending on your sense of perception. Fly that pattern down to the end of the neck and root it off the open fifth string 'A'. What you need to keep in mind is that any notes played at the 12th fret translate to open strings at the end of the neck. Sounds easy enouph but damn if people don't have a hard time getting their fingers on it.

'A' Minor Pentatonic at the Nut

Thus ends part two which leads us logically to part three.

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