another page about pentatonics!?"
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
a go at it like this;
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
for you, you're spared the aggravation since we have a diagram
to illustrate them.
a pattern? That's right, there are 5 notes being used over
and over. Hence the term "penta - tonic" mentioned
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.
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.
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!
ends part one in a four part process of discovery and accessibility.
to part two.
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'.
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:
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.
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.
ends part two which leads us logically to part three.