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Soloing - The Pentatonic Minor Scale

 

Believe it or not, most rock, blues and pop guitarsolos are played using the same scale. This scale is known as the pentatonic minor scale. Pentatonic means consisting of 5 tones.

 

Minor refers to the third tone of the scale, which is a minor third interval from the root tone of that scale. By the way, a scale is any group of tones taken from the 12 chromatic tones in an octave.

 

The pentatonic minor scale is one of the oldest scales in the world and was already used centuries ago in music from Asia and Africa. It sounds good in many (harmonic) situations, which is one of the reasons it's used so widely. Also, on the guitar it's easy to play.

 

How to play the Pentatonic Minor Scale

Let's look at the A minor Pentatonic scale.

The 5 tones are A (the root), C, D, E and G. When played in one position on the guitar neck, you can play the pentatonic minor scale over more than 2 octaves.

 

On the guitar, this scale can be played in many positions on the neck, but one position pattern, the one in the picture, is used most often. This is because half of the tones are on the same fret and can be played with the index finger, in the case of A pentatonic minor, with the index finger on the 5th fret.

 

Play the TAB of the A pentatonic minor scale and LEARN IT BY HEART. Once you really have the pattern memorized, you can play in all the 12 keys by simply moving the pattern up and down the neck. The index finger is always on the root. For instance, index finger on the 7th fret gives you B minor pentatonic, index finger on the 8th fret gives C minor pentatonic, and so on.

 

On the electric guitar this pattern can be copied one octave, so 12 frets, higher. In that case the index finger is on the 17th fret.

 

How to use the pentatonic scale in guitar solos

Let's look at some players known for using the pentatonic scale:

 

Blues: Albert Collins, BB King, Buddy Guy, Albert King

 

Rock: Jimi Hendrix, Angus Young, Slash, David Gilmour

 

When you listen to some of their guitar solos, it seems there is more going on. And there is. What they are doing is embellishing the basic tones in the scale with common tricks like hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, double stops and most famously, bends.

guitar lesson - pentatonic minor bends

 

Which tones to bend in the pentatonic minor scale

Although most of these tricks can be used on any of the tones in the pentatonic scale, bending only sounds good on a few of the tones! This is illustrated in the picture. Three of the tones in the common pentatonic pattern sound really good with a bend.

 

The other tones in the position pattern either do not sound good bent or are too difficult for the fingers to bend. For a lesson on how to bend, look here.

 

So, in a lot of great guitar solos, what you hear is the pentatonic minor scale, played with lots of hammer-on, pull-off, slide and bending.

 

Once you learn how to improvise you own solos using this scale over a blues or rock backing track in the right key, like this one, you will also be able to recognize by ear what those famous guitar players are actually playing, and imitate it. That is really one of the greatest ways of learning how to solo!

 



guitar lesson - pentatonic minor