Pentatonic Scales: The Not-So-Secret Weapon

We all love pentatonic scales, in fact pentatonic licks are so ubiquitous that most of us guitarists were issued pentatonic licks with samples of Tide in the mail when we were kids. However, the pentatonic image of being a scale for beginners is completely undeserved. This column is all about expanding our view of a trusted old friend.

Three Notes Per String

In order to create patterns that are three notes per string with our pentatonic scales we must simply take two patterns and cram them together. The resulting pattern will have the disadvantage of having the first note on the next string is the same as the last note on the last string; however we can and will use this to our advantage. If you are familiar with any of my Soloing Strategies columns you have seen me describe many different sequences in sixteenth notes, sixteenth note triplets, and thirty-second notes. Any of these sequences can be applied to these three notes per string patterns. Group of four and sixteenth note triplet patterns will sound strange at slow speeds because of the repeated note. Don't fret though because as the beats per minute increase, so does the wildness of the sound. Give them a try!


Skipping Strings

The best way to avoid the repeated note issue is to simply skip strings. Regular string skips as well as string skipping sequences have the unexpected effect of seeming to amplify your speed. In other words it makes it sound like you are playing faster than you really are. Who wouldn't love that!?


Going Diagonal

Once you have the patterns down and the sequences working, try to move them horizontally and diagonally. The sequences can also be applied to these. It will seem really hard at first, but I think that this is one of the coolest ways pentatonic can be applied. To hear this in action, check out the intro to my song, "I'm Your Boogie Dude". Enjoy!

MP3 - "I'm Your Boogie Dude"

Scott Allen is a 1996 graduate of the Musician's Institute, G.I.T. He currently teaches guitar to 65 to 70 students weekly at Northridge Music Center.

His latest CD is entitled "III", featuring his impressively fluid playing, with a style marked by an incendiary sense of phrasing.

Scott Allen