Non-pattern Pentatonics

Audio Examples


All Exercises:
Power Tab version
PDF version

Power Tab transcriptions generously provided by Chris Johnstone.

Note: The fingerings at the top of the transcriptions are for the fretting hand. Those at the bottom are for the picking hand: up- and down-strokes (U, D) for the plectrum, and 2, 3 and 4 for the middle, ring and little fingers.

Non-pattern Pentatonics [Issue 46]

I've decided to present some unorthodox pentatonic ideas in this initial lesson. 'Box Pattern' pentatonic scales are one of the first 'shapes' we learn on the guitar, and unfortunately that shape is very difficult to move away from, so a lot of pentatonic licks end up sounding repetitive. Being a more modal player, I got into pentatonics very late, so I ended up approaching them much the same way I approach regular scales and modes, which is to stretch them along the neck and outside the 'box'.

All these examples are for A minor pentatonic, but, of course, they'll work in any key, and although I've notated my own hybrid picking technique for these ideas, I encourage you to experiment with various other picking approaches and go with what feels natural.

Exercise 1 is an A minor pentatonic played three notes per string. This is a good example of how you can stretch the scale to cover four octaves so it retains the colour of a regular minor pentatonic but increases the range drastically for the guitar.

Exercise 1
Exercise One Notation

Exercise 2 is based around the same 'three notes per string' approach but with a slight twist. Just a subtle change in the order of notes can present a completely new possibility.

Exercise 2
Exercise Two Notation

Exercise 3 begins with an Am7 arpeggio, which is perfect to use with pentatonic scales. You may notice that these examples have some rather large intervals, so I'd encourage you to lift each finger after playing the note, as it'll enable you to prevent from straining too much. I only have one finger on the neck most of the time so it allows me to get these wider intervals.

Exercise 3
Exercise Three Notation

Exercise 4 can be used as a lick, but even just a segment of this idea repeated can sound interesting. You can get this one up to a pretty blistering speed, but it also has a nice rhythmic syncopation if played slowly.

Exercise 4
Exercise Four Notation

Exercise 5 is a good example of how experimental you can be with various shapes when you combine the min7 arpeggios with regular scale intervals. Once again, all these examples can be alternate-picked, sweep-picked or played legato, so just use what feels the most natural.

You'll notice some strange fretting-hand fingerings as well, such as the fourth finger interacting with the first, but it's all to set the hand up to reach the notes. When you see the first or fourth finger listed in succession, it's meant to be flattened so it covers multiple strings. Most of these ideas are very non-guitar, so they're challenging to play but definitely worth the effort.

Exercise 5 - Slow
Exercise Five Notation - Slow
Exercise 5 - Fast
Exercise Five Notation - Fast

I could do 10 articles on this concept and still not cover everything, so I'll leave the rest up to you. These ideas can be added right alongside the classic pentatonic licks that have stood the test of time, so you can retain the sound and colour of the minor pentatonic but not become bored or stale.

When you start seeing the guitar neck as a collection of melodic notes rather than box patterns, the number of possibilities is limitless, so try to look at the bigger picture and see if it'll help something familiar sound new again.