Some of you may have seen my other huge blog here, I see threes. If you did, I want to ask you to suspend all of that knowledge for a while as we explore an alternate approach.
Like that blog, this one is intended to be a living document, I'll be updating and extending it over several months. Please don't try to read this right on through in one hit, and don't print it out (unless you're seeing this some time in the future, after its complete..) For results you'll need you to bookmark this page and return many times. I'll be breaking it up into components / chapters delineated by a line of '♬♬♬♬♬' and presenting some exercises, it will be important to take a week or so with each in order for the information to have some kind of lasting effect.
If you have any questions or input please don't hesitate to comment, or inbox me if you're feeling timid but really there are no stupid questions, spit it out and lets solve it.
lets get into it.
7 June 2014
Ever heard of a pentatonic scale?
Most self taught guitarists have a buddy show them a pattern of notes they call 'the pentatonic scale'
Some call it 'the blues scale' or 'the blues box'
For some reason (which we will hopefully get to eventually_) it just works with most everything, even when you don't really understand how to play over chord changes.
Its kinda like a magical musical 'master key'
it might sound something like this:
Now there's plenty of players who never learn any more than this scale, and some even manage to make a living from it.
Some players have someone later tell them oh man thats 'the minor pentatonic', theres actually another, 'the major pentatonic'. Which might sound something like this:
Now it turns out that 'the major pentatonic' and 'the minor pentatonic' are just modes of each other, its exactly the same pattern, just offset by three frets and with the 'home' note in a different position within that pattern. And, just like the minor one, the major one is like a 'musical master key', its JUST FITS with a whole bunch of stuff, you can just noodle away on it and it somehow sounds like you're playing all the changes, even when you're not, you're just making shit up.
Now in strictest terms a pentatonic scale is just a scale with five notes in it. There are actually many combinations which might be considered minor, and many which might be considered major. Many cultures have a native system which is pentatonic, particularly in Asia. But to stick with the accepted vernacular we will continue to refer to 'the major pentatonic' and 'the minor pentatonic' even though it does rankle me just a little to use the definite article ("the") when there are in fact many others.
So this discussion will be focused on the major pentatonic and the minor pentatonic, getting to know them, getting the most out of them, and finally, learning to extend them and capitalise on our understanding of them as a future learning tool; a lot of players find a 5 note scale significantly easier to learn and remember than a 7 note scale. So I've refined a technique over several years of teaching the modes of the major scale as little extensions to these pentatonic scales, i.e. we already know a 5 note scale, we just add two more and we're there..
part 1. The minor Pentatonic
I'll be presenting diagrams for three string guitar tuned GDG. You can of course be tuned EBE, FCF, DAD, CGC etc etc and it'll all work, it will just be in a different key. It is up to you to extend this knowledge to your four five and six string tunings :)
In order to get this scale committed to memory we'll do what guitarists have done for generations and chop it up into smaller more accessible slices.
Here is the first position. We're going to call it m(i) The lower case m is for minor and the (i) is for the starting position, the lowest note.. If theres only one thing you wanna work out on your three string, its this imho. All the parallel notes make this slide guitar heaven btw. I've done the home (i) note in a different colour, this is where you wanna resolve your licks to, unless we have changed chords.
I've also labelled the dots with Roman numerals. We can see that the scale is (i) (iii) (iv) (v) (vii)..
the (iii) and (vii) notes are both flatted in relation to the major scale, because this is minor. (no, you won't understand this yet, thats cool) whats key is that the whole thing is made up of two and three fret intervals.
The 'blue notes' are the two which are at top of a three fret interval, (iii) and (vii), the same two which I singled out just now. These are the ones to bend. GO !
see you in next time, have fun with it :)
8 June 2014
Hey, i bet you had a ball with that m(i) position. One thing I didn't mention is that there is one note who appears twice there. Our tuning has an interval of 7 frets (aka a perfect fifth) between the bass string and the middle one, but an interval of 5 frets (aka a perfect fourth) between the middle one and the high one. The fifth is a big interval for guitar, although its perfectly normal on shorter necks like the violin family and its mando- cousins. This is why I build to a shorter scale, scales in open tunings usually have a bit of stretching in them. (if this is a problem in practicing this stuff, why not shorten the scale length with a capo?? ). Anyway, as a result of the higher interval being smaller, we get an overlap and a note (in this case (i) ) appears twice, its up to you which one you skip over.
Now a lot of guys will probably have already worked these out, so I knocked up all the positions to just smash out in one entry. If you don't know these yet take your time! Focus on one at a time and give it a good week of practicing it hard, so the muscles in your hand know their way around it with minimal involvement from your brain. There are 5 positions (modes) total, because its a 5 note scale, but there is plenty of overlap. In fact as you move on to the next you'll find you already know the 'nut side half' of it from the one previous. And you know the 'bridge side half' of the last because it was the 'nut side half' of the first. Thus as we get to know the positions we will be able to fluidly slide between them until eventually we can shred the whole neck in the minor pentatonic.
**Some disciplines to pursue when practicing scales..
**dont get sloppy with time. If you want to get good, if you want to get fast, then its essential to keep time. Slow it up as much as you need to in order to keep it nice and even. Tap your foot. A metronome can really help, especially if you do want to implement an exercise regimen to get faster. (Theres plenty of apps available. Drum machine is just a fancy metronome too) Start out counting fours, and if tharts working for you then mix it up, eights ( one & two & three & four & one....), triplets (one & a, two & a, three & a, four & a, .....), sixteenths even (one ee-and-a, two ee-and-a, .....) in each case emphasise 'one', try to land one the (i) note of the scale there, play it a pinch louder... There's plenty other time signatures of course, threes ( a waltz) (1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, ....) fives, sevens, nines, all kinda funky stuff like that if you wanna really stretch out. No matter how ambitious you get in this respect keep it even! Odd time signatures do take time and discipline, but they're super worth it. Listen to those super muscular grooves on 70s rock albums, Zeppelin in particular but Sabbath, Purple, ELP etc etc too, theres frequently a primal drive there of a riff cycling in fives or sevens or nines or whatever against a rock solid drummer keeping fours...
**fingering is important. If you can keep one finger for each fret and minimise lateral hand movement that'll really pay off in the end and make the whole thing more economical and efficient.
Its not essential to know exactly which ones are (iii) and which are (vii). Just know where the (i)'s are. (thats why they're a diff colour!)
m(i) (the one we already did)
9 June 2014
introducing.... 'The Major Pentatonic'
Because this stuff is really the preliminary to what Ive got planned here, Im just gonna smash right on through the major penta as well. Again, if this is the first time you've come across this then spend a month or two on it, conquering one position at a time. Again there are five positions (modes) to learn, but again the last one is fully contained within its preceding brother i.e. its a non event, and the other 4 just gently expand on each other.
If you've done your homework with the minor penta then this one should come quite quickly...
as I mentioned already, they're the same stuff exactly, but (i) is in a different place and its all shifted backward by three frets.
If you look at the notes you'll see that this scale is (i) (ii) (iii) (v) (vi)..
so the notes which were culled to make this five note scale (penta-, remember?) are (iv) and (vii), whereas in the minor penta they were (ii) and (vi)..
We'll get back to that later, one of the secrets of harmony is hidden in that little bit of trivia there ;)
here they are, let's get to work.
remember to sound out the open bass string to create context when you're playing these, that will really help you appreciate the difference between the Maj and min ones as more than a key change.
If you have some practice tracks in the right key they might be real helpful as well..
One more thing...
remember i talked about the 'blue notes' when we did the minor penta before, the ones for bending?
well they're different here too...
the really good ones for bending here are the two which are not chord tones, (ii) and (vi).. (the way to find em quickly is simple, they're the immediate neighbours on either side of (i)...)
get to it.
11 June 2014
so now hopefully we have a handle on two pentatonic scales, a major and a minor.
Thanks to the guys who commented. But this is where we really start, that was just an important introduction. In fact that stuff above was the "5" part of the title. Now we get to the ">=" part. That said, If you want to just print out the stuff above and bail now theres nothing wrong with that, many many great players have done exactly the same.
Oh you're still here ?
well now that we know our way around those two pentas lets talk a little about the reason they work so well, and how we can further learn from them. You may have heard people say that theres only really three chords. Its not true of course, theres hundreds. But it sort of is true too. So lets say theres only three chords for a minute, cos the kind of music that these pentas are really really good for is exactly simple three chord music. Lets call these chords 'Home', 'Away from home', and 'Need to go home'. Each of these guys has a relative minor chord as well as a major flavour, and the relative minor chord is found three frets (aka a minor third) below the major. So 'Home' is (I) and (vi) and 'Away' is (IV) and (ii) and 'Need' is (V) and (iii) . (where the romans in capitals are MAJOR and the lower caps ones are minor)
Ok so have you ever heard of 'the circle of fifths'??
I bet you have. I bet you've seen representations of it all over the internet. Im gonna go find one right now.
Ok this is the second in the list in Google images, but its better than the first cos its got the key signatures, which we need
Ok so each segment of the 'pie' is a key or chord. The outer note is the MAJOR name and the inner one is the minor name. Each Key/Chord/Scale has a 'key signature'. This is how many accidentals (♯ or ♭) you need to make it. My guitar is in G, so 'Home' is G MAJOR and e minor. (or is it ???.. If I'm treating Gm as home I'm right over the top left there eh? :D )
'Away' is counter-clockwise from home. It has one less ♯ or one more ♭ than 'home'. ALWAYS.
'Need' is clockwise from home. It has one more ♯ or one less ♭ than 'home' ALWAYS.
It doesn't matter if your guitar is in D, E, E♭, etc etc. These rules will be true.
Ok so there is only one note difference between Home's scale and Away's scale, and there is only one note difference between Home's scale and Need's scale. Always.
Now remember how I mentioned there was two notes culled from the seven note major scale to make our pentas??
Guess which two they were?
Ah, so. Now we can see WHY the pentas just work like a 'musical master key' !
The one ingredient which someone might hear and their brain says "Hey! He's changed to C (or Am) but he's still playing a G scale!" and the other one ingredient which someone might hear and their brain says "Hey! He's changed to D (or Bm) but he's still playing a G scale!"
Now theres a number of interesting things that come out of this, We'll spend some some weeks now going through a few of them. If you'd like to take a guess or contribute an idea please do comment up, this is going to get pretty interesting and illuminating, at least i think it is.
So lets kick it all off with:
Interesting Logical Extension of our understanding of the pentatonics. idea #1
If I know the pentatonic all over the neck, then I'm really close to knowing the major scale.
But hang on, I know the minor penta too, I must be close to some minor scale too!
In fact, you 'nearly' know the major and minor scales not only for home, but also for away and need !
They're all only two notes away!
Six different scales!
Because you can add not only the one which was taken from home's scale, but you can also instead add the one that is the difference between home and away / need.
You know these pentas each have two three-fret stretches in them, but all the rest are only two fret intervals? Well those three fret gaps are where the replacement notes have to go, one in each.
hmm lets slow down a minute, Im not sure I can cope with this.
Check this out. Away's minor mode (ii) is called Dorian. Because its minor, we build it from the minor pentatonic.
So I'll bring up the first m(i) diagram we looked at, remember this one?
I'll put the extra notes in a new colour.
Now playing this on my G guitar what I'm getting is the 'away' minor scale. But because I'm still hearing G as the key centre we call this G dorian. See thats what modes really mean, It what this note sounds like 'in the context of the scale of some other note'. So this is what G sounds like when G is awayMinor.
Once you've messed around with that a little try this one on for size, This is Need to go home's minor mode, ie G phrygian, when G is NeedMinor..
Wow, these guys are pretty radically different from each other eh? considering the big ol scale they both came from and how little we changed. So, to do a dorian mode we take our minor pentatonic, and where there is a three fret interval, we put note in at the second fret. And to do a phrygian we just flip that, put one it at the first fret into the minor third. Try it in your other positions til you got both these modes right up the neck. I don't think you'll need diagrams, just get it into your head there :)
Now the thing about these couple extra notes is this, they're the real salt and pepper. The pentatonics are great, cos they're safe. And hey, safe is good right? But sometimes you gotta add a bit of garlic right? or a pinch of chilli flake. Now the goal here is not only to be able to know these minor modes quite cheaply by stacking them into our existing knowledge, but also to be able to flip flop between, to strip these scales back to a pentatonic when the need arises (a chord change we're unsure of ;) ) and as extra spice to be able to throw into pentatonic licks.
Homework. Get that shit right up and down the neck. I know you can do it.
enjoy, there is A LOT more to come!
14 June 2014..
Well, what do you think of that?
If you worked your way right up the neck with both those scales then I'm sure you noticed some common ground.
Yep. These are the same pattern as each other, just shifted, each is in a different key, one is G as AwayMinor, and the other is G as NeedMinor.
Now the notes we had to begin with (the minor pentatonic) are (i) ... (♭iii) (iv) (v) ... (♭vii).
To make a dorian mode we added a (ii) and a (vi)
and to make a phrygian mode we instead added a (♭ii) and a (♭vi)
I think you'll agree that the flatted additions make for a much more exotic sounding scale than the natural ones, there is more tension. The (♭ii) in particular is quite sinister, in fact there have been times when the church had more political power and had outlawed that particular note because it was considered evil.
Well the remaining minor mode is the (vi) mode, aka the natural minor, because it is homeMinor (aka aeolian). The natural minor is part way in between the previous two, we flat the (vi) degree but not the (ii). Unfortunately this makes it a little harder to just stack in on top of the minor penta than the other two, because we can't just treat all those three fret openings the same as we do for the other two, we gotta alternate how we fill em, 2,1 in the first one, then 1,2 in the second. The best hint I can give you to sort which is which on the fly is that the one we do not flat is the (ii). A (♭ii) is right next door to home, so its pretty easy to spot. Its also pretty easy to identify when you come across it because as I said above, its the most sinister, evil interval.
So we get this
anyway, there we go, three different sets of additions to the minor pentatonic. Practice this one up the neck and you'll see the other two patterns up there.
20 June 2014
If we do the same thing we did to make a phrygian mode (putting in a note at the first fret in each of the three fret openings) to the major pentatonic we get the V mode (mixolydian)
How easy was that?
mixolydian mode is VERY useful.
Our Maj pentatonic was (i) (ii) (iii) ... (v) (vi) ...
we just added in a (iv) and a (♭vii)
hopefully you should be able to make it all the way up the neck by just adding them to your pentas, because Im not mapping it out. (thats kind of the point right? insight rather than another 1000 diagrams??
If on the other hand we put a note in at the second fret in each of the three fret openings in the major penta we'll be adding in a (♯iv) and a (vii), which will give us a (iv) mode, also known as lydian. Now i personally don't find a great deal of use for the lydian mode, as soon as I (♯) that (iv) straight away everything sounds like the simpsons of futurama themes.. Zappa loved it tho, especially in those super fast glock and xylophone runs he used to do. see what you think.
(that (♯iv) is a real stretch in the (i) position eh ?? get on up the neck a little..
finally, it follows that there is one where the rule is not so simple, just as there was for the minor penta. One where we must alternate how we treat these three fret openings. And just like for the minor one, it is the home (i) mode which is the tricky one. it has a (iv) and a (vii), no accidentals..
alright friends, so there we go. There is a few months practicing this stuff to really know it for sure, but in my opinion this is a really smart way to conquer the fretboard.
Try sticking those extra notes as a little extra seasoning into your pentatonic licks. get to know what a (♯iv) does to the major penta, and what its alternative (iv) does instead. Ditto for (♭vi) and (vi) to the minor one.
If you already have some major scale chops, try it the other way, see the pentatonics within. These are 'pivot points' around which the scale can easily mutate between keys (by swapping out these 2 replacement guys, see?)
ok guys have fun with it. Next, another astonishing by product of our new insight into how the major and minor pentatonics are built :)
7 July 2014..
some key stuff we've covered so far..
*There are two PENTATONIC scales which should generally be considered essential to learning to improvise on your instrument.
*Most of the music we hear has only three chords, or six really, because each has a major and minor flavour.
*We saw a 'circle of fifths' diagram
and learned thats these three (or six) chords are found in three consecutive slices of the pie, with our key centre (home) in the middle slice.
* Each of these slices of the pie has a 'key signature' and this is the combination of accidentals (♯ or ♭ but not both) needed to make its scale (chords)
* From home when we change chords to one of the neighbouring slices of the pie the change will only be to the tune of a single accidental, one more or one less.
* The reason these pentatonic scales work the way that they do is that the two notes which were omitted from their seven note parent scale to make them are these same two notes, the one which will change if we move one slice to the left in the pie, and the one which will change if we move one slice to the right..
Then we looked at how to put those notes back in, and the different notes we can put in to be in pie slice one, pie slice two or pie slice three..
By doing this we learned to play six of the seven major scales which contain our 'home' note, three in which our home note is a major chord, and three in which it is a minor chord. Wow huh. I mean wow.
anyone want more pie ?
Interesting Logical Extension of our understanding of the pentatonics. idea #2
if my pentatonic scale works against three (or 6) different chords...
then the other side of that coin is...
there must be 3 (or 6..) different pentatonics which will work against the chord I'm playing right now ??
If we have a tune which only uses two slices of the 'circle of fifths' pizza then we could use the pentatonic scales of either of them. This is a favourite trick of Carlos Santana's, and the big payoff against the classic Santana 2 chord vamp. boom chucka boom cha. bu boom chucka boomcha.. excuse me.. :D
Right. If you listen to Carlos you can often hear him flip from one penta to another, sleazing his way across the pizza. This is also a great way to deal with classic rock modulation, which happens all the time to bring in a fourth major chord.. e.g. We've been having a great time with E A and B7, then the middle 8 throws us a D major. (U2, Mellencamp, Bob Seger etc kinda move, i suspect they all picked it up from Dylan) How is this possible? We've modulated from E to A. If we're switched on enough to see that D coming we can flip from an E pentatonic into an A pentatonic, we can even do it somewhat in advance, depending on the changes. You might also encounter this with G,C,D then they throw you an F. or A D G then an E etc etc. Its where the penta loses its shit.. Unless you see it coming and sleaze into the neighbour one.
How can we explore this idea on our open tuned CBG?
Get a guitar boogie chugging along on your open string. (a guitar boogie for the best part has no changes, its all in the rhythm. Popularised (and some say invented by) John Lee Hooker.. )
With no changes to worry about you can explore the pentatonics of home, away and need to go home.
the other way to look at this is capo up to your (iv) chord and boogie there, then try the home chord's penta against that. Then try it at the (v) chord.
have fun with it :)