Guitarists too often get bogged down in trying to memorize the 5 pentatonic boxes. I want to give you an easy way to remember the essential shapes and ignore the ones you don’t need. AND we’ll do it in order of importance, so if you just want to focus on one or two sections you can start there and add the rest later.
We’re starting with box 1 of minor pentatonic, our most common scale used in guitar-based music (and much of pop, country, rock, and blues, too).
After you are comfortable with box 1, add the extension box from box 2 (we are NOT using all of box 2). Most guitarists only use strings one, two, and three in addition to all of box 1.
Once that is feeling easy, add the low extension box below box 1, the four notes from strings five and six that are really part of box 5.
That concludes your essential improvisation station! Use that until you can do it in your sleep.
Ok, here we go! Adding box 4 (what Greg Howe coined as the ‘summer home’ box), we need to memorize this in its entirety. Box 1 and 4 are the only complete boxes we use across all six strings.
Above box 4 is a little extension on strings one, two, and three, just like we did with box 1. Then we add strings 5 and 6 below box 4 (same formula as box 1 and its extensions).
As a bonus, we can fill in all of box 3 which I like to use, but that’s less essential and just icing on the cake.
The final step is adding in the blue note (b5 interval) to get a more advanced, hip sound from our playing. Find all the b5’s within all these boxes and start using them in conjunction with your standard pentatonic playing.
In the video, I’m using G minor pentatonic as our key, so the notes are G Bb C D F. Those are the intervals of 1 b3 4 5 b7 (the lower case b’s in music mean “flat”). And though studying intervals is really more for a separate lesson, it’s important to see that C and D are the 4th and 5th intervals, respectively, in the key of G minor. This means we can easily find the b5 interval in between them- Db (we can also call it C# but since we’re referring to it as a flat 5 we’ll use the flatted interval, Db (D flat).
Any time you see the C and D in this key, you can add the fret between them to complete your blues scale!
This means you do not need to learn the pentatonic and blues scales separately. This method allows you to learn one scale then simply shoehorn in one extra note.
And there it is! All my secrets to navigating the fretboard with the two of the most common scales in western society.
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